Monday, February 29, 2016

You Cunts! Beatle John diddles them San Francisco Bay Blues

One of the stupidest songs ever recorded is "San Francisco Bay Blues." It's one of those shitty up-tempo pseudo-vaudevillian pieces of crap. It's the kind of "let's wear bell bottoms and hold flowers" things that an Andy Williams might've sung on a 60's variety show, in a duet with Cher and/or Mama Cass (the vaginal Laurel and Hardy).

The irony is that it's an actual blues, written by a black guy named Jesse Fuller back around 1954. Unfortunately, he was a "one man band" who apparently was a novelty act for crowds of affluent white tourists. Based on a YouTube video of him doing this awful song, I can imagine him on the pier, banging his drum, twanging his guitar, and yeah, tooting a fucking harmonica between choruses, smiling as the hat on the ground filled with coins. Who was in San Francisco back then besides vacationers looking for amusement and a fish dinner with Rice-a-Roni?

By the late 60's the hipsters and the Boho homos took over. For the latter, "Ghirardelli Chocolate" was just code for wanting to ass-fuck an Italian. Also by then blues and R&B were eclipsed by several nefarious music forms, all of them somehow warping "San Francisco Bay Blues" like Jimmy Savile alone with a child.

Fuller's corny tune was picked up by the late 50's and early 60's folkies, the "let's all wear the same striped t-shirts" 3-man folk groups. They tricked up this blues piece the same way they trivialized Mexican rhythms ("Tijuana Jail") and hammering a mild joke into an overbearingly rousing gag tune ("The M.T.A. Song.") If you could get the crowd banging spoons on the table at the notion of a man unable to get off a fucking subway train because he didn't have a nickel (and his wife threw him sandwiches each day INSTEAD of a nickel), then the "snappy" ode to S.F. Bay was just your cup of espresso.

I'm not sure if one-man-band Fuller played kazoo or that was an affectation added by Greenwich Village musos, the type who failed to impress some girl who wore all-black clothes and mascara that could've been applied by a State Highway tar crew. The type who ended up coming home alone to moodily smoke an un-filtered Pall Mall, tap the bongos, and listen to Jean Shepherd musing on life's miseries on late night radio.

From the early 60's when Ramblin' Jack and the sprightly Peter Paul & Mary covered it, "San Francisco Bay Blues," like the infamous chicken, laid in the middle of the road. There it was plucked up by most any lame late 60's act. By then there was a new type of MOR music. One writer who got diverticulitis from sucking a lollipop with his ass all day called it "zunshine pop." You know the genre. It included retro-20's schlock and outright crap: "Winchester Cathedral," "Lady Godiva" and "Up Up and Away."

I don't know if this bit of Charleston Chew spewed from the gobs of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band or Ian Whitcomb, but I wouldn't doubt it. I'm sure it was a fave of all those psyche-dipshit bands that were melding pop and jug band or New Orleans "funk," and naming themselves Fungo Jerry or maybe Bill Wicks and His Dipsticks. Remember them? They were the kind that had at least one member wearing a top hat and a handlebar mustache, another never smiling, another was always grinning like an imbecile, and the lead singer milking crowd reaction with a prop box containing Mickey Mouse gloves, oversized orange granny glasses and a version of the arrow-through-the-head trick.

One thing about "San Francisco Bay Blues" that you have to admit: it's catchy. Downright infectious. It almost invites a Clark Terry parody. Terry you'll recall, performed "Mumbles," his "tribute" to marble-mouthed Ray Charles-styled blues singers. Well, ex-Beatle John, who was a wicked guy, would sometimes play around in the studio parodying rock stars and styles. He probably wore out his copy of Peter Sellers taking the piss out of Lonnie Donnegan. And so, sick and tired of uptight mama's little chauvinists in the recording booth taking too long of a toke break when he wanted to make some recordings, he skiffled over "San Francisco Bay Blues," mocking-up the lyrics, strumming like he had Formby's uke, and ending with an appropriate curse.

Off you go...

John's Minute Doodle of San Francisco Bay Blues

Friday, February 19, 2016

Red Skelton and a Phil Ochs pianist: "SPRING DAY"

What's that photo? It looks like the late Red Skelton, spiritually guiding Lincoln Mayorga through a performance of "Spring Day."

