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 "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 charted 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. During 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 clunking 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

This 1968 album, 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.



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.)

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.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wimp Factor 14: A retrospective and interview with Frank Boscoe

Pittsburgh's Wimp Factor 14 was included in the final Trouser Press book,The Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock. It said that the band "mixes basic strum-pop with interesting instrumental touches (melodica, toy ukulele, zither, plastic bucket drums and so forth) to achieve an unusually inviting sound." I was obsessed with the Trouser Press back then, but that's not where I heard of Wimp Factor 14.

I mail-ordered the band's sole album, Ankle Deep, from Harriet Records when it came out in 1993. I had never heard anything by Wimp Factor 14; I just liked their name and was interested in Harriet Records, because I had (and still have) the early Magnetic Fields singles on Harriet. Also, the Ajax Records catalog described Wimp Factor 14 as "chamber pop," a term that was sometimes used to describe to the Go-Betweens. I was a huge Go-Betweens fan, so I hoped that Wimp Factor 14 would sound something like them. 

Wimp Factor 14 didn't sound much like the Go-Betweens, but I liked them anyway. There is a kind of brainy, ramshackle indiepop that comes out of the northeast US, and WF14 is an example of that, like Winter Vacation and Pants Yell!

The members of Wimp Factor 14 on Ankle Deep included Kate Glicksberg; Gary Miklusek, who played with Tullycraft; Joelle Levitt, who played in the B-3's; Rob Washburn; and Frank Boscoe. Boscoe went on to form the Vehicle Flips and then the Gazetteers. Rob Christiansen of the Eggs produced Ankle Deep, and the Eggs recorded WF14's song "Rebuilding Europe" for their 1994 album Teenbeat 96 Exploder.

In addition to the one album, Wimp Factor 14 cut a handful of singles and compilation tracks, most of which are included on the anthology The Bric-a-Brac

Today Music Weird talks to Frank Boscoe about this great little band.

How did Wimp Factor 14 come about?

It was a bunch of friends from Carnegie Mellon with ties to the campus radio station, WRCT.


I bought Ankle Deep because I liked the band name. What do you think were the ups and downs of that name?

On the whole, I think it is best to avoid band names grabbed from the day’s headlines [see image below]. That said, I think “The Right to Be Forgotten” would be a good band name.

That reminds me, while the band was active, there was a newspaper story with the headline “Donny Osmond Battles the Wimp Factor,” which could have made for some outstanding album cover art.


Harriet Records had a pretty well-defined aesthetic. Did you find Harriet or did Harriet find you?

I knew Tim Alborn even before I was in a band. I had a fanzine called Cubist Pop Manifesto, and Tim had a fanzine called Incite!, and we became pen pals. As a wedding present, I gave him a song I recorded with Karl Hendricks, which much later made it onto a Harriet compilation. 

Did you feel like you were part of a scene there?

I did think our shows in Boston, both with Wimp Factor 14 and later Vehicle Flips, were among the best I ever had. It was great playing with the Magnetic Fields, Twig and its several related bands, and, later, Prickly. I believe I played in Boston every year from 1990-1997. I can confirm this; I have a list of all the shows I ever played, but it’s on a different computer. 

[Note: There were four Wimp Factor 14 shows in Boston, all at the Middle East: June 1991 with Unrest, Love Battery, and Crazy Alice; December 1991 with Magnetic Fields and Cul de Sac; June 1992 with Crayon, Lotus Eaters, and Naked Lunchbox; and October 1993 with Tiger Trap, Spinanes, and Lotus Eaters.]

The CD version of Ankle Deep had elaborate nontraditional packaging. Was it a pain to put it all together? Did the packaging affect the album's commercial prospects?  

Most of the credit for the packaging should go to Kate Glicksberg and Rob Washburn. Well, I guess I wrote most of the words in the booklet. Kate was a design major and really knew what she was doing. 

If anything, it probably helped sales. Stores couldn’t put it in the usual bins, so some of them put it by the register with other oddities. The really remarkable thing is that a band like Wimp Factor 14 could sell 1,000 albums plus another 500 or so via the German vinyl release and be considered inconsequential. These days, the benchmark for success on a label like Jigsaw is 50 copies. It is mind-boggling.

CDs often had bonus tracks, but the Ankle Deep LP on Little Teddy has bonus tracks that weren't on the CD: "Change of Address Kit" from the ...One Last Kiss compilation, and "Sick Building Syndrome." Were they album outtakes? How did they end up on the LP? 

