Friday, June 23, 2017

My Minutes with Demento

In July of 1975, I was a month beyond my 15th birthday. I was hooked on buying all things Beatles, watching (and recording) episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus every Sunday night on our local PBS station, and cutting a bunch of lawns for money.

Over the course of a few weeks, I heard from two different friends about a radio show they knew I'd love, The Dr. Demento show, heard Sunday nights over WSDM, 97.9 (SDM = "Smack Dab in the Middle" of your dial). On July 20th, I gave it a listen.

I was hooked from the very first song, "The Q5 Piano Tune" by Spike Milligan, an amazing feat of nonsense wrapped up in a hooky, noisy and extremely well produced package (not surprising, as it was produced by George Martin). As the show went on, I heard several more excellent records that I'd had no idea existed, in styles and genres I barely had known about, as well as a few that I'd grown up knowing, such as "Three Little Fishies" and "The Purple People Eater".

I was getting very into this new show, but then, near the end of the episode, came "My Boomerang Won't Come Back" by Charlie Drake, and I was over the moon. The record is a masterpiece of production (and, again, by George Martin!), has funny lyrics, great harmonies and an absolutely indelible tune. I have no doubt it was the record I listened to the most over the next two or three months, and remains one of my very favorite records.

For that treat alone, I made sure to listen the next week, and the next, and the next, in the hope of hearing something else that I would love. I was usually rewarded with something else wonderful. I was hooked on Dr. Demento's show. And like most things I fall headlong into, I have continued to be into Dr. Demento, full bore, ever since. His show changed stations a few times in those early years, but it eventually landed on WLUP (curiously, the station which took over the frequency of WSDM), and stayed there for more than 30 years, before the show itself moved to an online-only presence.

Over the course of those years, I recorded nearly every episode on reel to reel, copying onto cassette tape after cassette tape all of the material that I loved, and there was far too much of that loved material to mention here, although I will point out that his show was the source of my introduction to Thurl Ravenscroft, whose career I celebrated here.

Being a major record collector myself, Dr. Demento (AKA Barry Hansen) became a hero to me, for his collection, his knowledge and his desire to/excellent ability at sharing his collection with the world.

I even got a song on his show. After I completed a self-produced, privately distributed cassette tape of funny songs, I sent off a copy of a few of them to the good Doctor, and was rewarded a few months later when my song "Bad TV Acting" (a parody of "Sweet Soul Music") got a spin on the show (later, the entire cassette album was posted online, here).

Flash forward a few more years, and an episode of the show was done which paid tribute to Elvis, 25 years after his death. I wrote a very favorable post about it in the Dr. Demento Usenet Newsgroup (remember those), and someone in his camp forwarded it to Dr. Demento himself. Thus began an occasional correspondence between us. This was more than I would ever have dreamed of, but over the last couple of years the correspondence has became more frequent, starting with my making suggestions for the show, and offering up items from my own collection. Soon, he and I were going off on tangents and writing to each other about our lives, our collecting, etc.

Hearing that Dr. Demento and I would someday become friends would have probably put the 16 year old, or 26 year old me into shock. And yet, that's what had happened. I had, by this point, started recording my own material again, and I began sending some of these songs to him, as well. Since early last year, he's played four of these, and has featured several additional items from my collection, several of them song-poems.

When I learned last fall that Dr. Demento would be appearing live in a theatre about an hour from my home, around Halloween, I quickly bought a ticket, and inquired with him whether he thought there'd be a chance for us to meet before the show. The answer was yes, and so, last October, prior to what was a wonderful presentation, I got to spend about 20 minutes with the Good Doctor, in the theatre's "green room".

What did we talk about? Lots of things, including, of course, being a collector and ways of having a collection. But does it really matter? Someone I considered a hero, someone who built an amazing career out of something I've done as a life-long hobby, is now a friend. And we had a really nice conversation, and that's what matters. Since then, our conversation continued, via e-mail. So have my submissions of records from my collection for the show: Just last week, he played "The 23rd Channel", a ridiculous Noval label song-poem, during a segment on television.

Thank you, Dr. Demento - Barry Hansen - for more than 40 years of entertainment, for the myriad beloved songs and other recordings you've introduced me to, and for welcoming me into friendship with you.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

An All Time Favorite


Today is my 57th birthday, although I prefer to look at it as being 19 for the third time. Regardless of all that, I'm going to give a gift to you - a record which I've owned for a long time as part of a shared tape exchanged from long, long ago, but only acquired on vinyl in the last few days. And it is, as indicated in the title, an all-time favorite of mine. I was actually amazed (in searching, prior to making this post) that it never seems to have been shared by anyone before.

