Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ray Griff: The Entertainer, coming on Sept. 2, 2014

Ray Griff has written and recorded more country hits than any Canadian country artist in history. By his reckoning, his songs have been recorded over 700 times by many of the biggest names in country music: George Jones, Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, Mel Tillis, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, etc. 

Griff wrote Sheb Wooley's 1966 hit "I'll Leave the Singin' to the Bluebirds," which I love. It doesn't appear to be on YouTube, so I can't add a link to it. Anyway, after listening to that Sheb Wooley song earlier this year, I went looking for a Ray Griff anthology on Amazon and was surprised when nothing came up in the search results but his old vinyl releases. Why no greatest hits collection?

Looking at Billboard's Top Country Singles book, I saw that Griff charted 24 US country hits from 1967 to 1986, but they were released on seven different record labels, including MGM, Dot, Capitol, and RCA. A greatest hits anthology with recordings from that many labels would be prohibitively expensive to license, which is why no one has ever done it, I assumed. 

Then I talked to Ray and his people and found out that he owns all of his master tapes! He always recorded and produced his recordings independently and then leased the masters to the labels while retaining ownership. He also handled his own management, publishing, and public relations. That's why he was able to change labels so frequently: He did everything himself, so the labels that released his records were just imprints—they didn't have much input into what he was doing beyond pressing his records. He was a free agent; if a better deal came along, he just switched teams. 

I asked Ray if he was interested in doing a career-spanning greatest hits collection, and he said yes, so I contacted my friends at Real Gone Music. Real Gone had recently done an excellent job with their Ronnie Dove anthology and had also released the Bearns & Dexter Best of the Golden Voyage anthology that I compiled earlier this year. 

Real Gone said, "Let's do it!" and we did. Ray mastered the 24-track anthology, The Entertainer: Greatest US and Canadian Hits, himself. For a few songs, Ray wanted to use re-recordings that he thought improved upon the originals, but we wanted to use original chart hits exclusively, so he agreed to do that. As a result, the collection has 23 of Ray's 24 original US country hits as well as his signature tune, "The Entertainer," which was a big hit in Canada in 1969.

Ray came to be known as "The Entertainer" after this song became a hit, because of his incredible stage show. In Canada, in particular, he was a huge concert draw and frequently set attendance records. Women reacted to Ray in concert like they did to Elvis.

The only change Ray made to the track list that I compiled was to replace his first Canadian hit, "That Weepin' Willow Tree," with the minor US country hit "The Hill." "That Weepin' Willow Tree" is a great Elvis Presley-styled rocker that reached the Canadian country Top 10 in 1965 and got Griff into some hot water with Elvis's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, because Parker thought that it sounded too much like Elvis. Parker allegedly convinced Ray's label at the time, Groove Records, to stop plugging the single.

I was disappointed to see that song go, but Ray says that he's going to put together a collection of his early rock and rockabilly recordings in the near future. In the meanwhile, here's "That Weepin' Willow Tree":

Billboard's review of "That Weepin' Willow Tree"

Ray moved from Canada to Nashville in the 1960s and worked hard to break through with the American country audience. Even though he charted 24 singles in the US, only a few of them cracked the Top 20. He thinks that he was hampered a bit by never having had a manager. Doing everything himself gave him a lot of freedom but limited the amount of effort he could put into promotion.

Nevertheless, he was a mover and shaker in Nashville. Billboard magazine tracked his every move, and he won an incredible number of awards from the song publishing agencies ASCAP and BMI.

Ray's biggest US hit was "If I Let Her Come In" in 1976. His falsetto on the chorus is awesome. 

The Entertainer: Greatest US and Canadian Hits will be released by Real Gone Music on Tuesday, September 2, 2014. I interviewed Ray for the liner notes, and he provided some interesting info.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Spoken-word albums on 8-track tape

Most people associate 8-track tapes with the AM-radio hits of the 1970s, but the format sometimes served utilitarian purposes too. Audiobooks, instructional manuals, foreign language courses, and other spoken-word albums occasionally were released on 8-track tape. 