They were songs that Andy Freiberger from Little Teddy liked and wanted to include. “Change of Address Kit” made some sense, because it got to be one of our better-known songs since that compilation did so well. “Sick Building Syndrome,” less so. Both songs were taken from the session that generated the last two singles ("Botch" and "Miracle Mile"), not the Ankle Deep session.

I remember that the Ajax Records catalog described Wimp Factor 14 as "chamber pop." How would you describe the band? Did you try to sound like anyone? 
With Wimp Factor 14, we had all—except for Gary—been DJs at WRCT for three or four years, so we were well-steeped in the indie sound circa 1990. Our record collections didn’t necessarily overlap all that much, though. But unless you are explicitly, consciously trying to emulate some particular sound—which some bands do, of course—I think you just end up with a hybrid of what everyone brings with them, not only based on tastes but also on the gear you have as well as your playing ability, even where you are able to rehearse. The end result is still likely going to sound like something familiar and recognizable, but still distinctive. 

I think this relates to how rock/punk/indie is still the default programming on college radio 25 years later, and all of the more narrowly defined specialty shows are still the same narrowly defined specialty shows. There are endless combinatorial possibilities.

Wimp Factor 14 toured with Crayon. What was the tour like? 

It was actually the only tour I ever had. Everything else was just a long weekend. Even the tour with Crayon was pretty short: two weeks. We had a show all but one day, and relatively short drives for the most part, thanks to the great booking of Vicky Wheeler, who would go on to found Autotonic. We got as far west as Iowa. We got to be good friends with Crayon—Gary Miklusek, of course, would later be in Tullycraft—and rode in each other’s vehicles for variety’s sake. 

Crayon had an old VW camper van that required leaded fuel; we had an ordinary sedan with the gear in a clamshell on top. Given that limited capacity, we necessarily borrowed a lot of things. During the longest drive, which I think was Pittsburgh to Richmond, we tried to identify the 64 colors in a standard box of crayons. As I recall, the one we never got was orchid; Jeff from Crayon insisted there was a color called “smoke.” 

During our one night off we got to see Jonathan Richman in Bethlehem, PA. We kept meticulous accounting, and at the end had a net profit of $4: $1 each. 

What were some of your most notable successes with Wimp Factor 14?

Getting included in the Trouser Press Record Guide was possibly our biggest claim to fame, and a big deal for me personally, as in high school this was my bible. We almost got to tour Europe, supporting the Chrysanthemums for a few weeks, but the details were always vague and never quite materialized. I couldn’t convince Gary or Rob to buy tickets, but Kate and Joelle were up for it, and the three of us did end up playing three shows in Germany, thanks to Andy Freiberger, though only one of these was a real show. The other two were more like parties. 

And then you formed Vehicle Flips? Which didn't sound extremely different from WF14.... 

After this experience I was kind of burned out and decided something different was in order, though, as you point out, it wasn’t that much different.

I also wanted to add that we came up with something with the band Eggs that I believe rates a tiny footnote in the annals of music. I was thinking a lot about how set changes were so slow and inefficient. In a world of 35-minute sets, 20 minutes between bands soaks up a lot of time. Of course, that ratio is good for the audience to converse and buy drinks, so maybe it wasn’t even a problem. Anyhow, one way around this was to have one band’s last song be the next band’s first song. Presuming that amps and drum kits are being shared, players could leave and be replaced one by one while the song continued. We selected the song “Hydroplane” by Unrest because it is one chord and can be played as long as necessary. We managed this twice: once with Wimp Factor 14 first, once with Eggs first. I doubt if any recording exists. We weren’t very good at documenting ourselves beyond through the records.

Do you have any band photos? Few photos of Wimp Factor 14 seem to exist.

I asked Kate if she had any unpublished photos. She reminded me of the photos taken during the Ankle Deep recording, which coincided with one of the larger snowstorms to ever hit DC in our lifetimes. There are some great images of us during heavy snowfall. She said they would be in her mom’s basement, so it could be a while until they are found, but eventually we’ll get something to you. As for video, I don’t know of any at all. It’s true that camcorders weighed 10 pounds back then, but that didn’t stop every other band. What were we thinking? 


