Monday, September 28, 2009

Shall I Come Back Again?

Certain songs give me a creepy feeling when I hear them because something in the lyrics reminds me that the singer has passed away. This happens when I hear Buddy Holly singing, "That'll be the day that I die." The same feeling comes over me when I hear Otis Redding sing, "I've had nothing to live for" in his last recording, (Sitting On) The Dock Of The Bay. It happens when I hear Sam Cooke sing, "It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die" in his version of A Change Is Gonna Come. Jimi Hendrix delivers some pretty spooky lyrics in I Don't Live Today when he sings, "Will I live tomorrow? Well, I just can't say. I know for sure I don't live today." Even though his accident wasn't fatal, it still creeps me out to hear Jan And Dean sing their prophetic hit, Dead Man's Curve. And I don't care what John Lennon says, I can clearly hear him saying "I buried Paul" at the end of Strawberry Fields Forever, and not the words "cranberry sauce" as he later claimed.

I could go on and on with references like this, but this post is all about what happens whenever I listen to Elvis Presley singing Are You Lonesome Tonight. "Is your heart filled with pain? Shall I come back again?" I know, it's a bit of a stretch, but it's a question that always makes me want to shout out, "YES! Elvis, for God's sake, please come back!" By the way, I'm NOT one of "those people" who claims to see Elvis buying cigarettes and lottery tickets every night somewhere in lower Michigan.

Now, let's take another little trip down musical memory lane. You may already know that Elvis wasn't the first person to sing Are You Lonesome Tonight. The song was actually written in 1926 by Roy Turk and Lou Handman.

Lou Handman was born in New York City in 1894. He toured in vaudeville and played piano for soldiers during World War I. He then hit Tin Pan Alley where he became a song plugger for Irving Berlin and an accompanist to vaudeville star Marion Harris. Shortly afterward, he started writing his own songs which would become some of the most important hits of his time. Are You Lonesome Tonight became his biggest hit. In 1930, Handman and his wife, fellow vaudeville star Florrie Le Vere, moved to Hollywood to write music for Universal Studios and Republic Pictures. He worked on movies like All Quiet On The Western Front, A Star Is Born, and The Hit Parade. He died in 1956. He was posthumously inducted into the Songwriter's Hall Of Fame in 1975. This is a photo of Lou Handman (center) with his sister Edythe (left) and his wife Florrie (right).

Rumor has it that the song may have been first recorded on June 18, 1926 by Bob Haring and his Cameo Dance Orchestra, but no copies of that disc (Cameo 967) have ever been located. Bob Haring was a bandleader who recorded under several different aliases, such as the Caroliners, the Lincoln Dance Orchestra, the Society Night Club Orchestra, and the Colonial Club Orchestra. He also also appeared as Bob Haring And His Velvetone Orchestra. He wasn't the only bandleader doing things like this back in the 1920's. They did it to get around recording contract restrictions. This allowed them to release material on a different label without breaking their exclusive contract. In fact, the labels themselves often asked bandleaders to record cover versions under an assumed name which they issued on subsidiary labels in order to generate competition. A lot of this was necessary because large chain stores often negotiated a monopoly on the sale of certain labels. Bob's son, Bob Haring Jr., became a music librarian who probably spent a lot of time tracking down the various recordings done by his father! If this disc does exist, it would be a highly-prized find for record collectors. If you know I can lay my hands on a copy of Cameo 967, please contact me immediately!

The song was actually recorded first on May 8, 1927 by Ned Jakobs, but his version was not released until May 17, 1927 on Brunswick 3561. That means that the first time it appeared on a record was May 9, 1927 by Charles Hart on Harmony 431. He may have also released this on Victor 18467. I do not have a copy of the Charles Hart version and I can't find one anywhere, so I think it must be pretty rare. If you have a copy of the record or an audio file you'd be willing to send me, I'd really love to hear from you!

The hit version, which rose to number four on the sales charts, was sung by "The Radio Girl" Vaughn de Leath on June 13, 1927 on Edison 52044. The Edison discs spun at 80 RPM and were laterally recorded, which meant they could only be played properly on an Edison talking machine.

There were several other versions released in 1927 as well.

On June 27, 1927, the original composer, Lou Handman, released his own version. He played piano while the vocals were sung by his sister Edythe Handman on Gennett 6186. This is another version I have yet to hear, so please contact me if you have the record or audio file.

On July 22, 1927, Little Jack Little recorded a version that was released on Columbia 1173 in August 1927.

On August 5, 1927, the famed tenor Henry Burr released yet another version of the song on Victor 20873.

On September 1, 1927, Vaughn de Leath re-did the song again, this time backed by the Colonial Club Orchestra.

In October 1927 it was released by Elliott Stewart on Gennett 6297 (many sources incorrectly list him as Stewart Elliott). He was an actor who appeared on Broadway in 1924 in a musical production of Madame Pompadour. It appears he also recorded the song as Harlow Lashley on Champion 15371 in that same month, which is the version I have in my collection.

It was also done by Lew White on Brunswick 3672, and also by the Newport Society Orchestra also released a version of the song on Harmony 511, both in 1927.

Many a crooner would follow with a straight cover of the song through the years. Some performers, however, adapted the song to their genre. For example, the Carter Family, pioneers of country music who went on to produce June Carter (wife of Johnny Cash) and Anita Carter, recorded a bluegrass version in 1935 which was musically and lyrically quite different from the original.

The song enjoyed a revival in the 1950s, being redone first by Al Jolson on Decca 6262. He ends the spoken part with the sentence " the part of a broken clown". Elvis changed this to "with emptiness all around".

The arrangement used in Elvis Presley's version is based on the 1950 recording of Are You Lonesome Tonight by the Blue Barron Orchestra on MGM 10628. The Blue Barron was born Hershel Freidland on November 19, 1913 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Elvis Presley's manager, "Colonel" Tom Parker, persuaded The King to sing this old standard because it was one of his wife's favorite songs. Mrs Marie Parker liked the 1940's version by country star Gene Austin, and also the 1959 remake by Jaye P Morgan.

The spoken part is loosely based on a play by William Shakespear. It's from a speech given by the character Jacques in As You Like It, Act II Scene VII where he recites, "All the world's a stage, and all men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts."

While appearing at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in 1969, and while no doubt overdosed with amphetamines, Elvis Presley started cracking up after hearing the high-pitched voice of backing singer Cissy Houston (Whitney Houston’s mother). Elvis would sometimes mess around with the lyrics while doing his hits on stage. In this instance, he spotted a bald man in the audience and the words, “Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there” turned into, “Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair!” This set Elvis off into a fit of laughter, while the band and backing singer just kept going as if everything was normal. The "Laughing Version" was issued by RCA several years later on the Live At The International Hotel album.