The 8-track tape wasn't a great format for spoken word. Or for anything, really. When the tape switched from track to track, it would sometimes cut off or repeat tracks or play minutes of silence. The 8-track audiobook of The Sensuous Woman, pictured above, has a note that says program four includes a minute and a half of silence. 

The Sensuous Woman was a 1969 best-seller that was written by Joan Garrity under the pseudonym "J." This sex manual for women is still in print today, so its appearance on 8-track reflects its popularity. Not many audiobooks were released on 8-track.

Today on Music Weird, we'll look at several of these oddball spoken-word 8-track tapes. Some of these images come from, where you can actually buy the tapes, if you want. 


The Sensuous Black Woman by "The Madam"

This anonymously written book was inspired by The Sensuous Woman and released on 8-track tape in 1972. The label on the 8-track edition misspells the author's pseudonym, "Madam," as "Madman." A version for men also was released: The Sensuous Black Man by "The Prince."

Mobile Home Owner's Guide

This owner's guide on 8-track tape includes the segments "Vacationing Tips," "Electrical & Plumbing General Information," "Appliances Use and General Information," and "General Maintenance Safety Tips."


Adult-Games and Puzzles

This 8-track tape was designed to be played on the 2-XL, a toy robot by Mego Toy Corporation that was a standard 8-track tape player in disguise. Mego produced about 50 titles for the 2-XL, including this one for adults.



Aerobic Dancing

This 1980 exercise album by Barbara Ann Auer sold enough copies to register on the Billboard pop albums chart alongside albums by Ted Nugent and AC/DC.



Self-Hypnosis: Psychic Healing

Potentials Unlimited, the company that produced this self-hypnosis tape, is still around today. In its heyday, the company reportedly sold a million self-hypnosis tapes a year. During playback, when 8-track tapes switched from program to program, they made loud clicking noises that I imagine would snap most people out of a hypnotic trance. 



Alex Haley – Tells the Story of His Search for Roots

Alex Haley, the author of Roots, released this 2-LP spoken-word album on Warner Bros. Records in 1977. The album, which contains a speech that Haley gave at the University of Pennsylvania, was also issued on a double 8-track tape. 



Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution and Message to the World: It's Midnight

The 1968 album Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, which was originally released by Excello Records, contains a 1964 speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The album was later reissued by Creed Records. Message to the World: It's Midnight is a sermon that was released by UpFront Records in the late '60s or early '70s. All four tracks on the 8-track version are titled "It's Midnight." 

The Story of Star Wars

This 1977 album contains dialog and sound effects from the film Star Wars.


The Life of Riley

Some old-time radio programs were released on 8-track tape. The tape pictured below contains a 1949 episode of The Life of Riley, a 1940s radio sitcom that starred William Bendix.

Spanish 2

Un curso de español.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Felix Garcia and His Guitar – "Chili Beans" (1959)

This "Tequila" copycat record almost became a hit in 1959. 

"Chili Beans," by Felix and His Guitar, was breaking in New York, Pittsburgh, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, according to the distributor's ad in BillboardBillboard also reported that the single was getting airplay in Oakland, California. The record made the Top 30 at WINE in Buffalo, New York, and XEAK in Tijuana, and got a bit of airplay in San Bernardino, California too. 

Credited only to "Felix and His Guitar," the record actually featured Felix Garcia, the composer of "Chili Beans." The recording was produced by Joe Saraceno, who produced the Ventures and the Marketts and is considered one of the all-time greatest producers in instro rock. ASCAP is listed as the publisher of Garcia's compositions, but the ASCAP database has no record of Garcia or his songs, so they're probably in the public domain now.

Despite all of this regional action, "Chili Beans" didn't chart nationally. It was covered by two major labels, though. The Coo-Coo Rachas, a studio group that released only one record, covered it for Capitol Records and got some airplay in Chicago.

And Boots Brown and His Blockbusters, a real group who'd had some success with the similar "Cerveza" in 1958, covered it for RCA Victor. Billboard reviewed the Boots Brown single and said that it had "a touch of the Tequila feeling." 

This competition from the majors prompted the distributor of Felix's record, Nation Wide Enterprises, to advertise its version as "the original." 

