Monday, June 27, 2005

Clarification

I should have realized that there was room for confusion about the gmail.com site, as I did the same thing the first time I was sent there (by a friend of mine). You do not have to sign up for a gmail account (that requires an invitation from someone already on gmail). You only have to enter the username and the password, seen to the left on this screen. Make sure you capitalize both.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Perfect Record, Part One


So it was sometime in 1988, and my wife and I went to stay at her parent's house while they were out of town. While looking for something, I came across a rusty 78 holder/carrier. I would have been intrigued by a box full of records under any circumstances, but given that my in-laws had never given me the slightest impression that they had any particular strong musical tastes, I was particularly interested.

My interest both grew and diminished when my wife mentioned that her parents had been into square dancing in their younger years, and that her father had been a caller. More interested, because this image in no way fit what I knew of them, but less interested because I'd heard a LOT of square dance records over the years, and had yet to be interested in any of them.

What I wasn't counting on was the quality of the square dance records made in the 1940's. First, there was no "version with calls" on one side, and "version without calls" on the other. And second, there were real, greatly talented musicians on several of these records, playing a whole bunch of emotion-filled numbers, without a pedal steel guitar or picked fender bass in earshot.

NO - these folks were playing their hearts out, on fiddle, double bass, acoustic guitar and piano, just as if they were backing up some backwoods country and western star on the next hit record.

There were half a dozen records in that box which might eventually make an appearance here, but the standout, not only of that batch of records, but among my favorites among all the records I heard for the first time that year, was "Spanish Cavalier" by an outfit called "Harley Luse and the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys.

Have a listen, or a download: it's at the "Bashleo" site linked to the left.

I suppose someone could listen to this record and say "well, they're just playing the same durn thing over and over again", and in a way, they are. But it's so much more than that. For one thing, there are subtle differences between the choruses, like the way the pianist plays a descending figure to lead into the first chord change of the chorus at the 1:24 mark, the fact that the second chord (as played on the piano) is usually A minor but sometimes is C major, and the way the bass player suddenly starts playing more of a walking bassline near the end of the piece.

I also love the very presence of the pianist, sort of unusual in this style of music, doubling the melody, and I particularly like the varying styles with which the violinist plays during the song, leading to a different feel for each verse. Even the pianist's little stumbles at a couple of points (such as at the 0:58 mark) endear this record to me (as certain friends of mine are aware, this sort of little imperfection often endears records to me....).

So who was Harley Luse? I'd have to assume, based on his records, that he was the violinist on these records. A websearch turns up a couple of references to someone by that name, reporting him variously to be a drummer, an accordianist and an actor, as well as a few mentions of this group, with no specification beyond what I already know. I've managed to find a handful more records by Mr. Luse, including a killer find of five of his records all at once in a box of square dance records. That particular batch of records were promptly broken, before I had a chance to hear them, when one of my then-toddlers put down something large, knocking something else into those five records. I've yet to find any more Harley Luse records.

There is no one "perfect" record. My life is, among other things, a search for the next in a series of "perfect" records. Clearly this is one of them. "How about those piano mistakes?", I hear someone asking. Well, perfection in performance has little, if anything to do with the perfect record, otherwise my search would end with such things as Mariah Carey and Yes albums, none of which reside in my house.

A perfect record, to me, expresses a mood, captures an emotion, and maybe even tells the listener something about the performers, even when it has no words. I can listen to "Spanish Cavalier" by Harley and the boys a dozen times in a row without stopping, and have a pretty clear idea what it must have felt like to be in that room, playing or listening to this music, the sort of place where the people who invented this music lived and maybe even the sort of lives people in that area lived.

Surely, I recognize that I could be wrong, but the beauty of this record is partly in that it convinces me so completely that I do know all those things, and when a record has that effect on me, it might be around that moment that I start thinking that I've found another "perfect" record.

Friday, June 24, 2005

A Sweet One


Most of the songs I will write about here, including this one, will be uploaded to www.gmail.com
The username for my site on gmail is Bashleo
The password is Fatghar
The log-in IS case sensitive.

I chose this to be the initial record because it is one of my favorites, and a virtually unknown one at that, by Thurl Ravenscroft. I chose to start with Thurl because of his death, earlier this month, at age 91.

Thurl Ravenscroft is one of my musical heroes, and I began to collect his records about 23 years ago, after I learned a few facts about him. I began searching out his records more frequently after I the song "This Old House", a # 1 hit from 1954, sung by Rosemary Clooney, with an essential assist from Thurl on the choruses of the song.

I had, of course, heard him since childhood, both as Tony the Tiger and in his performance of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch". But around 1982, after hearing "This Old House", I quickly snapped up the many Walt Disney records on which Thurl appeared, a few Sesame Street records and even another couple of pop hits on which he appeared.

Then, over the next twenty years, one by one I found a more intriguing batch of recordings, all of which appear to be from the mid '50's. Basically, it appears to me that at least a few record label people felt it was likely that Thurl Ravenscroft, middle aged basso profundo, was just the right person to become the next romantic balladeer and/or the ideal duet partner for romantic hit songs. Perhaps this was due to his appearance on that # 1 record, but whatever the logic, I'd say it was faulty.

But regardless of the reasons, several labels released records by Thurl as a solo artist or duet partner. The first one of this sort I found, and a favorite of mine to this day, is "Oh, You Sweet One", released on Chicago's own Bally label. Here we have Thurl, singing a lightly romantic song, based (I believe) on a German folk tune, accompanied by the most exuberant backing singers a happy-go-lucky man could ever want to have along with him, as well as sliding trombones punctuating each verse.

I find this wonderfully ridiculous - upon hearing the opening four part harmony trombones and four part backing warbling, the last thing I'd expect from a lead singer, particularly one who is going to ask "Isn't This a Lovely Day?" would be that it was someone singing in roughly the same range as a tubist. And yet, he makes it work, for me anyway, and like so many of the songs I will share here, I wish this was a song which had become a hit, and a fondly remembered oldie.

Or, failing that, I'd have loved to be present at this recording session. And finding this record, and finding it so irrisistable, was the catalyst for my continued searching for Thurl records. Have a listen, if you please.

An Introduction

Well, I've been encouraged to give this a try, and I think that's a good idea. My intention here is to write about some of the great, strange and/or unknown music and other sounds which I've come across, since I began collecting in earnest, perhaps 25 years ago (and Ernest wasn't too happy about that, either, by the way).

With few exceptions, most of the sounds described here will be of the obscure or even unique variety. There will probably be a few big or small hit singles from the distant past thrown into the mix, but they'll be the exception.

It's also my intent to provide a link to sound files for most of the sounds I write about here, and will provide that link (and a password) as soon as I've actually written my first post on the subject. I've started thinking about some of the recordings, and will begin with a timely entry, some time this weekend.

I'm not sure how often time, other responsibilities and other projects will allow me to offer up new posts/sounds, but I'm hoping to find that time relatively often. I hope you find something to enjoy here.