Except as I've noted above, you'll hear all these versions of Are You Lonesome Tonight, along with many others, on MusicMaster Oldies. You'll also hear "answer" songs, parodies, and live versions as well, including the infamous "laughing" version Elvis did, along with another one by him where he sounds totally loaded and really destroys the lyrics!

And now, recorded from MY copy of Vaughn de Leath's original hit version on the thick Edison record, here's Are You Lonesome To-Night by The Radio Girl:

Most people know that Al Jolson had a legendary voice. Here's his take on the song:

The Blue Barron version is the one Elvis probably copied:

The Colonel's wife probably liked this one from 1949 by Jaye P Morgan:

And here's that Bluegrass version from 1935 by the Carter Family!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Stormy Weather

As a record collector and dealer, I've heard many interesting stories over the years. One of the most incredible I've ever heard was the story of Stormy Weather / Sleepy Cowboy by the Five Sharps on Jubilee 5104 from 1952. Now, thanks to Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks, I know the real story behind this legendary record.

Stormy Weather was written back in 1933 by Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen with Cab Calloway in mind. After putting the song together at a party one night, the two later decided it would sound better sung by a woman. They gave it to Ether Waters to introduce during a revue at the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem. But before that revue had a chance to open, Harold Arlen had already recorded his own version of the song with Leo Reisman's Orchestra. His version went to number one on the charts, so it was already a big hit by the time Ethel introduced it in the show. She recorded a version in that same year which also became a number one chart hit. There were a few more versions of the song, which all ended up in the top ten during 1933, performed by Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, and Ted Lewis. Ethel Waters once said, "I sang Stormy Weather from the depths of my private hell in which I was being crushed and suffocated.” With passion like that poured into a song, it had to become a hit. In 1943, Lena Horne sang her big production version of Stormy Weather for the movie of the same name. It only reached number 21 on the charts, but it's the version that most people remembered through the years.

Now we fast-forward several years later to 1952. At that time, the South Jamaica Projects in New York City were fertile ground for a number of street harmony (Doo-Wop) groups, such as the Rivileers, the Cleftones, the Cellos, and the Deltairs. These groups sang on street corners where people would gather around, sit on benches, and listen to their music. One evening a group of younger kids who also loved to sing, Pete Le Monier, Billy Boatswain, Bobby Ward, Wilbur “Buzzy” Brown, and Robert Brown, were all sitting outside on the benches and listening to the Rivileers. They decided to put together their own group, initially calling themselves the Bencholeers. They later changed their name to the Love Larks, and, according to member Bobby Ward, the Rivileers started listening to them!

Not content to be with just one group, Bobby Ward also began singing second tenor with another group called the Five Sharps, which also featured Ronald Cuffey on lead, Clarence Bassett on first tenor, Mickey Owens (Ronald's cousin) on bass, and Tommy Duckett on baritone. Tommy also played piano and arranged the songs for the group. According to Bobby, Tommy was a full-fledged singing member of the group, so there were always five voices. They called themselves the Five Sharps because it fit them musically, and also because they dressed really well and always looked really "sharp" in their nice clothes! The group sang mostly ballads in the style of the Orioles, the Dominoes, the Larks, and the Royals, which were all groups they admired.

One night, while performing in the Villa Grove in Flushing, and after singing their version of My Mother's Eyes, a woman in the audience asked them to sing it again. Turns out that woman was none other than the legendary Billie Holiday who was nearing the end of her career at that point. A guy named Oscar Porter was also in the audience that night and he, after being impressed by that request, approached the group with an offer to manage them. Porter, who probably knew Jerry Blaine well enough to get an act signed without an audition, got the boys into a recording session at Jubilee Records, home of their idols, the Orioles. They worked on two songs. The first was Stormy Weather, which Ronald Cuffey chose because he favored older songs (Bobby hated the song).

The flip side of the original Five Sharps record featured Sleepy Cowboy, which had been written by Ronald Cuffey and Bobby Ward in Ronald's garage. Although they came up with different lyrics, the theme was borrowed from Sleepy Little Cowboy by the Deep River Boys which was originally issued in May 1952. But the only composer credited on the record was the group's new manager, Oscar Porter! That was a common practice back then as a means of shifting future royalty income to others. Ronald and Bobby worked on another tune in the garage that day called Duck-Butt Dottie. Sounds like a great title, but it appears they never managed to get it down on record.

One evening in the middle of October 1952, the Five Sharps showed up at the Jubilee studios in Sugar Hill around 6:00pm. Tommy Duckett played piano while singing along with the others on Stormy Weather. The studio dubbed in the rain and thunder sound effects later. Four hours later, they had both tracks laid down after several takes, during which they consumed franks and sodas. Ronald Cuffey sang the lead on both sides with the prominent bass vocals of Mickey Owens behind him. With the session ending at 10:00pm, it took then until almost two in the morning to get back home to Jamaica. Bobby's father was not pleased!

The record was basically ignored by Jubilee. No review copies were sent out after the December 1952 release, and lack of distribution killed it. Unfortunately for the Five Sharps, the competition was pretty tough at the time. They were up against songs like You Belong To Me by the Orioles, Night's Curtains by the Checkers, Big City by Linda Hayes, Last Laugh Blues by Little Esther And Little Willie Littlefield, and even Please Have Mercy On Me by Little Richard. Hal Jackson, a dee jay on WLIB, gave the Five Sharps several spins on his radio show, but it's almost certain the switchboard didn't light up. Bobby Ward thought his recordings with the Five Sharps were terrible, and he's convinced that everyone else thought the same, since almost no one actually bought the record. Stormy Weather did make it onto the record racks at two stores in Jamaica, Triboro and Green Line. Someone who worked in Triboro told them “If you guys don't sell some of these things, I'm gonna throw them out.” He probably did just that. Each of the guys had a copy, but Bobby couldn't recall if they got them for free from Jubilee or if they had to buy them on their own! Bobby's copy ended up in the possession of a girl he was dating at the time!

The legend behind the record begins in January 1962 at Time Square Records in New York City. This was THE used record shop back in the early 1960's, and it was operated by a guy named Irving "Slim" Rose. A record collector and regular customer by the name of Billy Pensabene came to the shop with a copy of a 78 RPM record he'd found somewhere either in New Jersey or Brooklyn wanting to play it for Slim. Neither of them had ever heard it before, but they both liked it a lot. It was on original copy of Stormy Weather by the Five Sharps.

At the time, Slim was doing a radio show on WBNX called Sink Or Swim With Swingin' Slim. He borrowed the record from Billy because he wanted to play it on his show that week. Supposedly, as Slim was walking home from the studio, he accidently broke it under his arm. This was not a good thing! Slim tried to claim that his pet raccoon Teddy sat on the record, but that didn't help much. Slim still "owed" a copy of the record to Billy and he figured he had two options to replace it, his store and his radio show.