Nation Wide Enterprises distributed Aut Records, which doesn't appear to have released anything other than "Chili Beans." The ad above lists Lee (Lenora) Rupe as Nation Wide's contact person. Rupe was once married to Art Rupe of Specialty Records and used her divorce money in the late '50s to start Ebb Records, which released about 60 records, including the Hollywood Flames' hit "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz."

Garcia was identified by his full name on his other two records. In 1958—before "Chili Beans"—he recorded "Two Tacos" b/w "Summer Love" for the R-Dell label. In 1959—after "Chili Beans"—Rosco Records reissued "Two Tacos" with a different B-side, "Crazy Fingers." Billboard described "Two Tacos" as a "Latin instrumental, with danceable beat" but erroneously gave the title as "Two Tangos."

The short-lived R-Dell label, previously known as Aardell, also issued some recordings by Thurl Ravenscroft—the voice of Tony the Tiger in the Frosted Flakes cereal commercials—and Ken Curtis from the Sons of the Pioneers. In 1960, a Rosco Records issued a single by Dick Marsh, the future lead singer of the Seeds, but I don't know if it's the same Rosco that reissued "Two Tacos."

As an aside here, Dave Yorko—the lead guitarist of Johnny and the Hurricanes—recorded a tune called "Chili Beans" as Dave and the Orbits in 1965, but it's not the Felix Garcia number. (You can hear both sides of the Dave and the Orbits single here.)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The music of Ron Jeremy

I chose to lead with a photo of the young, slender Ron Jeremy. As with skinny Elvis/fat Elvis, you can divide Ron Jeremy's career into phases. 

I saw that Jeremy has a new record out, a 7-inch single called Understanding & Appreciating Classical Music that BCR Records released for Record Store Day this year, so I thought that it would be funny to write a Ron Jeremy discography. He's not a musical figure, so he's not going to have very many records, right?

Wrong. He appears on a lot of recordings. Few of them reflect his artistry in any sense, though. Many of them seem more like instances of product placement than guest appearances. 

Nevertheless, Jeremy is probably the most famous male adult film star in history. By all accounts, he's a charming and intelligent dude. He has a bachelor's degree in education and theater, has a master's degree in special education, and taught special ed before he became an actor.

He has also accomplished the rare feat of transitioning from adult films to mainstream films. Sort of. He still appears in a lot of adult films (despite being in his 60s), but he also occasionally crops up in B movies like Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and the upcoming Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 2. He had a bit part in the 1998 Robert DeNiro film Ronin, but his scenes were cut.
Jeremy plays piano proficiently too, and he actually sings on at least a couple of these recordings.

Today on Music Weird, we'll look at many of the recordings that feature this all-around entertainer. (Along similar lines, Music Weird previously looked at the music of Scott Baio and the music of Terry Lester.)

I'm sure that this isn't a complete reckoning of Jeremy's musical endeavors, but I didn't have the patience to make it complete.

DJ Polo featuring Ron Jeremy – "Freak of the Week" (1995) 

DJ Polo was Kool G Rap's partner at one time. Polo made some solo records in the mid-to-late '90s, including this one that features Ron Jeremy. Jeremy also appeared in the video.

Pornosonic featuring Ron Jeremy – Unreleased 70s Porno Music (1999)

This Pornosonic album is billed as vintage soundtrack music, but it is actually newly recorded music by Don Argott that features some dialog by Jeremy, which was also newly recorded. 


CD/DVD combo – Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006)

A brief bit of Jeremy's dialog appears under the title "You Fool, This Restaurant Is Built on an Ancient Tromahawk Burial Ground" on the soundtrack CD of this 2006 Troma film. Jeremy appears in the film as Crazy Ron. This is one of the truly great films of our time. 

Duo (featuring Ron Jeremy) – "The Ron Jeremy Call" (2010)

A brief spoken bit. I don't know anything about Duo. The group recorded at least two albums, Double Vision (2010) and Night Vision (2013). "The Ron Jeremy Call" is from Double Vision.

Original Soundtrack – Grease XXX (2013)

Ron appeared—and sang—in this XXX parody of the film Grease. He performs the song "Where Is the Lube," which is a takeoff on "Grease Is the Word."  