Train Song 7" (Harriet 005, 1991)
  • Train Song // I'll Send You a Postcard

Botch 7" (Harriet 015, 1992)
  • Botch // Bog / Elvis (actually "Blue Moon of Kentucky")

One for the Record Books 7" (Four Letter Words FLW 006, 1993)
  • One for the Record Books / Rebuilding Europe

Vault 7" (Harriet Records 023, 1993)
  • Infotainted / Miracle Mile

Ankle Deep CD (Harriet Records SPY 1, 1993)
  • Jittery and Wobbling / The Heart of My Stupefaction / I Is for Incomplete / Steam Rolling, But It Wasn't Steam Rolling / How to Avoid Losing Small Objects / Stationery from Work / (It's Okay to Work For) Rockwell International / Role Model Glue / Ankle of Repose / Tale of the Loophole Guy / Stratego / Holiday Park Flyer / 1993 Comeback Player of the Year / Adjustment 

Ankle Deep LP (Little Teddy BiTe003, 1993)
  • All of the tracks from the CD plus "Change of Address Kit" and "Sick Building Syndrome" 

The Bric-a-Brac (No label; CD-R compilation of singles and stray tracks)
  • I'll Send You a Postcard / Rebuilding Europe / Botch / Infotainted / Good Morning to You / Train Song / One for the Record Books / Bog / Miracle Mile / Ginko / Elvis (actually "Blue Moon of Kentucky") / Deep from the Ankle

Compilation appearances

...One Last Kiss (spinART spart-1, 1992)
  • Includes Wimp Factor 14's "Change of Address Kit"

He Didn't Even Draw a Fish on My Shower Curtain (Mermaid MIRABELL 001, 1992)
  • Includes Wimp Factor 14's "Sick Building Syndrome"

A Tribute to Daniel Johnston Vol. 1 EP (Little Teddy LiTe707)
  • Includes Wimp Factor 14's version of "Good Morning You"

Candybars (Little Teddy LiTe 728, 1995)
  • Includes Wimp Factor 14's "Hibachi"

Saturday, August 2, 2014

"Teen-agers will temporarily desert rock and roll for the waltz": David Seville's 1959 hit "Judy"

He’ll forever be known as Alvin & the Chipmunks’ “Dave,” but David Seville made a number of non-Chipmunks recordings under the pseudonym David Seville and under his real name, Ross Bagdasarian. 

In 1959, after he'd notched two huge hits with the proto-Chipmunks song "Witch Doctor" and the debut Chipmunks single, "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," Seville released a mostly instrumental waltz, "Judy." You can hear it in the video above. 

The record includes bits of dialog between a man and woman—George and Judy—as if they're dancing to the tune. Revealing Bagdasarian’s comedic streak, the dialog incorporates a touch of humor; when the woman asks the man what his name is, he nervously says “Judy” before correcting himself. 

“Judy” is similar to Seville’s minor 1957 hit “Gotta Get to Your House,” which is also mostly instrumental but has a man speaking (and misspeaking) a few lines. "Gotta Get to Your House" is a much weirder record than "Judy," though. It's like a theme song for stalkers.

Seville's label, Liberty Records, had a hard time getting television record hops to play "Judy," because disc jockeys didn’t think that teens waltzed. Waltzes were for old people who listened to Wayne King and Lawrence Welk, right? In an attempt to overcome the disc jockeys' resistance, Liberty's East Coast sales rep, Jane Gibbs, convinced some hops to hold waltz contests for teens. 

Thanks to her efforts, a number of disk jockeys fell in line, including WJZ's Buddy Deane, WTTG's Milt Grant, and WNHC's Jim Gallant. Liberty even provided cash prizes for the contests: the winning couples received $50 gift certificates. 

"Teen-agers will temporarily desert rock and roll for the waltz if Liberty Records' Eastern representative Jane Gibbs has her way," Billboard wrote in May 1959. I detect a note of skepticism in the Billboard article.

Buddy Deane's show was the first to run the contest. It spanned three weeks and featured daily spins of Seville's "Judy." Viewers were invited to write in with their votes for the best couple.

Were these promotions successful? "Judy" peaked at #86 on the Billboard pop chart, where it stayed for all of one week. 

Jane Gibbs, by the way, was a well-liked Liberty rep who worked for the company through the 1950s and 1960s before moving to Motown Records in 1967. In 1969, she co-authored the Motown songbook The Motown Sound: The Sound of Young America.

David Seville, AKA Ross Bagdasarian