On January 22, 1962, Slim asked his customers to search for another copy and bring it in to the shop. In return he offered a $5 store credit for a 78 RPM copy, or $10 credit for the same songs on a 45 RPM single. Nobody came forward. Slim started to increase the reward each week, all the way up to $500 for a single copy of Stormy Weather. Still, nothing surfaced. In the process, however, Slim managed to stir up a big demand for this mysterious record, so he went to visit Jerry Blaine, owner of Jubilee Records, asking him to reissue the original. Jerry told Slim that he couldn't do it. It seems there were about 80 master recordings that got destroyed in a fire and Stormy Weather by the Five Sharps was one of the missing masters. Blaine later changed his story and said these missing masters were the victims of water damage instead, but it was clear they no longer existed. In fact, Jubilee went to the trouble and expense of putting together a totally different black group to record Stormy Weather along the lines of the original so they could reissue the song on Jubilee 5478 in May 1964. They even called this new group the Five Sharps, but this later recording just didn't have the "magic" of the original. But before Jubilee got that record out, Slim had already recruited a group called the Florals and had them record a bogus version of Stormy Weather on his own Times Square label under the name The 5 Sharks. The flip side of that remake was a tune called If You Love Me.

Remember, NOBODY could find a copy of the original at this point, and the masters were lost forever!

A few years later, in 1968, a Brooklyn collector named John Dunn found a second copy of the original 78 RPM pressing of Stormy Weather. Unfortunately, it was badly cracked and could not be played. He took it to a recording studio where they pieced the song together, made a tape recording, and then edited out the loud pops caused by the crack. Now there was a recording of the original, but few people got to hear it -- that is until March 1972 when Bim Bam Boom, a record collector's magazine, purchased the cracked record from John Dunn. They took it to another studio where a recording engineer spent around 50 hours editing out something like 200 non-musical sounds. Later in 1972, the original Stormy Weather / Sleepy Cowboy was reissued on the Bim Bam Boom label. Finally, the world would get a chance to hear these legendary recordings!

In August 1977, a third copy of the original Stormy Weather 78 RPM pressing turned up! This time it was auctioned off in a magazine called Record Exchanger. The winning bidders were a couple of coin collectors named Gordon Wrubel and David Hall who now run the Good Rockin' Tonight auction house. They shelled out $3866 for it, which they claimed was the highest price ever paid for a single record up to that time. Actually, that wasn't quite true. A 1920's jazz record called Zulu's Ball by King Oliver on the Gennett label had sold for $4000 in 1974. Still, it was big money for a used record back in those days! Amazingly, this same auction featured a FOURTH copy of Stormy Weather which we have to assume was sold to someone else. That copy was in much worse condition with a big piece chipped off the edge of the record.

Researchers have learned that a 45 RPM pressing of the original Stormy Weather probably existed at some point, but none had ever been found. The reason these records were so scarce may take us back to the 1950's and the Korean War! Some of the materials that are used to make records were classified as "essential war products" during World War II. In fact, all production of records stopped for a full year during that war so the shellac used to make them was available exclusively for military purposes. Now the Bakelite Company started to cut back on shipments of the materials needed to make records, which made the record companies worry that the Korean War would bring about a similar ban. The most important ingredient in vinyl is acetylene, which was another essential war product. There was also a strike going on against the companies that made chlorine and chlorides, both vital ingredients for making vinyl records. On top of all this, the industry was trying to kill off the production of 78 RPM records in favor of the new 45 RPM singles that had been introduced by RCA in 1949. It's quite possible that Jubilee Records collected up records that were not selling well, including all the pressings of Stormy Weather, and recycled them. If you own any old Orioles records on Jubilee, chances are some of the vinyl in them was reclaimed from those unsold Five Sharps 45's! Still, there's a chance (SLIM) that one of the original 45 RPM copies of Stormy Weather did survive and is out there somewhere waiting for a lucky collector to discover!

A FIFTH copy of the original Stormy Weather on 78 RPM Jubilee turned up on October 31, 2003. That's when Nauck's Vintage Records in Texas offered a copy on eBay. This one also had a crack across the radius of the record, but supposedly it did not adversely affect the sound when played. After being listed for only three days, the bidding had climbed to a whopping $19,990.00! At this point, eBay pulled the auction down because the sellers had violated eBay's posting rules when they included a direct link to their home page and offered to consider a trade if the minimum bid was not reached. The problem was corrected and the auction was posted again on November 6, 2003. Strangely, the re-listed auction received no bids at all. Afterward, a collector from New Jersey contacted Nauck directly and purchased the record for $19,000. According to the buyer, the hairline crack is "barely noticable and it does not affect play."

Believe it or not, a SIXTH copy surfaced in June 2008! This one had been purchased by a Harlem resident in 1952 at the Blue Note Record Shop and held in his personal collection all through the years. This copy was put up for sale at the famous Christie's auction house in New York City. It was expected to bring in $20,000 to $30,000, but nobody ever met the minimum bid. It remains unsold, probably because the photo used by Christie's revealed a somewhat less than pristine copy. Not only that, Christie's is probably the wrong place to sell a rare record, since it's not a place frequented by record collectors.

In August 2008, yet another copy appeared on eBay. This one sold for only $5200 -- which was actually way too much, considering that this one was a fake! The seller had taken an earlier photograph of the original label, modified it a little, and pasted it on some random 78 RPM record. Fortunately, the winning bidder got a warning in time to cancel the transaction. Be careful when buying expensive old records on eBay!

Although they were still in junior high school, the Five Sharps did manage to make a few appearances at schools and small local clubs. They also appeared on the Apollo Theater's Amateur Night show where they sang a song by the Larks (either Hopefully Yours or In My Lonely Room). They came in third, with the first place prize that week going to the 5 Crowns who sang You're My Inspiration. A few months later, the group called it quits. By the end of 1953, Ronald Cuffey had joined the army and Bobby Ward had gone on to high school. Tommy Duckett ended up joining the Rivileers as accompanist and arranger.

When Ronald got out of the army, he reunited with Clarence Bassett to form the Videos. He sang both first tenor and bass, along with Charles Baskerville (second tenor), Ronnie Woodhall (lead tenor), and Johnny Jackson (baritone). After the Videos, Clarence and Charles went on to become members of the Limelites backing the legendary James “Shep” Sheppard.

One day in 1974, Bobby Ward was listening to a radio show called The Time Capsule. All of a sudden he heard his old group singing Stormy Weather! His wife, Bernice, called the studio and told them that her husband had been a member of the Five Sharps. At first they didn't believe it, but finally Bobby convinced them. He and Tommy Duckett wound up meeting with the staff of Bim Bam Boom records and, as a result, Bobby and Tommy re-formed the Five Sharps around 1976. They appeared at a couple of Gus Gossert shows, and also did a show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, all with rave reviews. They also managed an appearance on the Good Day TV show on Boston's WCVB, by which time Clarence had returned, replacing Buzzy. Although this new-found fame didn't last too long, Bobby was happier the second time around: “This time it was about having fun,” he says.