Ron Jeremy – Understanding & Appreciating Classical Music (2014) 

Shooter Jennings, the son of country stars Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter, is listed as the producer of this new 7-inch record, which features Jeremy playing piano and talking about classical music. 

Ron Jeremy – "Wrecking Ball" (2014)

Ron recorded Miley Cyrus' hit "Wrecking Ball" for some reason. 

Songs (etc.) about Ron Jeremy

Many artists have recorded songs, skits, and various other audio tracks that are titled "Ron Jeremy." These artists include the Sugarettes, Sesame Street Gangsters, Jack Dani, Young People, the Gravetones, 69 Octane, Sarah Silverman, Union 69, Brown Lobster Tank, Egokid, Pulmón, and the Libs. I'm not going to look them up. The Sarah Silverman cut is the only one I've heard.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What's a terp tempo?


If you read old Billboard magazines from the 1940s-1960s, then you'll sometimes run across the phrase terp tempo in its record reviews. 

In fact, if you Google the phrase terp tempo, almost all of the results will be from old Billboard magazines. Those old Billboard record reviews practically had their own vocabulary, and terp tempo was a bit of jargon that Billboard's anonymous reviewers liked to throw around

But what does terp tempo mean?

Terp is short for terpsichore, which refers to dancing and choreography. In short, a "good terp tempo" is a good tempo for dancing. 

In Greek mythology, Terpsichore was one of the nine muses. As the goddess of dance and chorus, she was often depicted—as in the illustration above—with a lyre. In Greek, the literal meaning of the word terpsichore is "enjoyment of dance." 

Over time, Terpsichore's name came to be synonymous with dance. The earliest example of this usage, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was in 1825. Charles Dickens, in 1865, used the phrase "Terpsichorean art." In 1869, the derivative terpsichoreal appeared. The word is rarely used today, although Wesleyan University in Connecticut has a dance program called Terpsichore

The only instance of terp tempo that I've run across outside of Billboard was a reference to a 1954 article in Variety about Perez Prado. The subtitle of the article was "Puerto Rican Terp Tempo Is Spreading." Variety was probably copying Billboard's lingo.

Here's a smattering of Billboard album and single reviews from 1946-1961 in which the phrase terp tempo is used. I could have doubled this sample if I had also included the phrases terp beat and terp rhythm. Billboard continued to use the phrase terp rhythm until 1964. 

Will Osborne – "They Say It's Wonderful" (May 4, 1946)

"Sticking to an easy terp tempo, ork furnishes smooth support for Eileen Wilson's soothing singing."


Tex Williams – "Tulsa Trot" (Feb. 17, 1951)

"Williams hands a danceable ditty his usual virile rendition while the ork maintains a fine terp tempo via swinging strings."


Bobby Smith and Orchestra – "Dash Hound Boogie" (Feb. 24, 1951)

"Smith ork essays a boogie instrumental in okay terp tempo with neat keyboard and baritone sax solos."


Bob Dewey Orchestra – "Villa" (Mar. 10, 1951)

"The Guy Lombardo-Sammy Kaye ork does the Lehar standard in smart terp tempo with soprano Sweetland giving the lyric a sweet-voiced reading."


Ramon Marquez Orchestra – "Mambo O.K." (Nov. 22, 1952)

"The ork pounds it out with verve and at a fine terp tempo." 


The Commanders – "Cornball No. 1" (July 2, 1955)

"A bouncy instrumental with an amusing theme and an okay terp tempo."

Rebo Valdez Orchestra – Hot in Haiti (Jan. 14, 1956)

"Tasteful merengue instrumental in a pleasant Latin-American ditty with a good terp tempo."


Benny Strong Orchestra – "You Call Everybody Darling" (Feb. 23, 1957)

"A danceable version of the tender oldie with catchy group vocal work by the Mellomen and a strong swingy terp-tempo."


Budd Morro  – Buddy Morrow and His Golden Trombone (Apr. 29, 1957)

"Morrow deserts his usual rock and roll dance groove on this LP, which features a group of dreamy instrumentals, spotlighting a smooth terp tempo and topflight trombone solo work by Morrow."