In dreams. It's a Photoshop job; Mayorga on stage was playing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" as part of "Broadway on Ice." The show was at the Royal Opera House (in Oman, of all places) back in December of 2014. No photo of Gershwin superimposed, much less "one of America's clowns," as Red humbly billed himself.

In just a month, we'll encounter our first "Spring Day." Maybe only one, considering climate change.

Some 50 years ago, Red was interested in emulating other musical comedians, from Chaplin to Jackie Gleason (who was very successful conducting "easy listening" albums). Red would eventually write his own theme song, to be played when he walked on stage for his one-man shows. In the mid 60's, Liberty gave him a two album deal conducting standards and some self-written numbers as well.

Leading off the second album is "Spring Day," a Skelton original. Like every other cut on the album, it was arranged by Lincoln Mayorga. Phil Ochs fans will instantly know that name. Mayorga supplied the fascinating piano work on several of Phil's A&M albums. It might be a bit of a stretch, but Lincoln's piano embroidery for "Spring Day" might recall the burlesque of easy listening that he did on Phil's track "The Party," probably only a year or two later.

In a Spring day in March, Lincoln Mayorga will turn 79. You can find out much more about him at his dotcom.

As we look to Spring, we can hope (against hope) for some good new music in the world. Maybe some of it will come from comedians. I once had a lively talk with Phyllis Diller on the kind of band we could assemble made up of comedians (Phyllis on piano, Jackie Vernon on trumpet, Morey Amsterdam on cello, Henny Youngman and Jack Benny on violins, Woody Allen on clarinet, Pete Barbutti and Judy Tenuta on accordion, etc.)

Steve Allen was a pianist and Johnny Carson a drummer; today's late night stars are also musical and some very ambitious about it, too. Jimmy Kimmel plays clarinet. His CBS rival Stephen Colbert recently tried to replace James Taylor in duetting "Mockingbird" with guest Carly Simon. The most obsessed of the lot is Jimmy Fallon who will strum a guitar and imitate (ad nauseum) Neil Young. He has insisted on doing karaoke regularly. He has done the good (a duet with McCartney imagining what "Yesterday" would've been like if it had remained "Scrambled Eggs") the bad (literally falling all over the piano and the stage while duetting with Billy Joel) and the ugly (too much to chronicle here.)

The late musical comedian Michael Flanders recalled enjoying a Spring day in Great Britain: "I missed it last year. I was in the bath." Just in case the temperatures do indeed shift rapidly from cold and rainy to overbearingly hot and humid, you can perpetually enjoy THIS "Spring Day" below. And if that's not optimism, well, it's not.


BOBBY COLE - "GROWING OLD" (10 Years After)

Ten years ago on this date, THIS BLOG appeared.

One of the first things I posted was "Growing Old," written and recorded by my late friend Bobby Cole.

We didn't talk much about his old songs. He was pretty modest about his sheet music, his many looseleaf binders of music study, and whatever "unreleased" material he was still working on. I remember checking out some of the songs and asking, "Why did you write them down in such complicated keys?" Much of his stuff was in 4 flats, 3 sharps, etc. He said, "Hadn't thought of that."

And then we were off for a walk, or a discussion of beer, women, and anything but song. After all, you don't expect a doctor or a lawyer to "talk shop" after hours? They're trying to get away from it.

There's no getting away from today's anniversary, so I'll acknowledge it. Yep, 10 years of this blog. But I have no profound comment to make about it; no paragraphs of nostalgia about all the changes over the years. As with Bobby and his music, living it was enough. Just enjoy what remains. The blog has some 1,000 or so links. And below is one of them.

Ten years ago I wrote:

"I'm Growing Old" is Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year" gone very bad. The singer here isn't looking backward fondly, he's accepting a very unpleasant future. The song puts a final chord on the forewarning of an earlier song (on Bobby's solo album) called "Lover Boy."

In that one, he tells a playboy that Life will eventually provide the truth: "taking in exchange...your youth." Here, the truth is "I'm Growing Old," and it's so painful Bobby told me that grown men in the audience would cry. That might also explain why Lou Rawls emphatically turned this song down when Bobby offered it. PS, Bobby had better luck when Nancy Sinatra covered one of his tunes (Flowers)."


Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Angie Bowie Tribute: ZIGGY STARDUST in French by NUIT D'OCTOBRE

From inside a British reality TV madhouse, Angie Bowie cried, "The Stardust is Gone!"

She wasn't referring to the eye shadow on David Gest. She was referring to the death of her ex, David Bowie, aka Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane and The Avant Garde Anthony Newley. The news was so sad she eventually quit the show. Which was too bad, because before that, Gest had also quit, and she probably had a good chance of winning the grand prize. Which I think was a box of Kit-Kats without the wafers.

Longtime readers know that this is the "blog of less renown." (Some might even get the obscure Les Brown band reference). No way a guy as famous as David Bowie needs a tribute here.

But…how about Nuit D'Octobre? The scant album notes on the obscure "Dark Side of David Bowie" album only say of the Swiss band: "Still not well known, they really deserve more attention." So let's take the death of Bowie to give it to them. And let's also take a moment to offer a kind word or two for Angie.

It was 20 years ago today, give or take a day or a year, when a German record label got the idea to do a tribute to Bowie. They cobbled together indie, goth, alternative and heavy metal acts who covered the songs in various sober, artsy and sludgy ways. The band names were certainly a lotta fun: Crimson Joy, Syria, Dreadful Shadows, Gallery of Fear, Burning Gates, Kill the Audience, etc.

It was probably around that time that I met Angie Bowie for the first and only time. I was at a party with my better half (there has to be one!). She (the better half) was getting bored trying to identify the D-list celebrities (I think she was tempted to include me as one). We noticed a very gregarious (ie, over-served) lady who seemed to find everything hilarious, and who seemed to know everyone. We didn't want to know her. Happy people make us irritable.

Happenstance and no other available seating got us next to her, and to our surprise, when she turned her extroverted joy in our direction it changed our mood. She was really good company. It was maybe an hour before we made the connection that the lady who introduced herself simply as "Angie," was in fact, Angie Bowie. We figured it out the more the conversation turned to our mutual tastes in music.

While she is often treated with scorn and derision, for me, the name Angie Bowie conjures a memory of warmth and joy.

As for David Bowie, I'll agree he influenced just about every publicity-seeking artist in the world. After his death, dozens of unlikely rock and pop stars insisted he was a major influence. Madonna conspicuously wanted to make the connection in the days after his death, to the point of hilariously fainting face-first after doing "tribute song" to him.

No question the guy legitimately influenced many struggling bands who began by covering a particular look of his, and ultimately forge a more original identity to create new and worthy songs. I just can't think of any. After all, whatever became of the people on the "Dark Side of David Bowie" album, like NUIT d'OCTOBRE? Oh, "Ziggy Stardust is Gone..." but here, their French language cover version lives on.



Bob Dylan may have said it best: "Too bad what we have can't last."

But musically, there's still a shimmer to Ernest Gold's poignant "Love Theme" from "Ship of Fools."

As you might guess from the movie's title, "Ship of Fools" was symbolic, pretentious and overly long.

Even so, it had some vivid moments of foolish if not appalling behavior. Most of the latter concerned particular forms of cruelty to animals, immigrants and Jews, among other easy targets.

The film, based on Katherine Anne Porter's novel, also focused on the angst of relationships sinking like the Titanic or going as wrong as most any Carnival Cruise.

For a "love theme," this piece is very sad. This confused me at the time, since I hadn't actually seen the film when I bought the record. Back in the day, when new albums pushed the older ones aside pretty quickly, soundtracks were an endangered species. Once the film was out of the theater, the "souvenir" music album would go to the bargain bin. I figured if the movie had a well-known composer involved, why not give it a try?

I finally saw the film recently, and it turns out the moment that uses this music in the background, is indeed sad. Oskar Werner plays the ship's doctor, who has a heart condition, and Simone Signoret is a washed-up drug addict. Their feelings for each other are tender. Their prospects for a happy future? Well, tough.

In the movie still above, you see Oskar Werner contemplating the problem, and thinking, "Does she remind me more of Broderick Crawford in drag, or Lon Chaney Jr.?"

Among the other stars making the film worthwhile; Lee Marvin as a boorish baseball player, Vivien Leigh in her last role, and a little fellow who once, with a female partner, sang songs in New York City cabarets: Michael Dunn.