Ronald Cuffey passed away from leukemia around 1970. Tommy Duckett had several strokes and left us in May 1996. It's rumored that Mickey Owens has died too, but Bobby can't confirm it. Clarence Bassett retired and moved to Virginia, where he passed away in January 2005.

So now, thanks to Marv Goldberg's interview with Bobby Ward, along with pieces of the puzzle he collected from a few other record dealers, we now know the complete story behind this legendary piece of vinyl record collecting history.

Now, please enjoy the original Stormy Weather by the Five Sharps!

Find an original 45 RPM pressing of this song on Jubilee 5104 and you'll probably be able to sell it for at least $50,000!

By the way, here's a very interesting garage rock take on the song from 1963 by a group calling themselves The Counts. This appeared on Smash 1821, but that's all I know about it. If you know anything about this group at all, please let me know.

Friday, September 25, 2009

It Must Be Jesus

Gospel music had a big influence on Rock And Roll. In fact, the words "rocking" and "rolling" have been used in prayer meetings for over 100 years. That's where the term "Holy Rollers" came from! Religious chanting is hundreds of years old, but Gospel music as we know it today probably got started in the late 1800's. This music ranges from slow church hymns to wild uptempo black spirituals, and both of these forms had an impact on early Rock And Roll.

Ray Charles got into trouble when he "borrowed" the tune of a well-known Gospel song called It Must Be Jesus, adding new lyrics to create his first big hit, I've Got A Woman. Here's the actual song he copied, done by the Southern Tones on Duke 205 from 1954!

Listen to this early recording of an actual prayer meeting and see if you can tell how these rhythms evolved into Rock And Roll. This is from a 1916 recording on the Little Wonder label, a record company known for producing children's records! The artists are identified only as Male Quartette and the title on the record was simply The Camp Meeting Jubilee. A little warning, by the way, some of the lyrics in this are NOT considered Politically Correct these days!

There's another Gospel record that I'd like you to hear called Pains Of Life by Elijah Fair And The Sensational Gladys Davis Trio. This appeared on Feron 108 in 1967, a full year before Aretha Franklin belted out her big 1968 hit, Chain Of Fools. Of course, Chain Of Fools was written by Don Covay and produced by Jerry Wexler on Atlantic Records. Some people claim that Don Covay ripped off this earlier recording without giving any credit to the original author! Take a listen and you'll clearly hear the similarity. Aretha Franklin, by the way, was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. She was raised in Buffalo, New York, and then moved with her family to Detroit, Michigan. She was the daugther of Reverend Cecil L. Franklin, pastor of the Bethel Church in Detroit. She was taught to sing gospel at age nine by Reverend James Cleveland. Clearly, she'd heard and sung a lot of Gospel music in her lifetime.

Speaking of Aretha, her cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water is a very nice Gospel treatment of the Simon And Garfunkel hit. Obviously, Gospel and Rock And Roll music are tightly woven together.

Of course, you'll hear all these recordings, and MUCH more, on MusicMaster Oldies!

I was in Philadelphia for the past few days, but now I'm back with a whole bunch of fresh ideas for future posts. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vinyl Records Are Worthless, Right?

I can't believe how many vinyl records were stamped out of the presses over the years! You can still find them by the thousands laying on the floor at Goodwill, strewn around in various booths at antique malls, in those cute little carrying cases at yard and garage sales, and at vinyl record shows all over the world. Used record stores are slowly disappearing, but there are still some big ones around that are jam packed with millions of little plastic discs. Vinyl records are one of the biggest selling items on eBay, with millions of them listed for auction or sale at any given time. Entire websites like GEMM and MusicStack are dedicated to the sale of vinyl records. With all those records in circulation, you'd think they'd be nearly worthless, right? Well, many of them are -- but....

I've been a record collector for many years. I actually owned a used record store that had two million records in stock. In that business, I met and got to know many of the biggest record collectors and dealers across America, and a few outside the country as well. One of them is a guy by the name of John Tefteller up in Grant's Pass, Oregon (above photo). John's got a huge collection of blues records dating all the way back to the beginning of recorded music. Record collecting is a very competitive sport, so we each get a little jealous of the others at times. Last month, however, John made me feel pretty good, even though he doesn't know it.

John managed to win a copy of a very rare record on eBay. Well, he didn't just "manage" to win it, he put in the winning bid to take it down for a mere $10,323. Yeah, that's US Dollars. The record is called Lonesome Old Jail backed with Greyhound Blues by D. A. Hunt. It's on the legendary Sun record label out of Memphis, Tennessee, the same label where Elvis Presley cut his first five records. That company was run by Sam Phillips whose magic ears could hear the star potential in Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and a whole slew of others. Anyway, this particular record appears to be quite rare. According to the news, John Tefteller now holds the only copy in the world in his hands! Except, of course, there's also MY copy of that same record...

Sun 183 (left photo) has been found in small quantities on the larger 78 RPM discs, but until recently nobody thought that any 45 RPM pressings had ever been made. In fact, Sam Phillips himself "confirmed" that years ago. Back in the 1950's, a bunch of British record hunters came to America on a Record Safari. They went to Sun Records and met with Sam Phillips and, with his help, documented everything that studio ever produced. They found 78 RPM stampers for Sun 183, but no 45 RPM stampers. Sam told them he never made any, but time has proven otherwise. He must have made a very small quantity and then forgot all about them. It's hard to imagine he only made one or two, so there must be more of them out there waiting for you to find in a dusty bin somewhere! The one John Tefteller has is a "stock" copy, meaning it was made for distribution to record stores. The one I have is a "promo" copy, meaning it was meant for free distribution to radio stations. This record is so rare, both versions are worth a ton of money. Find either one and you can jam ten grand into your bank account!

John won his copy from a dealer in St. Paul, Minnesota named Tim Schloe (left photo). His copy is not in very good condition, and condition really counts for a lot when you're figuring out what an old record is worth. They rate John's copy at VG-, which means it's been used a lot and possibly abused by a previous owner. In fact, the eBay description said that it skipped in the middle and the seller didn't attempt to fix that problem. Hey, John, my copy plays all the way through and sounds really nice on the old record player!

Bootleg copies of this record have been made. There was a guy in Florida who made a whole bunch of copies of rare Sun 45s back in the 1970's after getting his hands on some stampers and blank labels. In fact, I have a copy of Sun 183 that he made as well -- which is fake. There's an obvious difference between the fakes and the original. The printing on the label is not the same, and the fakes do not have the three "push marks" that are easy to spot on the originals. These were three small circular indentations in the plastic just inside the label area where a machine pushed the finished record out of the stamping machine. If you find a Sun 45 and it doesn't have these markings, be careful. Many a sucker has been known to pay thousands of dollars for an original Elvis Sun 45 that wasn't really original!