Guy Lombardo Orchestra – Berlin by Lombardo (Jun. 16, 1958)

"Interesting photo of bandleader on cover gives LP display value, while contents should appeal to Berlin fans and lovers of Lombardo's bouncy terp tempo." 


Eddie Platt – "Chi-Hua-Hua" (May 12, 1958)

"Eddie 'Tequila' Platt serves up another good version of the provocative instrumental theme with a solid terp tempo."


The Quarter Notes – "Record Hop Blues" (Jan. 19, 1959)

"Swinging instrumental side with fine rockin' terp tempo."


Edmundo Ros – "Shall We Dance-Conga" (Jan. 26, 1959)

"Swinging congo-tempo version of the 'King and I' standard. Interesting jockey side with infectious terp tempo."


Alden & the One Nighters – "Theme from Love-O-Meter" (Mar. 30, 1959)

"Raucous rocker-instrumental with eerie space music effects and good terp tempo." 


Gloria Matancera – The Soul of Cuba (Mar. 7, 1960)

"The group (trumpets, rhythm section and vocalists) features and easy terp tempo and play Guajiras, San Montimas, Guaraches and Guaguagances all with a cha cha or mambo beat."


Strangers – "Young Maggie" (Mar. 14, 1960)

"Lively rocking instrumental version of 'When You and I Were Young Maggie,' with a solid terp tempo."


Tony Pastor – Let's Dance with Tony Pastor and His Orchestra (Sep. 5, 1960)

"The veteran ork leader provides bouncy, verveful treatments of listenable oldies — all with a bright terp tempo, with pleasant vocal stints by Pastor's son Guy and Beth Harmon." 


Andy Rose – "The Bootie Green" (Dec. 4, 1961)

"Showmanly chanting by Rose on bouncy rocker with solid terp tempo." 


Donnie Charles – "Jumpsville, U.S.A." (Dec. 25, 1961)

"Exuberant reading by Charles and group on a happy, rocking tune with lively terp tempo."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Radio's singing canaries craze of the 1920s-1950s

From the 1920s through the 1950s, radio stations across the country aired "singing canaries" programs. These shows featured canaries—the actual birds—singing over organ music or orchestral music. 

The show that started the craze was American Radio Warblers, a program that was created by Arthur C. Barnett of the Chicago ad agency Weston-Barnett Inc. for American Bird Products, which sold birdseed. The program featured organist Preston Sellers performing with 10 canaries who were billed as the "original feathered stars of the air." The "air," of course, referred to the radio airwaves, not the troposphere in which wild birds fly.  

In 1952, Sales Management magazine summarized the history of the show:
Twenty-odd years ago a Chicago advertising man landed a birdseed account, and got an idea—a radio program of singing canaries with organ music. It's still going over Mutual, coast-to-coast. Like other radio stars, these canaries take time out in summer—that's their molting season. 
The Wikipedia article on American Radio Warblers says that the program ran from 1937 to 1952, but Broadcasting magazine reported in 1948:
Singing canaries of the American Radio Warblers 15-minute Sunday afternoon show on MBS, under sponsorship of American Bird Products Co. (Bird Seed), Chicago, returned to air Oct. 31 for its 22nd consecutive year.
If Broadcasting is correct, then the show began in 1926.

The American Radio Warblers crossed over from radio to recording with a series of phonograph records that were produced and distributed by Barnett. One of these records, "Skaters Waltz," can be heard in the video link above. Barnett didn't restrict his efforts to the canary; he also released a bird-related instructional record, How to Teach Your Parrakeet to Talk, in 1951.

Singing canaries programs quickly became ubiquitous on the radio. In 1946, the book The First Quarter-Century of American Broadcasting remarked that singing canaries programs appeared "over too many stations to be listed here, affording hours of delightful entertainment to millions, particularly shut-ins."

One of the copycat programs that appeared in the wake of American Radio Warblers was called The American Warblers, a Sunday-morning show on Chicago radio that featured organist Edna J. Sellers.

At WWDC in Washington DC, morning man Art Brown played traditional and popular tunes on the organ to the accompaniment of singing canaries. Sam Smith claims that Brown could control when the canaries sang "because they would only warble in the key of A flat."

