Sunday, June 28, 2009


Today's post is a change of pace, and is far overdue at that. I've not written about my own life here much, and not really at all about my family. I don't intend to make a habit of it, either, but this is the time for an exception.

I wanted to write a bit about my older daughter Wendy, express my pride and admiration at her accomplishments, and share a bit of her talent. Wendy turned 18 last month, graduated from High School earlier this month, and will be attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the fall, studying Photography and Education.

When we went to a "Portfolio Day" event last spring, the woman from the school who did the review and critique was greatly taken with Wendy's work, and offered a scholorship more or less on the spot. Months later, we learned that she had written that it was the best portfolio she'd seen all day.

Wendy is self assured, focused, comfortable with who she is, and passionate about her social and political views, and I'm happy and impressed with the young woman she has grown to be.

Here are a few of Wendy's photos:

Wendy is also an accomplished musician, having played violin since age six and clarinet since age ten. She was already one of the best clarinetists at her High School by Sophomore. She will not be continuing those studies, at this time, but has played in countless concerts and solo performances, and has also played as a solo and as part of accompaniments at the various musical parties we've held or taken part in.

While the following track does not show her instrumental abilities, it does include her as a singer, and quite a good one, too. Years ago, my two best friends and I, along with my mother, learned the intricate vocal arrangements of three songs as sung by The Weavers. For a party last Spring - our first musical party after my mother's death - Wendy honored the memory of her grandmother by singing two Weavers' songs with the other three of us. This is a fairly ragged performance in places (particularly my vocals, unfortunately) but we did a damn good job (in my opinion) of learning a challanging group of "weaving" vocal parts, from the original records.

I believe the overall sound is really nice, and that Wendy's part shines - she certainly sounds more like her Weaver (Ronnie Gilbert) then any of us guys sound like ours. That's me singing the Pete Seeger parts, which include the first solo verse, and the verse after Wendy's:

And here's Wendy herself:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What He Ain't Got

I thought I'd include in today's posting a scan of the sleeve that was on this single when I bought it. While I'm not sure it originally went with this record, I am sure that it was originally attached to a song-poem, given the nature of the text written on it. I'm not sure about this, but I think it reads (with the addition of a few commas):

"A Retired Fisherman, Palmer, Lancaster County, Age 73, Please Play Over Radio"

Assuming it refers to one of these songs, I'll guess it's the one I'm sharing first. Here's Norm Burns and the Five Stars with "I Ain't Got No Nothing". I greatly enjoy these lyrics, which are just short of idiotic, except one line which (at least to me) comes out of nowhere and has me saying "WHAT?" every time:

The flip side (the same combo with "Gonna Keep You Warm") is not as off the wall, but it does have a somewhat interesting chord progression and melody (mostly in the chorus), and that ringing guitar sound, a sound I often love on these Sterling records, even though I just as often can't stand a similar sound on a lot of mid 1960's hit records. THe lead vocal here, on the other hand, has to take its place among Norm Burns' worst.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Floating On Air

Today, I'm offering up one of the prizes from my collection - a four song EP on the Air label. Air seems to have been (at least in part) a clearinghouse for productions of other song-poem companies, and that certainly seems to be the case here, with offerings from (at least) the Film City, Globe and Lee Hudson organizations.

Two of these four tracks appeared in the past on the MP3 page of the AS/PMA website, and so no doubt circulate among collectors. But the copies here are almost certainly higher quality than those I made for AS/PMA several years ago, and in addition, one of the two songs not shared in the past is actually my favorite of the four.

First up, an effort by Cara Stewart, with Lee Hudson's orchestra. This song, "Any Dance, Any Dance", is pretty much cookie cutter Cara and Lee material, but it's a sound that I love, and as a result is greatly enjoyable.