By the way, D. A. Hunt was a bluesman out of Alabama, and this was his one and only record. While there's a lot of buzz right now among record collectors asking each other if John paid too much for this one, it's certainly not the only record worth this much money. If you should happen to find a nice Robert Johnson 78 RPM on the Vocalion label, call me. I'd probably mortgage my house to buy it from you. Likewise, if someone came along and handed me $50,000 in cold hard cash, I'd be very tempted to turn over my mint copies of all five Elvis Presley 45s on the Sun label!

So I thought you'd enjoy hearing one of the most expensive 45's in the world! Here are both sides of Sun 183 for your listening pleasure! Of course, if you listen to MusicMaster Oldies, you've probably already heard them. Yeah, we play BOTH sides of EVERY song ever pressed on the Sun Records label.

Greyhound Blues by D. A. Hunt:

Lonesome Old Jail by D. A. Hunt:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Yeah, There's An App For That...

It's here! Now there's an iPhone app exclusively for MusicMaster Oldies! Search for MM Oldies in the App Store and you'll find it. Best of all, it's 100% FREE! Coming soon to the Android too!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Blurry Beginnings of Rock And Roll

First I want to thank everyone who voted in my last poll. The results were unanimous -- everyone wants to hear stories about the songs on MusicMaster Oldies. Now I just have to figure out the best way to do that, so I'm starting a new poll to let you help me decide.

When and where did Rock And Roll get started? Who invented it? What was the very first Rock And Roll song ever recorded?

If you asked this question in a room full of people, many of them would tell you that Elvis Presley was the King of Rock And Roll. But Elvis didn't cut his first record until 1954.

Those who have studied the roots of rock might tell you that Robert Johnson had a clear influence on rock guitarists. But his incredible 1936 recordings are clearly pre-war blues that nobody would mistake for Rock And Roll.

It's pretty clear that Rock And Roll was an extension of early Rhythm And Blues music. The death of racism in America, starting with the Civil War, took a big step forward in 1954 when Congress eliminated the "separate but equal" doctrine in a move toward desegregation. This happened during a time when records began to appear featuring white artists doing their own take on R&B. At the same time, black artists were starting to sell their records to white kids, often against the protests of their parents!

When the kids who grew up on Country and Western started picking up on the R&B craze, they blended the two into a new form which we call Rockabilly. That word is a blend of "rock" as in Rock And Roll, and "hillbilly" music, as it was originally known.

Religion played an important part in the emergence of Rock And Roll. One might say is was the "glue" that bound the different styles together. Gospel music, after all, had an influence on both white and black performers. It was something they both had in common. The harmony of a gospel choir fit well into the emerging style of Rock And Roll. It also influenced the string of "singing harmony" music that took us from Barbershop Quartet to Doo Wop and beyond.

All these earlier musical forms already had names, and none of them was exactly like the Rock And Roll we think of when we listen to the music of the 1950's and 1960's. When did someone coin the phrase "Rock And Roll" and apply it to a new and emerging style of music? Someone might tell you that Alan Freed invented the term when he used it on his radio program on WJW-AM in Cleveland, Ohio back in 1951. But he certainly didn't invent the phrase.

Several earlier recordings featured the words "rock" and "roll" in some form, such as Rock And Rolling by Bob Robinson, or Rock And Rolling Mamma by Buddy Jones, or Cherry Red by Joe Turner, all from 1939. Three different songs with the title Rock And Roll were recorded in the late 1940's by Paul Bascomb (1947), Wild Bill Moore (1948), and Doles Dickens (1949). The phrase was heard often in the lyrics of R&B records in the 1940's. You'll hear it very frequently in Rock And Roll Blues by Erline "Rock and Roll" Harris from 1949.

The phrase Rock And Roll appeared in an advertisement for a motion picture called Wabash Avenue starring Betty Grable and Victor Mature in 1950. In fact, Betty Grable was cited in that ad as "The First Lady of Rock and Roll" with Wabash Avenue being "the roaring street she rocked to fame." The word "rock" had been used long before all this meaning to "shake up, disturb or incite." Black gospel singers in the South used the word "rockin'" in reference to spiritual rapture. All the way back in 1916, the term "rocking and rolling" can be heard in a spiritual record called The Camp Meeting Jubilee by an unnamed male Quartette.

In 1937, Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald recorded Rock It For Me, which included the lyric, "So won't you satisfy my soul with the rock and roll." The verb "roll" was a medieval metaphor for having sex, which is evident in the phrases "They had a roll in the hay" or "I rolled her in the clover," both found in literature going back hundreds of years. "Rocking and rolling", was black slang for dancing or sex in the early 1900's. It was first used in 1922 on My Man Rocks Me With One Steady Roll by Trixie Smith. This double entendre, referring to dancing or sex, is very clear in Good Rockin' Tonight by Roy Brown from 1948.

The words "rocking" and "rolling" were also used together on record as early as 1934 to describe the motion of a ship, such as in Rock And Roll by The Boswell Sisters. That song was featured in the 1934 movie Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round. The words were also used to refer to the motion of a train in songs like Rockin' Rollin' Mama by Buddy Jones in 1939, or Rockin And Rollin by Tommy Scott in 1951. Speaking of trains, the origins of the term "rocking and rolling" can be traced back to steel driving men working on the railroads in the Reconstruction South who sang songs in step with the rhythm of their hammer swings. The song Shake Rattle And Roll inadvertently ties in with this idea because "Shaker" was a guy who held the steel spikes, and they would "rock" the spike back and forth to get past rocks in the soil, and also "roll" (twist) the spike to improve the drilling action.

As for the first Rock And Roll record, there are a lot of contenders for that honor. You can hear them all on MusicMaster Oldies, so it might be more fun to just listen for them and judge for yourself. One that is a clear candidate is Roll 'Em Pete by Big Joe Turner from 1939. This Train and Rock Me by Sister Rosetta Tharpe from 1938 are great examples of gospel crossing over into Rock And Roll. Others you'll want to listen for are Good Rocking Tonight by Roy Brown from 1947, Move It On Over by Hank Williams from 1947, Chicken Shack Boogie by Amos Milburn from 1947, Rock The Joint by Jimmy Preston from 1947, The Fat Man by Fats Domino from 1949, and Wisconsin's own Les Paul and Mary Ford doing How High The Moon from 1951.