John B. Gambling's morning show on WOR in New York, which ran from 1925-1959, featured singing canaries and the orchestra of Vincent Sorey. Gambling's popular radio show was turned into a television program on WOR-TV, Get-Together with Gambling, in the late 1940s. A Billboard review of the TV show complimented Gambling's "blandly paternal" manner but said, "Talentwise...the show was literally for the birds. Gambling's telegenic aviary showed far more sales-savvy than the humans on the bill."

Hartz Mountain Products, an animal products company that later became known for its flea collars, sponsored a 15-minute singing canaries program called Master Radio Canaries on WGN in Chicago. Like the American Radio Warblers, the Master Radio Canaries (sometimes billed as the Hartz Mountain Master Canaries) also appeared on phonograph records. You can hear one of their recordings in the video link below.

The singing canaries programs appear to have died out in the 1950s, but if anyone knows of any examples that ran for longer, let me know in the comments.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The first use of drums on the Grand Ole Opry

In its September 30, 1967, issue, Billboard reported that "a full set of drums was used on the 'Grand Ole Opry' for the first time in history" when Jerry Reed performed the previous week. (Billboard also misspelled drummer Willie Ackerman's name.) But was Reed really the first?

For decades, the Opry famously refused to allow performers to use drums, and many artists over the years have been credited with being the first to bring drums to the Opry.

The no-drums rule adversely affected country artists who added rock and pop elements to their music in the late 1950s, which many artists did to remain commercially viable as traditional country waned in popularity. When they performed these crossover country songs on the Opry, they were forced to sound more traditional than they really were.

The rule also adversely affected rock and rockabilly performers who appeared on the Opry. When Carl Perkins' rock 'n' roll classic "Blue Suede Shoes" became a hit on the pop, R&B, and country charts in 1955, he was invited to perform it on the Opry but wasn't allowed to use drums. 

Today, Music Weird will look at some of the artists who claim to be—or are claimed to be—the first to use drums at the Opry. 

Bob Wills (1944)


The Billboard reporter who wrote about Jerry Reed apparently forgot that Bob Wills used a drummer on the Opry in 1944. Western swing star Bob Wills was scheduled to appear on the Opry for the first time on December 30, 1944, and was told that the Opry didn't allow drums. Wills told the Opry that he would perform with drums or not at all, so the Opry allowed his band to go on with its drummer. 

Richard Carlin's book Country Music: A Biographical Dictionary, says that Wills' drummer used only a snare drum and was forced to stand behind a curtain. But Charles Townsend's book San Antonio Rose: The Life and Music of Bob Wills says in a footnote:
The story has been told that Wills agreed to hide his drums behind the curtain before the Opry officials would allow him to use them. According to Bob and Betty Wills and every musician I have interviewed who was present that night, the story is not true: the drums and horns were "out in the open."

Pee Wee King/Harold "Sticks" McDonald (194?)


Pee Wee King is also said to have used drums at the Opry in the 1940s, but accounts vary on whether he followed or preceded Bob Wills, and whether the drummer was made to stand behind a curtain or not. The All-Music Guide to Country's entry on Pee Wee King says that he "introduced electric instruments, drums, and horns to the notoriously conservative Grand Ole Opry."

Grand Ole Opry historian Byron Fay wrote about Pee Wee King's experience with using drums on the Opry and about this business of hiding drums behind a curtain:
They used the drums for a couple of weeks but were not allowed to announce on the radio that they were using them. After those couple of weeks, George D. Hay told Pee Wee to take the drums home and to leave them there. In a final comment regarding drums, Bud Wendell was quoted in 1985 as saying, "That story about hiding drums behind a curtain is just one of those tales around here. As long as we remained at the Ryman, though, we never used anything other than just a standing snare drum. But that had as much to do with space restrictions as with the purity of country music. You just couldn't fit a whole set of drums on the stage at the Ryman; it just wasn't that big."

