Tag Archives: Music

Happy Birthday, Roger Miller

Today’s guest post comes from tim

roger millers birthday is today. he’s not around to enjoy it anymore but he left something behind for us to enjoy in his absence.

roger miller was a blip on the screen in the 60’s when his hits , dang me, do wacka doo, king of the road and you can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd were topping the charts. i enjoyed them and thought they were good songs. i gave them more credit than the equivalent guitarzan by ray stevens which sort of appealed to the same demographic.

king of the road upon inspection is a tune that offers a view of another mans shoes that is not really given enough credit for how different it was from everything else out there and if you actually went into the thoughts behind dang me and do wacka doo they show that there was a serious thought behind the semi babble top 40 pop effort of the times.

my first marriage gave me many unique memories two wonderful kids and one mother in law that insisted on knowing exactly what gift to buy for christmas and birthdays before she went out to shopping . i told her album collections were the way to go. dylan, the stones the beatles, roger miller and she chose roger miller. i already had too many dylan albums and most of the beatles so if it comes down to the stones or roger miller , roger miller won.

each album was 8 dollars and 50 was the budget so 6 was the number of roger miller albums I received . I had no idea you could get so much music form 6 albums. in addition to king of the road, do whacka do and dang me there were tunes like husbands and wives and other heartfelt balads he was incredible at writing that never made the radio and….there was an album called big river which was roger millers broadway musical i had no knowledge of at all at that point. it turned out to be a turning point for me and roger.

he spent three years writing big river. unlike all his other efforts he put time and energy into the production and it showed. he even played pap on broadway when john goodman had to leave the broadway production to take the role of dan conner on the tv series roseanne. if you haven’t heard the album recording of the musical do it. it is the best musical ever.

that fistful of roger miller albums caused a backwards biography of roger miller that informed me that while he was a kindred spirit he had a troubled history with many problems starting when his dad died during the depression in the dustbowl era of oklahoma and he and his two brothers were each shipped off to live with a different uncle.

shep wolley was another relative who taught roger to play violin and introduced him to the nashville end of showbusiness where roger got his start writing tunes for ray price and someone else on the grand ol opry and then befriended chet atkins and johnny cash and became part of the nashville scene. along the way he burned through life with ex-wives drug problems bouts with depression and kind of a death wish outlook on his career.

he was given one of those tv show in the 60’s. remember them all, the nat king cole show, ed sullivan, dean martin, red skelton, jimmy dean, judy garland, johnny cash, well they cut rogers out after the first 13 weeks, showing up for work was not a good job description for roger who did best shooting from the hip and writing songs when inspired.

while i am fortunate enough to be able to claim no depression, drugs and relationships had taken their toll and offered their challenges.

sometimes you are attracted to a guy and then find out the creative juices that he oozed were not a celebration of life but a pressure relief valve. if its in there its just gotta come out. when it does how you deal with it determines where it goes from there.

there are lots of roger miller clips out there on you tube. its like looking into steve goodman or john prine or a bag of lays potato chips once you get started its hard to stop. you guys are all fine but i may need to do some serious accessing.

name a creative artist who you would consider a kindred spirit.

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Dave Brubeck R.I.P.

One year ago today we observed Dave Brubeck’s 91st birthday.

Brubeck died yesterday and has been the subject of many remembrances and tributes. We’re sorry to see him go but there’s no question he used his time well and made a lasting impression. It will never be possible to measure the effect of his work on subsequent generations, but there’s a sense of it in these two videos posted on You Tube by his son, Chris.

The first is a performance recorded in June of 2011 where Dave makes a guest appearance with his son’s band. The Master comes out on stage to an ovation about 3 minutes into the recording.

And here’s a video of Dave and Chris talking about Ansel Adams, the photographer. They put together a symphonic piece for orchestras to play while Adams’ photographs are projected for the audience. Sounds majestic. But I particularly like the story they tell about Dave’s youth in northern California.

Musicians are composers. Photographers are composers. Talking about the similarities between the two art forms, Dave Brubeck said “That’s what you do as a composer – you develop a theme.”