The true Rock And Roll sound really started to emerge with the release of Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston And His Delta Cats. That record was actually Ike Turner and his band The Kings of Rhythm recording under a different name! It was recorded in 1951 by the legendary Sam Phillips at his Sun Records studios in Memphis. The first Rock And Roll song to hit the Billboard charts was probably Crazy Man Crazy by Bill Haley And His Comets. He quickly followed that up with Rock Around The Clock, which became the first Rock And Roll record to hit number one on the Billboard charts in July 1955, even though it was recorded a year earlier. Pay particular attention to That's All Right (Mama), the very first single recorded by Elvis Presley in 1954, also done in the Sun Records studios under the direction of Sam Phillips. Many people call that the first true Rock And Roll record, even though Shake Rattle And Roll by Big Joe Turner was already at the top of the Billboard R&B charts at that time. A short time later, Bill Haley had a hit with his "white cover" of that song, a typical practice during this period.

Like boogie woogie music, early rock and roll used a twelve-bar blues chord progression with four beats to a bar, with somewhat greater emphasis on the backbeat. In 1955, however, Bo Diddley introduced a new pounding beat and unique guitar playing style with Bo Diddley backed by I'm A Man.

The Rock And Roll art form was clearly advanced by Little Richard who mixed gospel with R&B using a New Orleans sound, heavy backbeat, pounding piano and wailing vocals. Listen for this on his songs, Tutti Frutti (1955), Long Tall Sally (1956), and Good Golly Miss Molly (1958).

Chuck Berry is another superstar of early Rock And Roll who refined and developed the style and made it more distinctive with his unique guitar intros and lead guitar breaks, which became a major influence on rock musicians even to this day. His lyrics were more focused on the teenage lifestyle and easily crossed over the black vs white boundaries. Listen for his hit records such as Maybellene (1955), Roll Over Beethoven (1956), Rock And Roll Music (1957), and Johnny B Goode (1958).

Of course, you're also going to hear the "anti-Rock And Roll" songs that continued to play alongside Rock And Roll throughout the 1950's, and to a lesser degree during 1960's. We're talking about folks like Eddie Fisher, Perry Como, and Patti Page, and the others like them who had dominated popular music before being pushed out of the way by kids who preferred the upbeat intensity of Rock And Roll.

Here are a couple of fun samples for you!

Ella Fitzgerald is often credited as the first person to sing "rock and roll" on a record, but Mildred Bailey's version of Rock It For Me probably came out first. Both were released in 1937, and it's not clear which is the earlier release. Here's Mildred Bailey's version:

And, here's Ella's version:

And here's Alan Freed proudly recalling his contribution to the world of Rock And Roll music:

And finally, Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston (actually Ike Turner):

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Featured Artist: Mary Travers

The world woke up to some sad news this morning...

Mary Travers of the Peter Paul And Mary trio passed away yesterday of complications from chemotherapy following treatment for leukemia at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. She was 72 and had been living in Redding, Connecticut. Mary's first three marriages ended in divorce. She is survived by her fourth husband, Ethan Robbins, two daughters, Erika Marshall and Alicia Travers, half-brother John Travers of Hollywood, California, along with a sister and two grandchildren.

Mary was born on November 7, 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky to Robert Travers and Virginia Coigney, both of whom were journalists and were active organizers for a trade union called The Newspaper Guild. In 1938, the family moved to Greenwich Village where she attended the Little Red School House. She dropped out of school in the eleventh grade to pursue her singing career. While still in high school, she was a member of The Song Swappers who sang backup for Pete Seeger on a collection of union songs on Folkways Records called Talking Union. The Song Swappers with Pete Seeger recorded four albums for Folkways in 1955. Mary, who was originally shy about her singing hobby, was encouraged to stick with it by her fellow musicians. She became a chorus singer in a short-lived Broadway production called The Next President in 1957.

Peter Paul and Mary, one of the most successful folk groups of the 1960's, consisted of Peter Yarrow, Noel "Paul" Stookey, and Mary Travers. In 1961, the group's manager, Albert Grossman, set out to create a folk supergroup, bringing together "a tall blonde (Mary Travers), a funny guy (Paul Stookey), and a good looking guy (Peter Yarrow)."

The group first appeared on stage in 1961 at The Bitter End coffee house located at 147 Bleecker Street at La Guardia Place in the Greenwich Village section of New York City, which is the same neighborhood where Mary grew up with her family as a child. When Bob Dylan first arrived in New York City on January 24, 1961, his first subway ride took him to the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village where he began performing nightly. Wouldn't you just love to jump in a time machine and go back there to sit and listen to the wonderful music being performed every night at these clubs?

The trio's debut album, Peter Paul And Mary, was issued in 1962 and included the songs 500 Miles, Lemon Tree, If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song), and Where Have All The Flowers Gone. It was a top ten album for nearly a year, and stayed on the top one hundred albums list for over three years.

The group supposedly made their first television appearance on the PM East talk show on MetroMedia in New York which was hosted by Mike Wallace and Joyce Davidson. But, unfortunately, no recordings from that show are available. If you know of any recordings of this show, audio or video, please contact me!

By 1963, the trio had issued two more top-ten albums. Peter Yarrow and Leonard Lipton wrote one of the group's hit singles, Puff The Magic Dragon, while both were attending Cornell University together in 1959. The trio sang If I Had A Hammer at the 1963 March on Washington where Reverend Martin Luther King Junior delivered his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. They scored another big hit single with Bob Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind, while also covering other Bob Dylan tunes like The Times They Are a-Changin', Don't Think Twice It's Alright, and When The Ship Comes In.

The trio recorded Leaving On A Jet Plane (a song written by John Denver, who had replaced Chad Mitchell in the Chad Mitchell Trio) in 1967 for their Album 1700. It became their only number one chart hit, and last chart appearance, two years later in December 1969. Day Is Done, a song they recorded live at New York's Carnegie Hall on March 8, 1969, was actually their last recording to hit the top 100 when it climbed to #21 in June of 1969.

The trio broke up in 1970 to pursue solo careers. Paul Stookey managed one hit in 1971 with The Wedding Song (There Is Love). The song was written for Yarrow's marriage to Marybeth McCarthy, niece of senator Eugene McCarthy. It has been an anthem at wedding parties ever since. As a solo performer, Mary Travers scored just one minor chart hit, Follow Me, in 1971.

The group reunited in 1978 for a concert to protest nuclear energy, which brought them back to touring and recording albums again. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. They were activists for peace in Central America, and also well known for supporting the peace and social justice movement in America, which won them the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience on September 1, 1990.

In 2004, Travers was diagnosed with leukemia, leading to the cancellation of the remaining tour dates for that year. She received a bone marrow transplant. She and the rest of the trio resumed their concert tour on December 9, 2005 with a holiday performance at Carnegie Hall. They received the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award from Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. The trio sang in Mitchell, South Dakota, for the George and Eleanor McGovern Library and Center for Leadership dedication concert on October 5, 2006. The group was forced to cancel several dates of their summer 2007 tour when Mary took longer than expected to recover from back surgery. She later had to undergo a second surgery, further postponing the tour.