It's Rodd Keith, in his Rod Rogers mode, in a recording clearly made at the Film City song-poem factory, but released by a vanity label run by Roy "Curly" Rivers and Evelyn Sheets, who wrote songs together, and who combined their last names to form the Shevers label.

What's so special about this one? Well, there are several records made by Rodd Keith in a country vein wherein he sounds like he's less than serious about the genre, and seems to have his tongue in his cheek to varying degrees. For this song, however - the aptly named "Poverty" - his complete contempt for the material and the style fairly drips off of the grooves. The addition of a few added sounds tied into the lyrics is a nice touch. (The awful edit at 1:01, on the other hand, might be another indication of the level of seriousness with which he took this particular recording.)

Perhaps his intentions wouldn't be as clear if we didn't have Rodd's other records to compare this to - if all we knew was that this record sounded if it was made by an idiotic backwoods hick. But we know what he could do when he was serious, or even doing something lighthearted that he respected. This is just a complete deconstruction of a genre.

The couple behind the scenes at Shevers seem to have not been bothered by this - or perhaps it's what they asked for - as this is actually a single lifted from an entire album of songs that they commissioned, one which goes for a whole bunch of dollars, on the rare occasions that it turns up for auction.

ENJOY!!!

Download: Rod Rogers - Poverty
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On the flip side - and also from the "Singing in the Country" album, is a much more typical Rodd Keith Film City era record, titled "Luella". This track has a swinging Chamberlin track, with some creative soloing and voicing choices. The song has an interesting lyric, and Rodd sounds fully engaged with this one, with good reason, I'd say.

Download: Rod Rogers - Luella
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Thursday, June 08, 2017

Don't Make Love On a Merry-Go-Round!

Before getting to this week's offering, I want to write about a new project, a massive undertaking being made by a wonderful (and not at all obscure) person who has been my closest friend for what is now approaching 40 years, Stu Shea. Stu is also a frequent commenter here, and I've already commented on several of his new posts.
 
Stu is now featuring "A Song a Day" on his site, and not just the song, but typically, extensive background information, thoughts on the performer and song, and other information. In over a month of posts, he's featured music from a wide variety of time periods, genres and performers. It's already an impressive project, and it can be found here. I'll also link to it on the right.
 
 

Air Records doesn't seem to have been in the business of creating song-poem recordings, as least as far as I can tell. Instead, by some process and for some reason, they released the work of various song-poem factories, and as often as not, more than one production house would be represented on a single 45 or EP. In the case of today's feature, we have three songs from the Globe factory, two of which feature Sammy Marshall under one of his slightly adjusted names, as well as a very nice entry, from the almost always very nice Lee Hudson outfit.

First up is a song which will be of interest, if it's not already known, to the Vietnam War Song Project, as it's "A Soldier's Prayer" by "Sonny Marshall". This is a particularly treacle-laden number, complete with a lengthy spoken word section in which the soldier speaks directly to God.

A side note - I always look to see if the songs I'm considering have been posted anywhere before, in the hopes to avoid duplicating someone else's work (last week notwithstanding). The only reference I found to this record was in a book about "Music of the Vietnam War", in which the author dedicates a paragraph to the song, not knowing it was a song-poem (or, most likely, what a song-poem is), and expressing a certain level of confusion as to the type of songs which were paired on the EP, with this deeply religious, serious song. That page can be found here.

Download: Sonny Marshall: A Soldier's Prayer
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My favorite of the four tracks also comes from the Globe stable, with label stalwart (who I have not featured here before) Joan Auborn, with the bouncy and silly "Dizzy Love" from which comes the title of this post. The typically, fairly sterile Globe band backing doesn't do the material any favors, but the sweet, lighthearted lyrics, and especially the warm lead vocal make up for the lack of energy by the band.

Download: Joan Auborn - Dizzy Love
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Flipping the record over, we're again greeted with Sammy/Sonny Marshall, and an even more canned sounding track backing him up on the song "Talk, Talk, Talk". The way that the folks at Globe fit that title into a rapid-fire melody didn't do the lyrics, or Sammy/Sonny any favors - it's remarkably clumsy sounding. And this is a remarkably bouncy setting for a song in which the singer complains that no one likes him, that everyone talks crap about him, and, based on one set of lyrics, he's apparently about to die.

Download: Sonny Marshall: Talk, Talk, Talk
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Finally, we have the track submitted by the great Lee Hudson company, featuring his standard male singers, Jeff Reynolds on the song "My Valentine". It has elements of the features which make many of the Hudson records stand out from the typical song-poem release, but doesn't have as much varied instrumentation or energy as most of the company's best work.

Download: Jeff Reynolds - My Valentine
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