The Everly Brothers (1957)


The Everly Brothers' booking agency claims that the Everly Brothers, in 1957, were the first to use drums on the Opry and that the Everlys are credited with introducing drums to Nashville. That's a lofty claim. The Everlys appeared on the Opry in 1957 to perform their hit "Bye Bye Love," which topped the country chart and was covered by country star Webb Pierce.

Carl Smith/Buddy Harman (1959)


Carl Smith, far left; Buddy Harman, center

In the early '50s, Carl Smith—who is seen as a traditionalist today—was one of the first country artists to feature a full drum kit in his band. His drummer, Buddy Harman, became one of the top session drummers in Nashville. Bluegrass Drummer claims that Harman "became the first regular drummer on the Opry in 1959."

Johnny Horton (1959)



I've read that Johnny Horton was granted an exception to the Opry's no-drum rule when he appeared to perform "The Battle Of New Orleans," which was one of the biggest hits of 1959 and prominently features a snare drum. I can't remember where I read it, though. Maybe in the book that came with Horton's Bear Family box set 1956-1960?

Johnny Cash/W.S. "Fluke" Holland (195?)


Johnny Cash and W.S. "Fluke" Holland

The Las Vegas Sun claimed that Johnny Cash's drummer, W.S. "Fluke" Holland, was the first drummer to use a full drum kit on the Opry, presumably in the 1950s, but the article is vague. Holland's website makes the same claim. 

Jerry Reed/Willie Ackerman (1967) 


Willie Ackerman

See the excerpt from Billboard at the beginning of this post.

Hal Durham (1974+)


Colin Escott's book The Grand Ole Opry: The Making of an American Icon claims that Hal Durham, who managed the Opry from 1974 to 1993, was the first to allow a full drum kit on the Opry: "He was the first to allow a full drum kit on the Opry stage," the book says. But elsewhere in the book, Escott writes that Pee Wee King "probably introduced guitar and drums to the Opry stage." Maybe King had a snare and Durham allowed a full kit, but the Billboard article above says that Jerry Reed used a full kit in 1967. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Indian Tribe-une Old Favorite Song Book from Trafalgar, Indiana

This weird old songbook caught my eye at a thrift store because of its age and blatant copyright infringement. 
The Indian Tribe-une Old Favorite Song Book was a publication of Indian Creek Publishing Company in Trafalgar, Indiana, which I assume was associated with Indian Creek High School in Trafalgar, the "Home of the Braves." The cover of the songbook has an image of a stern-looking Native American hovering above an all-white barbershop quartet. Although the cover invites everyone to sing along, the Native American doesn't appear to be singing.

The songbook is filled with lyrics to popular songs but doesn't have any copyright information, publishing information, songwriting credits, or permissions. It was probably created as a fundraising item by people who didn't realize that they could have gotten into trouble for it.

Even though none of the songwriters is identified, the songbook is filled with well-known songs by well-known songwriters. Of the 184 songs that are included, the majority were under copyright. A few of the uncredited songs include:
  • Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart"
  • Dick Thomas' "Sioux City Sue"
  • Cole Porter's "Don't Fence Me In"
  • George and Ira Gershwin's "Embraceable You"
  • Felix Bernard and Richard Smith's "Winter Wonderland" 

A lot of the songs that are included are old songs that became hits in the '50s because of revivals by pop artists of the day—especially artists like Somethin' Smith and the Redheads, who specialized in songs that were considered oldies back in the '50s. "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie," "In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town," "Heartaches," and "Ace in the Hole" are just a few of the songs in the songbook that were also recorded by Somethin' Smith and the Redheads. 

The lyrics of Hughie Cannon's song "(Won't You Come Home) Bill Bailey" are written in dialect in the songbook: "I'll do de cookin', Darlin', I'll pay de rent." When Brenda Lee recorded this song in 1958, she didn't sing it in dialect. I don't think that anyone has sung this song in dialect since the minstrel era.

The songbook isn't dated, but the back cover lists the Indian Tribe-une's sponsors, and I was able to figure out some ballpark dates by looking at the businesses that are included. 

For example, one of the advertisers was Jim Moore's Grocery in Poega, Indiana. Moore's obituary says that he operated the store from 1958 to 1978, so the songbook can't be from earlier than 1958. 