As my tribute to Mary, I present a song the trio recorded for their third album, In The Wind, in 1963. This song never appeared on a single. It's a song that's been known by at least three different titles! All My Trials started out as a Caribbean lullaby which was first recorded in 1956 by Billy Faier on the Riverside label. It was covered in that same year by Bob Gibson as Bahamian Lullaby, also on Riverside. Glenn Yarbrough recorded it as All My Sorrows in 1957. Harry Belafonte did a version of the song in 1958. The Kingston Trio did their take on All My Sorrows in 1959. It was also recorded by The Chordettes in 1960, Pete Seeger, The Shadows, and Joan Baez in 1961, Anita Carter in 1962, Odetta, The Searchers, and The Highwaymen in 1963, Peter And Gordon and Dick And DeeDee in 1964, The Seekers in 1965, The Status Quo and The Four Pennies in 1966, The Cookies in 1967, and many more. It was brought back in 1971 by arranger Mickey Newbury for Elvis Presley's American Trilogy, sung as a medley along with Dixie and The Battle Hymn Of The Republic. Ray Stevens covered the song shortly afterward. Nana Mouskouri did her take on it in 1986. Nick Drake and his sister Gabrielle sang the song as a duet. Paul McCartney had a minor UK hit with the song in 1990. There were also versions by Lindsay Buckingham in 1992 and Roger McGuinn in 2002.

Please enjoy this sample of All My Trials by Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and the late Mary Travers. We will all miss you, Mary.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The First Country Song Ever Recorded

I heard some news the other day about how a station in Australia was being 'punished' by the government for breaking format (the government controls radio formats there and most other places in the world). To correct the error, they were forced to play more Country music. Do they really hate Country music that much Down Under?

Country music pre-dates recorded music. For nearly 300 years, USA immigrants who settled in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of North America brought music and instruments of the Old World along with them. The Irish fiddle, the German dulcimer, the Italian mandolin, the Spanish guitar, and the African banjo were the most common musical instruments.

Musicians from different ethnic groups interacted to produce a new type of music that became unique to the region. Appalachian string bands of the early twentieth century primarily consisted of fiddle, guitar, and banjo. This early music became known as old-time music. Throughout the 1800's, these immigrant groups, who came from Ireland, Germany, Spain and Italy moved to Texas where they interacted with Spanish-Mexican and Native Americans, who were already established in Texas.

Columbia Records started issuing "hillbilly" music in their "Old Familiar Tunes" series as early as 1924. A year earlier, on June 14, 1923, Fiddlin' John Carson recorded Little Log Cabin In The Lane for Okeh Records. Vernon Dalhart was the first country singer to have a nationwide hit in May 1924 with Wreck Of The Old '97. But the very first commercial recording one might call Country Music was an instrumental called Sallie Gooden performed by fiddler A.C. (Eck) Robertson in 1922 for Victor Records.

We now know that this song was recorded either on June 30, 1922 or July 1, 1922 in New York City. Although it is indeed possible, if not likely, that country or hillbilly performers had been recorded earlier, these sessions with Texas fiddler Eck Robertson are the earliest documented recording sessions of a country performer. The recordings were not released until about a year after they were recorded, somewhere in 1923.

You're going to hear some classic Country tunes on MusicMaster Oldies, mixed right in with everything else. That's because Country music was "instrumental" in the formation of rock and roll, along with Gospel and Rhythm and Blues, which was actually known as "race music" in the early days. Country music splintered into Rockabilly. Elvis Presley was a pioneer of rock and roll because of his exposure and interest in all three of these musical genres. His first record on Sun was a cover of an R&B record by Arthur Crudup, done in a Rockabilly style, by a guy who had Gospel music in his heart at all times. It was the ultimate blend, which sold a ton of records and spawned a whole bunch of imitators. And the rest, as they say, is history!

Here's Sallie Gooden by Eck Robertson.

Monday, September 7, 2009

"I sang my heart out on that one."

It was 1959 and three students at Santa Monica City College decided to form a vocal trio. Don 'Dante' Drowty, Frank Rosenthal and Bill Young became friends with fellow student, Dean Torrence (of Jan and Dean fame), and eventually were introduced to Dean's managers, Herb Alpert and Lou Adler.

The guys met Tony Moon while hangin' out at Herb and Lou's office above a Chinese laundry on the Sunset Strip. "Tony was a trained musician who taught us vocal harmonies and did arrangements," remembers Don, who had the strongest voice and, accordingly, became lead singer.

The group was dubbed Dante And The Evergreens as an emulation of Dion And The Belmonts. "We went gunning for Dion and the Belmonts," said Don. "We knew we could out-harmonize and out-sing them, plus we had a more diversified look. Bill was a blond surfer type, Frank an athlete, Tony played guitar and I could sing lead on anything from Pop to Country to Blues."

1960 brought the group a 'curse and blessing' when their recording of Alley-Oop, a novelty, pre-rap/spoken-sung/ode to the caveman-comic strip character that became a world-wide hit, but forever branded them as a novelty act. The hit made them instant stars and got them booked on radio and TV programs, package tours, club dates and theater shows. They even were one of the first white acts to play traditionally Black venues like The Apollo (New York), The Uptown (Philly), and The Howard (Washington, D.C.).

In spite of their novelty act reputation, the group had developed their performing and harmonizing abilities and recorded an album of contemporary covers (Hushabye, Dream Lover) and originals (Dreamland, Think Sweet Thoughts) that demonstrated their vocal skills and cast them in a Belmonts, Mystics, Passions mode. The Evergreens toured extensively for the next few years, but their well crafted, White doo-wop and pop singles were generally under-appreciated by their novelty-seeking audience.

The group disbanded in 1964 after Frank contracted an illness that lasted about six months and seriously curtailed the group’s touring. Frank returned to college on an athletic scholarship and even became a professional athlete for a time. Bill fooled around in music and movies for a while, but eventually left the business. Tony ended up in Nashville as a respected arranger, writer and producer. Don, however, stuck to it. He recorded six sides for Imperial as Dante And His Friends, using The Rivingtons as the background group.

To this day, I love Something Happens," said Don. "That record should have been a huge hit. It's a great doo-wop ballad that I sung my heart out on."

Don worked extensively with Herb Alpert, who wrote and sang background as one of Dante's Friends. One of the sides they did, Little Miss America, was covered by The Beach Boys.

He went on to work as a writer/producer for Bert (aka Bert Russell) Berns' Mellin Music Publishers (Twist And Shout, A Little Bit Of Soap, Cry Baby, etc.) working with The Isleys, The McCoys, and many others. He recorded some things for A&M Records, including a strong version of Speedoo.

However, for the last 20 years, Don has devoted himself almost full-time to working with disadvantaged youths, underprivileged children and Southwestern Native American Indian tribes. He is currently employed as a grade school teacher and is the proud father of two children. His various activities are usually provided free and can be reached at: Don Drowty Youth Services, P.O. Box 1533, Santa Monica, CA 90406.