Maybe we’re all composers in one way or another.

What themes have you developed?

Art Tatum’s Art

Today is the birthday of Jazz piano legend Art Tatum.

Tatum is one of those artists known mostly for the way he was admired by his fellow musicians. He didn’t achieve great popular success, but other players stood in awe of his talents and his influence is undeniable.

Need some evidence and a few accolades?
Here’s a clip from Ken Burns’ series, Jazz.

And here’s another sample of Tatum at work. I can’t tell you anything about the structure of this piece, but I recognize that there are a lot of notes in there. Without truly comprehending the significance of what he is doing, I can easily believe that Tatum is making something difficult appear to be quite easy.

We’d like to believe people who are the very best at what they do will be handsomely rewarded for their ability – that excellence will always be properly recognized.
Art Tatum’s life and his relative obscurity seem to argue the opposite – that artistic genius does not guarantee success.

Who is the most accomplished artist you’ve seen in person?

The Home Place

Today is musician Laurie Lewis’s birthday. She’s 62, born in 1950.

Laurie Lewis plays bluegrass and a jazzier fiddle music called “newgrass”. She’s from California and discovered the work of Bill Monroe through a community of musicians in the San Francisco Bay area – not the standard path but certainly effective. She’s not an imitator, but finds inspiration in the tradition. Lewis told an interviewer earlier this year, “How am I ever going to be able to imitate a man from Kentucky, I’m a woman from Berkeley.”

She turned out to be a trailblazer in her chosen style of music. As far as the impetus for breaking gender barriers and being unconventional, it seems to come naturally out of her upbringing. Here’s a quote from another interview:

“You know, I grew up in Berkeley, and it took me years of getting out of the area before I got over the feeling that everything was weird, everybody thought differently than I did, everything was strange. I realized after awhile that, no, I was the weird one, and that Berkeley was the strange place. And outside of modern European countries, there weren’t many places in the world that were like this. You know how Europeans claim they can spot Americans all the time? When I was 16 I went to Europe for the first time with my family. Nobody thought we were an American family. They all thought we were maybe German or Danish or something. The way we dressed and the way we were was just different. But that’s what I grew up in.”

What are some of the lasting effects of your upbringing?

The Day The Music Arrived

Today is Buddy Holly‘s birthday. He landed on the planet as Charles Hardin Holly in Lubbock, Texas on this date in 1936. He had a strange, short life that has been much chronicled since. I’m amazed at how listenable his music is even today. You have to admire anyone who could create such a lasting body of work in a few short years.

The video in today’s post presents a weird scene, very early in Holly’s brief live TV career. He had made his first appearance on American Bandstand just four months before, and now just a few days before the start of the new year 1958 he shows up in enemy territory on the Arthur Murray Dance Party.

The show was an infomercial for the Arthur Murray Dance Studios. Americans were learning to waltz and do Latin steps in the 1950′s, but rock and roll was an intruder. I suppose as a business strategy it was important for the show to include new music that younger audiences preferred, though it’s hard to imagine dancing to Buddy Holly’s music in the outfits the Murray cast is wearing as they provide a mostly stationary backdrop to his performance of “Peggy Sue.”

I particularly enjoy Kathryn Murray’s painfully polite introduction. She may as well have started with “I will explain why we are about to horrify you” and could have added “please don’t turn the channel” after every sentence.

A motherly “and it’s good for you” would have been an appropriate finish.

What do you say when you know you are just about to disappoint someone?

Love at the Five and Dime

Today is singer/songwriter Nanci Griffith‘s birthday. She’s 59.

A commercial broadcaster once told me that he appreciated a public radio show I worked on because we played Nanci’s music. I guess she wasn’t commercial enough to be featured on his station very often, but we had the freedom to embrace good music that was not going to make a lot of money.

At least one Nanci Griffith song did become a top 5 country hit – as done by Kathy Mattea. But Nanci’s is the version we played.

She has ardently promoted reading and featured books on many of her album covers, back when album covers mattered. Those looking for political statements in the poetry would find a distinct leftward tilt.