Another one of the advertisers was Critzer's Flower Shop in Morgantown, Indiana. Critzer's website says that the shop has proudly served the Morgantown area since 1960, so the songbook can't be from earlier than 1960. 

Yet another advertiser was Black's Market in Trafalgar, Indiana. Black's Market was owned and operated by Kenneth and Joyce Smith. Joyce's obituary says that she co-owned Black's Market for many years, then worked at Preston Safeway from 1970-1985. So the songbook must be from between 1960 and 1970. 

Not surprisingly, only a few of the businesses that advertised in the songbook still exist. The Calico Frog gift shop in Nashville, Indiana, appears to still be active. Morgantown still has a Whitaker Chevrolet. Samaria has a Palmer Electric.  

Unauthorized songbooks and sheet music were a big deal to the music industry in the early days of music copyright in America, because printed music was the main musical format before phonograph recordings. Even today, just quoting a line or two from a song can get you into trouble if you don't obtain permission first. 

Copyright protection was extended specifically to music in 1831, and the first lawsuit that was brought under the new law was in 1843 when a women's magazine, Ladies Companion, printed the music for a popular song without permission. The magazine was ordered to pay a fine. The law was further amended later in the century to protect publishers from sheet music counterfeiting.

Printed music continued to be a commodity even after phonograph records came along. Billboard published a "Best-Selling Sheet Music" chart through the 1940s and '50s. 

My guess is that the Indian Creek Publishing Company printed and distributed this little bootleg songbook without consequence, but maybe someone who knows more about it will find this article and add a comment.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sex sells 78s: Pinup photos of 1940s and '50s "girl singers"

The provocative images of today's female pop singers, from Madonna to Miley Cyrus, might seem like something new, but female vocalists were promoted as sex objects even in the 1940s and 1950s in pinup-style promotional photos. Traditionally, the subjects of pinup photos were actresses, glamour models, and fashion models, but female vocalists and musicians occasionally became the subjects of pinup-style photography as well.

The roots of pinup photography can be found in American burlesque, Hollywood, and the pinup art that appeared in magazines and calendars. Examples of pinup art include Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez's Vargas girls, Gil Elvgren's paintings, and George Petty's Petty girls, which he painted for Esquire magazine from 1933-1956. 

Hollywood took the pinup to an entirely new level, though. A 1946 article in Popular Photography magazine said that MGM and Columbia Pictures received 10,000-15,000 requests a week for pinup photos of their actresses. Most of these requests came from GIs, and the studios fulfilled every request. 

"[I]t took a war . . . to really blow up the balloon of demand" for pinup photos, the article says. During World War 2, pinup photos were seen not only as promotional tools for the studios but also as morale builders that helped the war effort. 

But even in 1946, the pinup phenomenon was considered old news. The Popular Photography article continues:
Pinups, of course, are nothing new. Before the advent of pinups, there was leg art, calendar art, art pictures, girl pictures, glamour pictures, cheesecake, and lots of other names for the same thing. 
Women both supported and decried pinup photos, arguing on one side that pinup photos countered the bodily shame of the Victorian era and on the other side that they objectified and demeaned women.  

Female vocalists of the 78 RPM era were probably swept into the pinup craze because of Hollywood's influence. Record labels and managers copied Hollywood's promotional tactics, and many female vocalists occasionally appeared in—or aspired to appear in—motion pictures. Pinup photos helped sell movie tickets, so why wouldn't they also help sell records and concert tickets?

Today on Music Weird, we'll look at a small sample of promotional pinup-style photos that feature so-called "girl singers" of yore. It seems strange to me that serious vocalists like June Christy and Rosemary Clooney would pose for cheesecake photos, but contemporary jazz artists, like jazz pianist Diana Krall, continue to do it today. Even classical musicians, like violinist Lara St. John, have gotten into the act. If it was nothing new in 1946, then it's downright traditional today!

Teresa Brewer
Doris Day
Patti Page
April Stevens
Lena Horne

Rosemary Clooney
June Christy

Eartha Kitt
Amy Arnell 
(sang with Tommy Tucker's orchestra in the '30s and '40s)
Gisele MacKenzie
Dinah Shore