Next up, here's the one that really should have been shared. To me, this is one of the oddest records ever to have been made by Rodd Keith, appearing here as "Rod Rogers with Film City Orch." "Nosey Guy Polka" starts off with an off kilter sound, not much short of downright bizarre, and stumbles through a couple of minutes of carnival style polka music, with some equally weird lyrics. Definitely a keeper:

On to side two. Also shared on AS/PMA was Sammy Marshall's offering, "I'm Sam, the Handy Man". Like many of Sammy's records, this one strikes me as a song which actually could have been a hit, with better production, and some changes to the lyrics, AND if it had been released perhaps 8-10 years earlier than it was. That's a lot of qualifiers, but a lot fewer qualifiers towards hit status than I'd have to make for most other song-poems:

The only dull one of the batch is the final track, sung by one Ann Allen, "Show Me the Way". This is not Columbine or late period MSR bad (I'm not generally a fan of those labels), it's just a bland attempt at writing a song which actually sounds like a failed pop effort.

As to who Ann Allen is or was, that's anyone's guess. This is the only listing for that name on the AS/PMA database.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Special Request Day

Today, a mixed bag of items gathered from a variety of sources, posted at the request of and/or thanks to a few folks who have contacted me in recent weeks.

First up is an offering sent to me by a correspondent named René. This one came about after my discussion here about the song-poet Phil Carroll, who also wrote this first rate song, which René was kind enough to clean up and send my way (along with a scan of its label). There's a lot to like here, from the sinewy guitar that twists its way through to the track, to the swingin' beat of the rest of the band, to (especially) Mr. Carroll's unique lyrics. The verse about O'Hare airport made me laugh out loud, and the reference to where the sites are is downright peculiar. Here 'tis:

Next up.....From a correspondent named Bill came a request to hear what I might have on the subject of John F. Kennedy. A recent acquisition came to mind: Gene Marshall's rendition of the downright peculiarly named "Mr. John Kennedy - Ex President". Here is that Preview label disk, in all its glory:

And here is the flip side, "Just Dreaming All the Time":

Finally, a real oddity, which I'm posting for a few friends and online acquaintances. This one was snagged from an online site, where it was only posted for a week or two - I'm not sure that the person who posted it realized that the MP3 and the 7" were downloadable. It's from a rare Halmark label acetate, and as usual, there is no artist named. Those of you familiar with the CD re-issues of song-poems will no doubt recognize the backing track here, but the horrendous lyrics are the real star in this case. Please enjoy the genius of Margie Fuller's song, "Gas":

Today's post was delayed by several days due to other obligations. There will be another post on Thursday or Friday.

Friday, June 05, 2009

He'd Call This World a Heaven

Today, let's delve just a bit into the fascinating, confusing world of Norridge Mayhams. I can't begin to do justice to his story without pretty much copying, word for word, what is written here, so I'll just encourage you to follow that link and read about his wonderful, obscure life.

Suffice it to say that Mayhams' recorded work overlaps fairly consistently with the song-poem world. And despite the fact that much of that work came out under the name "Norris the Troubadour", as often as not (particularly later in his career), that moniker was just as likely to be attached to a Rodd Keith or Sammy Marshall vocal performance (among many others) as it was to be attached to a Mayhams' vocal.

My favorite Mayhams' record - indeed, possibly my favorite record from the song-poem world - is "Mary Ann McCarthy" (the 1940's/50's version, not the rather lifeless 1970's remake), which I may share here at some point, despite it having been traded widely, and available on the AS/PMA site in years past. That one does appear to feature ol' Norris himself, if my ears can be trusted.

Likewise, I believe that today's featured tracks may have lead vocals from the man himself. They are both from a 45 which I digitized some time ago (I can't find the record at this moment, but if I do, I'll ad a scan to this post). As I suspect about that great version of "Mary Ann McCarthy", I would not be surprised to learn that this Co-Ed label single was mastered directly from a 78 acetate, so 78ish, and generally poor, is the sound quality in places.

"I'd Call This World a Heaven (If I Could Call You Mine)" is featured first. This one has a wonderfully off kilter sound, particularly at the start, and there are several moments when it is not at all clear that the band members are all playing the same song.

The flip side "Run Away Heart", is several levels higher, in terms of sound quality and song quality (the latter no doubt in part because Norridge has manipulated the opening chords and melody of "When the Saints Go Marching In" for the opening of his song), while still remaining quite off kilter, what with the shared trumpet and whistling solo over the banjo-led band. The vocal hear is also quite nice, which is true of many Mayhams vocals.