Now, I hope you enjoy Miss America (Imperial 5827, 1962) and Something Happens (Imperial 5798, 1961) by Dante And His Friends, just a couple of the 100,000+ songs you'll hear on MusicMaster Oldies!

Friday, September 4, 2009

My New Clock Radio

I just wanted to take a second to tell you about my new clock radio! I've been waking up to this thing for the past two mornings and I'm here to tell you -- it's fantastic! I'm in love with the slick look, not to mention the incredible sound that comes out of this beast!

This is the new Logitech Squeezebox Boom. It's an Internet radio that works through your home WiFi hotspot or a wired Ethernet connection to your LAN. It packs 30 watts of stereo power for deep bass and lots of dynamic range. It has a nice size digital clock with auto-dimming. I had been using the C Crane Internet radio before, but it's no match for this!

The price is a bit high, averaging around $275 or so, but I think it's well worth every penny. The setup Wizard is easy to use. I had it working in about five minutes, which immediately gave me access to thousands of stations, Pandora, Rhapsody, Sirius,, Slacker, MP3Tunes, RadioTime, RadioIO, and even a super connection to all the stuff in my iTunes library, including my playlists. It plays a whole bunch of file formats, like MP3, M4A, M4P, WMA, FLAC, AAC, AIFF, and others.

I set up an account on the SqueezeNetwork website, downloaded the SqueezeCenter software for the Mac (it also works with Windows), then added MusicMaster Oldies as a custom station. It claimed to be pre-configured for all the Live365 stations, but I haven't found them yet. If they're not there, I'm certainly going to send them a suggestion to add them to the default setup. No matter. It was easy enough to add MusicMaster Oldies using the URL:

The alarm clock was easy to set up and it works perfectly. There's even a snooze bar on top that doubles as a Sleep button at night. It has a battery backup, and even changes automatically to a beeper if the Internet station you set is not available. There's a remote control, too, but I've always thought those were a little strange for a bedside radio. Still, I know at least one person who puts their clock radio on a dresser across the room, so I guess some people use the remote.

I'll be adding all my favorite terrestrial radio stations so I can keep tabs on all my friends in the business. It looks like I can add as many as I want, but I know I'm going to fill up all the pushbuttons by the end of the day! MusicMaster Oldies is on button number one. I'll let you know who ends up winning a spot on all the other buttons!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Chocolate Cake Theory

If you were to ask a room full of people to list their favorite food, chances are that a lot of them would choose chocolate cake. Chocolate cake is yummy stuff, and chocolate cake lovers exist in huge numbers. But, if you took anyone who said that chocolate cake was their all-time favorite food and you forced them to eat nothing but chocolate cake forever, they would not be very happy at all. Chocolate cake is only special because you don't eat it all the time. It tastes better than the other stuff you eat, but you don't want to stop eating the other stuff. If you did, chocolate cake would no longer be special. It would no longer taste "better" because it would simply be the only thing you ever taste. You need the variety of tastes in order to have some that you like more than others. You need choices so you can compare one taste to another. Eat something that tastes bad, then eat chocolate cake, and the chocolate cake will taste even better.

That same principle applies to music. My iPod is full of songs I totally love, and yet I can't stand to listen to them all the time. I like to hear something new and different. After all, there was once a time when I had not yet heard my favorite songs. There was a very special "first time" for each of my favorite songs. Listening to new songs gives me a chance to experience that great "first time" feeling again. I like that feeling! Besides, listening to my favorite songs all the time makes them seem less special. I don't want to ever get tired of my favorite songs, but I know I will if I hear them too often.

When you listen to MusicMaster Oldies, you WILL hear songs you hate. When you do, you're going to wonder, "Why does he play stuff like that?" If you think about chocolate cake, you'll know the reason. By mixing everything together I've created contrasts that make everything on MusicMaster Oldies more interesting. The "bad" songs sound even worse, but the "good" songs sound even better, and the "great" songs are really something special again.

Here's something else to consider. You may find this hard to believe, but some people do not like chocolate cake at all! In fact, I'll bet there are people in this world who absolutely hate chocolate cake! Now take any food you hate. For the sake of this discussion, let's pick on brussel sprouts. You may hate brussel sprouts, but there are people out there who absolutely love them. They might go so far as to say that brussel sprouts are their favorite food.

Likewise, those songs you hear on MusicMaster Oldies that you absolutely hate are probably someone else's favorite song! I know, that's really hard to believe, especially for some of the songs I play. It's hard to imagine anyone who would like them, and yet, there must be someone out there who does. Otherwise, how did they ever manage to get recorded in the first place?

Imagine a couple of kids who can't sing at all, but somehow they manage to cut a record. Chances are that anyone hearing that record would say it was terrible -- except those kids themselves, and maybe their mom and dad. For every song, no matter how awful it sounds to you, there must be someone out there who likes it.

Now, take that terrible song, listen all the way through to it, and follow it with one of your favorite songs. I'll bet that if you did this, your favorite song would sound even more special to you. It's like getting a drink of cool water after walking across the hot desert for hours.

There's another interesting way to look at these "bad" songs. Sometimes, the fact that they're "bad" actually makes them good! For example, when I hear a professional singer who is pretending to be a teenager singing a love song to his high school sweetheart, it sounds a bit phony to me. This is a problem I've had through the years with movies and plays. Real kids don't sound like that. If a real kid actually tried to sing a soft love song to his best girl, it would probably sound like the worst attempts on Karaoke Night. But it would also sound REAL. If she's in love, the girl he's singing to isn't going to pay any attention to the notes he misses or the nasal quality of his singing voice. No way! She's going to love the song!

Many people automatically reject certain musical styles. For example, I know some people who love hip hop or heavy metal who tell me they absolutely hate country songs. But I also know that there are a bunch of country songs I could play for them that they would actually find interesting. They might never love the genre of music, but there are probably songs within that genre that they could love. I'm probably weird. I love any kind of music that's played well. I love hearing songs with interesting lyrics, especially those that invoke strong emotions. Songs that take chances and surprise me are also welcome to my ears. I'm perfectly willing to listen to Iggy Pop or The Ramones in the same playlist as Enya or Frank Sinatra. I'd listen to Hank Williams followed by a Mozart concerto, followed by a doo-wop song from the 1950's, followed by Boston, followed by Savage Garden, followed by Groupo Limite. But that's just me, I guess. Still, if you came over to my house and I played these songs for you, you might like them too. And, if I told you something interesting about each song, you might like them even more.

So the next time you hear a "terrible" song on MusicMaster Oldies, try to listen all the way through. See if you can imagine anyone who might like that song. See if whatever makes it "bad" actually makes it seem more "real" to you. Then, when it's over, see if the song that follows doesn't sound a whole lot better than it would have without hearing the bad song first. You might just discover a whole new world of songs you never thought you'd ever like!