With her latest recording, Nanci has become more openly political and expressed unabashed support for the Occupy movement. Apparently this is not a topic that can be addressed with a pretty ballad, though I hope the hand-clapping Hell’s Angel boys are optional.

Things certainly do change.

One criticism of political songs is that they don’t have much staying power. Things happen. Conditions change. The topic shifts. Before long people can’t remember what it was you were talking about in your musical commentary.

But nothing is immune to change, and the fog of time obscures everything, eventually.

In addition to those suffering personal economic distress in the form of foreclosures and job loss, the “I’m not all right” assessment in that second song could certainly apply to Woolworth’s, featured prominently and innocently in the first song. The company closed all its five-and-dimes and retired its well-known name in the late 90′s to focus on a new retail strategy through a string of mall outlets called “Foot Locker”.

Yup, that’s all that’s left of Woolworth’s. Somehow I don’t think that lovely Five and Dime song would sound the same with the line “… she made the Foot Locker counter shine.”

Good thing Nanci Griffith was there to write the song at a time when people still knew what Woolworth’s was all about.

Name a favorite song, poem, book or work of art about something that is no longer around.

The Wedding Dance

Here is a tricky social situation, just right for navigation by sensitive baboons. The note comes from Jane Beauchamp – a former Morning Show listener, sometime Trial Baboon reader and permanently proud mother who is about to have an FTD moment.

FTD in this case means “Forced To Dance.”

My son is 24 years old and marrying his high school sweetheart in an outdoor garden ceremony July 21 at a local country club to which her parents belong. He’s my oldest and the first of any of his friends to get married. I’ve not been very involved in the planning but it appears that it will be an elegant affair; a champagne reception and formal dinner follows the ceremony, after which the dance begins.

The challenge, then, is to come up with exactly the right piece of music to make the obligatory mother/son wedding dance both memorable and painless.

My son and I agree that a) neither of us are great dancers of any genre and b) we do not want anything that is very sentimental/syrupy/pop culture type of thing that would leave his mother (me) weeping in a heap on the dance floor. In fact, if we could avoid the whole dance thing that would probably be better, but I’ve been advised that isn’t part of the program for the evening, and, honestly, I would likely regret it if we didn’t do it.

What is the solution? Jane says the tune should be “something classic but/and fun; short vs. many verses is better; and beyond that we’re open.” Here’s a little more background to help guide you as you sift through your musical back stacks.

When my boys were growing up, we’d listen to The Morning Show every morning on the way to school. I like many other of your listeners told them it was my way of supporting a part of their music education. It was my only chance music-wise, as they both are very competitive athletes and that’s where their interests were. The son getting married played high school and college soccer; since finishing college, he’s been in sales for a national insurance company and loves the different type of competition he experiences there. He and his fiance have a small dog, Jolie, who they love to pieces, and when they’re not planning their wedding they like to travel (France, US, Mexico) and cook.

Stories? Suggestions? Songs?

Lab Rat Walking

I love science and am constantly amazed at the things researchers are able to discover through careful, methodical experimentation. These human “lab rats” are the smartest people around, and they provide the best hope for our future together!

But I’m worried that we may be missing something fundamental in the latest results that suggest actual rats whose spinal cords have been severed (by scientists) can learn to walk again through the combined application of chemicals, electricity, physical therapy, technology and chocolate.

After the rodent’s spinal cords were cut (by scientists), the animals lost the use of their back legs. Different approaches were tried to get them moving again. The one that worked best used all of the above elements and resulted in a number of the rats experiencing a “nearly complete regrowth of severed spinal fibers.” Amazing. Some of the creatures were described as “sprinting up” a ramp to retrieve their reward.

There’s a video on the National Geographic website that shows all this happening.
The poor things are working so hard! But what inspired their comeback?

I didn’t see Burgess Meredith cheering them on from ringside, but I definitely heard a different kind of music to accompany the video of these striving rats. I know we’re not supposed to anthropomorphize them, but what if rat recovery from surgical paralysis is really aided, not by electricity, drugs and chocolate, but by white hot feelings of ratty vengeance that inspire them to perform unlikely feats, such as running up a very long flight of stairs?

