Monday, December 31, 2012

Look Out Mama - MP3 (Happy New Year)

Illustration by Pam Woodland
Here is an entry entirely divorced from the usual theme of this blog. But I write this in the spirit of the New Year.

Pam and I, since October 2010, live in a fairly remote area of southwest Saskatchewan. The village we live in has a population of under a hundred people. The nearest population centre, of 15,000, is a ninety minute drive away, and the nearest large book store or movie theatre is a four hour drive from here. We have had snow since late October, and the morning temperature this December averages about -20C (or about -5F).

What does one do in these circumstances? Among other things, I belong to a musical trio that practices weekly for about four hours. Our lead guitarist is the noted nature photographer James Page, and our multi-instrumentalist (rhythm guitar, ukelele, accordion, tin whistle, etc.) is the painter Colleen Watson. I play hand percussion (African drum, bongos, sticks, rattles, and so on).

The name of our trio was derived from the opening lines of Neil Young's song "Powderfinger." So, we are known as "Look Out Mama." I have been writing quite a few songs, too, of which we now include three in our regular practices. What I want to do here is include one of those songs.

I wanted, early this summer, to write something that was based both upon our trio's name, and upon  the history of the area we live in. So, the song "Look Out Mama" was born. While I wrote the lyrics and the melody, Page helped me work out the musical structure, and of course "Look Out Mama," the group, worked out an arrangement.  The only similarity with SJI is the fact that the song has no chorus. The link here is to a recent practice, pretty darned crude, with James Page on electric guitar, Colleen Watson on rhythm guitar, and me on percussion and lead vocal. And so, as the clock turns over from 2012 to 2013,  I present it to you with no further ado, "Look Out Mama" by Look Out Mama. Happy New Year.

Look out mama
The sun is sinking low
Look out mama
The sun is sinking low
I can hear Blackfoot calling
And pounding hooves of buffalo

Look out mama
The water is rising fast
Look out mama
You know the water is rising fast
Wolves are in the river
Don't know if they're gonna last

Look out mama
The wind is blowin' strong
Look out mama
The wind is blowin' strong
Hawks circlin' up above
I fear we done something wrong

Look out mama
The moon is high in the sky
Look out mama
The moon is high up in the sky
Y'can see those tepee circles
Remnants from a long lost time

Look out mama
Coyotes are on the prowl
Look out mama
Coyotes are on the prowl
When that evenin' sun goes down
Whoa whoa listen to them howl

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Carl Moore as The Squeakin' Deacon - photograph

Moore as radio personality "The Squeakin' Deacon"
Back in the mid nineteen-twenties Carl Moore, along with Phil Baxter, claimed authorship of "Gambler's Blues" (aka "St. James Infirmary"). You can read more about each of those fascinating individuals elsewhere on this blog (and, of course, in the book).

I recently received a message from Cecil Warren, who noticed that once upon a time I started to create a family tree for Carl, at Moore was one of the central characters in I Went Down to St. James Infirmary, and I closely researched his early years.

When he was a young lad ("in the 1947/1948 time period when my parents took me to his radio program"), Mr. Warren once sat on Moore's knee, and received the photograph you see here. "Too bad it got torn," Warren wrote, "probably a result of a fight between my sister and I over who got to hold it while we listened to his radio show. It is still a piece of history that has survived these 60 plus years."

By this time, Moore had given up leading a dance orchestra (many dance orchestras dissolved due to supply and personnel shortages during World War Two), and had become the country radio personality, "The Squeakin' Deacon." The Deacon was living in California at this time, not far from Hollywood. In fact, he had a (very) minor film career, including an uncredited appearance as the Toastmaster in the Rock Hudson/Elizabeth Taylor/James Dean movie Giant. He was once considered for the title role in the Will Rogers film biography, but Rogers' son eventually played that part. Moore would have been a natural, with his down-home humor and country hick persona.

Mr Warren added, in response to my writing, that  "I am glad that his role in music history is being preserved." Thank you, Cecil

ps In her late nineties, Moore's wife Marjorie is very much alive and energetic - she will be thrilled to see that you remember Carl Moore, The Squeakin' Deacon.

Monday, December 24, 2012

. . . So God Took Caruso Away - sheet music

Cover of  the 1921 sheet music from Jack Mills Inc.
I am posting this as a kind of Christmas gift to you, readers of this blog. This post will contain a bit of history, related to (what else?) "St. James Infirmary." And - with a nod to all those who come here for my occasional postings of sheet music - there will also be some, well, sheet music.

I suspect that most readers of this blog know that Irving Mills was intimately entangled with the history of the song "St. James Infirmary" - as the fictional "composer" of the song (Joe Primrose), as the manager of various performers who recorded the song, as the impresario who publicized the song, and as the vice-president of the company that published the sheet music.

In the years prior to the rise of Elvis Presley, sheet music routinely outsold records, and was a major source of revenue for those involved with its publication. It was much more important to retain revenue from sales of sheet music than from the sales of records.

In 1921, the Mills brothers (not the singing group) were struggling publishers. Rising from poverty in New York City, largely on the strength of their ability to promote - or plug - other people's songs, Jack and Irving Mills eventually became owners of one of the most productive and important music publishing companies in North America - Mills Music. Formed in 1919, it was initially called "Jack Mills Inc." and in 1921 the company struck gold. The opera singer Enrico Caruso was the most beloved, revered, and top-selling artist of the era. He had just died, and Jack Mills Inc. bought the rights to a song titled "They Needed a Songbird in Heaven (So God Took Caruso Away)."  The song became so popular that in 1925 Time magazine described it as: "a ditty that was scratched from every phonograph, mewed through the sinus cavities of every cabaret tenor who could boast a nose, caroled by housewives at their tubs and business men at their shaving." (I should emphasize here that "housewives at their tubs" refers not to bathtubs, but to washing tubs -where the laundry was done by hand.)

It is possible that, were it not for this ditty, Mills Music would not have survived to, seven years later, discover and promote a gritty folk song called "St. James Infirmary."

Popular as "They Needed a Songbird in Heaven" was then, I have been unable to unearth a single vocal recording of this song, either by contemporary artists or on CD compilations of old songs. So . . . while it once enjoyed the heights of popularity, it has been forgotten today and, thus, is probably new to you.

So, without further ado, below you can see the three pages of the sheet music from 1921 (which should enlarge if you click on them). Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

MP3 Monologue 9 - Don Redman (part 2)

This is the second part of a monologue about Don Redman. The first part can be found here: MP3 Monologue 8.

In this episode, it is 1928 and Don Redman is about to travel to Chicago to help (as both an arranger and an instrumentalist) Louis Armstrong record a few songs. At a local ballroom he hears Al Katz and his band perform St. James Infirmary and . . .

To listen to this monologue (about 3 minutes) click here: Don Redman Part 2 MP3
Inquiries into the early years of SJI