Kinda like this?

What would you be doing in your inspirational “Rocky” training montage?

R.I.P. Doc Watson

The great Doc Watson has passed away at the age of 89. He played the guitar and sang, but mostly he took possession of songs and fixed them with a translation that others could only admire and hope to imitate.

Doc Watson became blind around the time he was one year old, the result of an eye infection. But Doc Watson did not allow blindness to restrict him. I gathered some notes about Doc Watson for Trial Balloon in May of 2010. They still apply.

He was an expert in flatpicking and fingerpicking guitar techniques. His influence among players of traditional and popular music is impossible to measure. Among his many honors, Doc received the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton in 1997.

But far greater gifts came from Doc’s father, who hand built a banjo for his 11 year old son. Watson told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that his dad …

“… showed me a few of the old time frailing or clawhamer style banjo tunes. And one day he brought it to me and put it in my hands and said “son I want you to learn to play this real well. Some of these days we’ll get you a better one. It might help get you through the world.”

General Dixon Watson’s dedication to helping his son ‘get through the world’ led to another important moment. When Doc was 14 his father assigned him to do some work with a crosscut saw – a risk many of today’s hyper-protective parents wouldn’t take with their sighted children. Doc told an interviewer for “Bluegrass Unlimited” …

“He made me know that just because I was blind, certainly didn’t mean I was helpless.”

And it helped develop a useful skill. Doc and his younger brother cut and sold scrap wood to a local tannery to make some money. Doc used his share to buy his first mail order guitar from Sears Roebuck.

Years later, a music store proprietor in Boone, North Carolina offered to help Doc get a better guitar, a Martin D-18, by cutting the payments to five dollars a month.

As Doc told Terry Gross

“At that time I was playing at the little fruit stand and a little bean market that they had at Boone and makin’ me a few shekels on Saturday. Havin’ a good time a pickin’. I paid for the guitar that summer. He got me that thing at his cost – and it cost ninety bucks. And I paid for it. Lord I was proud of that guitar. But in all truth, compared to my guitar now it was like frettin’ a fence. It was really hard to play.”

Doc Watson made the best of what he had to work with. If you didn’t already know the story you wouldn’t look at that early handmade banjo or the Sears mail order guitar and guess that a blind boy might pick them up and with time and talent, become a national treasure.

Watson also told Terry Gross in that interview that he considered leaving the road and the music business when his son Merle died in 1985, and would have if Merle hadn’t come to him in a dream and urged him to keep going. Good thing, or we’d have lost 27 years worth of music.

What talent or skill would you like to be able to practice all the way to the very end?

Happy Birthday, Jean Redpath

Today is Scottish folk singer Jean Redpath‘s birthday. She was born in Edinburgh on April 28th in 1937. She is (has?) an M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire), which is an exalted title that carries some weight but mostly what it tells us is that everyone agrees she’s the best there is at what she does. The Edinburgh Evening News put it this way:

“To call Jean Redpath a Scottish folk singer is a bit like calling Michelangelo an Italian interior decorator.”

I would have issues with Michelangelo as my decorator, just as I’m sure he would have issues with my interior. I’m not so sure about painted ceilings, but can we talk about the color of the couch?

When Jean Redpath fills a room with a song there is a clear connection to the ancient and ongoing tradition of the Scottish people – their history and poetry come alive through her voice and she taken this all over the world in person and through the airwaves on “A Prairie Home Companion” and other broadcasts.

She has done 40 albums and has recorded at least 180 Robert Burns songs – wonderful tunes that are full of strange Scottish words that sound like throat clearing exercises but they connect to essential human experiences and emotions that cross all cultural barriers.

Perhaps she would like to sing a Lady Gaga tune every now and then, but my guess is that Jean Redpath is completely happy and engaged in the rich artistic realm she inhabits. It must be a great comfort to know so clearly what you are about and to have such success sharing it with other people.

Imagine that you have been anointed as an ambassador to the world of a great cultural tradition. Which one would suit you best?