Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sunday morning gospel: The Speer Family--Won't We Be Happy (1965; re. 1981)

This LP had my a bit confused at first, what with its copyright year of 1981.  I was sure I had previously owned a much earlier edition, and it turns out that I was correct--this is a 1965 gem reissued on the occasion of the Speers' 60th anniversary.  Hence, the revised cover (the anniversary reference).  Now, my original copy had some weird "extra" sounds on a couple of the Side 2 tracks--sort of like audio bleeding through the performance, as if the engineer were reusing a tape that hadn't been fully erased.  I wrote it off to a defect in the pressing, but apparently not, because the same noises are present in this edition!  So the problem obviously resides in the master tape/disc.  For some reason, it's a relief to discover that both the 1965 and 1981 editions have the same odd noises.  Why that would come as a relief, I don't know.  Maybe I've been puzzling over this subconsciously for the past ten years.

Back to topic, during the 1920s and 1930s (after forming in 1921), the Speers peddled songbooks for publisher James D. Vaughan, which meant they had to be good--and hard-working.  I'd give anything to hear this wonderful group in its earliest days, but unfortunately it didn't start recording until 1947.  And, needless to say, the outfit didn't get rich from singing to sell books, but maybe the paychecks got bigger when "Dad" Speer went to work for Stamps-Baxter upon James D. Vaughn's death in 1941.  And bigger yet when they landed recording dates with Columbia and RCA.  I hope so.

The music throughout this superior LP is expertly and lovingly presented--polished but with a down-home sincerity that gets addictive after a few tracks.  I'll have to count this version of Palms of Victory (aka, Deliverance Will Come), as my all-time favorite (and my reason for snapping this up from the thrift bin), because the Speers get it exactly right, with a tight and subtly insistent instrumental background (after Ye Olde Deceptive Slow Start), a properly moderate tempo, and superbly precise diction--exactly what the words demand.  It's all a buildup to the final (well, in print, the next-to-final) verse, in which he "wayworn traveler" at last reaches the Golden City.  The group celebrates this triumph by drawing out the last three words:"Palms of victory I... shall... wear."  Sometimes genius touches are simple ones.  And sometimes, when you're working with great material, you just let it shine.  This is a group which works to glorify the material, not itself.

Wayworn Traveler, by the way, was the title the Carter Family used when they recorded this 1836 number a century later.  And, oddly enough, SecondHandSongs claims that Carter wrote the verse that ends this version ("While gazing on that city, Just o'er the narrow flood...").  In fact, the verse appears in my edition of New Christian Hymn and Tune Book, which was published in 1887--four years before A.P. was born.  (Scan below.)

A touching note--George Thomas "Dad" Speer died one year after this LP, and wife Lena "Mom" Speer the following.  Adds some poignancy to a beautifully done cover.

DOWNLOAD: The Speer Family--Won't We Be Happy (1965; re. 1981)


Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Blue Beats--The Beatle Beat (A.A. Records AA-133; 1964)

I was going to start by describing this as one of the odder Beatles knock-offs.  But it may, in fact, be the oddest.

The Beatle Beat, Featuring the Blue Beats.  That's what it says on the front jacket.  So what does it say on the back jacket?  "How to Do the Twist" (Reprinted from The Fred Astaire Dance Book).  How to do the Twist?  So, uh... to do the Beatle Beat, one must first master the Twist?  Wouldn't a "Beatles Beat" tutorial have made more sense?  This is a level of front jacket/rear jacket disagreement that rivals anything from Synthetic Plastics Co. or Halo, Allegro/Royale, and Ultraphonic.  So, what exactly do we have here?  A discotheque collection repurposed at the last minute to siphon some of the Beatles cashflow?  That seems like the closest thing to a logical explanation.  But couldn't they have come up with a more creative fake-Beatles name than "The Blue Beats"?  That sounds like a quartet of depressed poets listening to Miles Davis albums when they aren't accompanying Slop and Mashed Potato contests.

Nothing, however, can compete with the hideous cover art, which has a group of kids dancing (Twisting, Frugging, Hully Gullying?) under a massive Beatles wig.  Doesn't it look like the wig is consuming them?  Maybe that's a bit of social commentary.  At any rate, the dancers seem to be leaning into the giant wig, as if caught by surprise while doing the Rock-a-cha-cha, and this huge prop has just landed on them.

One look at that cover had me remembering the carpet monster from outer space in the Z-movie classic The Creeping Terror (1964--same year!).  Specifically, the scene where the monster invades a dance hall and struggles its way through a cluster of tables and chairs while the patrons stand by a back exit, making no attempt to get away.  Heck, as slow as the thing was moving, they could have walked past it and gone out the front:

Here's the Creeping Terror dance hall scene on YouTube, taken from a terrible print. Which is apt, since the sequence features what is possibly the worst editing job in film history.

Now, A.A. Records (which gave us Golden Record and Wonderland Records) wasn't the cheapest of the cheap, by any means.  It issued collectible stuff like At Home with the Munsters (featuring the TV cast), Roger and Over with Roger Price, the Famous Monsters of Filmland classic Famous Monsters Speak! and Huckleberry Hound for President (apparently authorized by Hanna-Barbara)  Yet, here it's giving us a Beatles knock-off that's less of an actual knock-off than even the Palace label's Beattle Mash.  How to explain?  Maybe the easiest option is to simply accept.

The music is fun, if monotonous, and well recorded and played.  So, it's discotheque rock and roll, all right, and every dance from the Slop to the Frug to the Rock-a-Cha-Cha (Rock-a-Cha-Cha??) to the Mashed Potato is represented, so everything about this album rings true--except for the "Beatle" part.

The titles are confusing as heck, since they're all followed by the name of the dance they go with.  Which would be fine, except that, in a number of cases, the dance names are part of the title and not just an addendum--for instance The Blue Beats' Ska.  Or Jack's Chickenback.  On the mp3 tags, I used dashes in front of the dance types, because I have no means of italicizing any part of the tags.  This resulted in some strange names, like One-Two--Hully Gully.  I guess there's no way to make this LP make any sense.  So, enjoy!

DOWNLOAD--The Beatle Beat--The Blue Beats (A.A. Records AA-133; 1964)


Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day 2020--"Then came the journey over the foam, but all that went over didn't come home"--Billy Murray

An all-78 rpm Memorial Day salute, with every rip but one courtesy of George Blood LP--this was my second raid of the amazing Internet Archive's 78 rpm offerings.  I ended up doing a good deal of declicking and (judicious) filtering to these tracks, since Blood's rips, superb as they are, are pretty much straight from the turntable.  The single non-George Blood side--the Chico Marx Orchestra's We Must Be Vigilant (American Patrol)--was a bad remastering job and required a complete makeover.  With Vinyl Studio, I imposed a flat curve to rescue the file from its severe over-filtering and highly over-emphasized bass, and then I worked on it from there.  What you hear is much better than what I started with.  A great side, and totally worth the trouble--especially since it was the only one I could find.

My Dream of the Big Parade, a 1926 gem expertly performed by the Peerless Quartet, features surprisingly no-holds-barred lyrics about WWI, and the narration by Billy Murray (!) is profoundly moving and well done.  Sentimental but very frank--powerful and eloquent stuff.  Hard to believe that the lyricist, Al Dubin, also gave us Tiptoe Through the Tulips.

And we have two versions of America the Beautiful--the first, from 1914, set to a melody I've never heard before, by one C.G. Hamilton.  No label credit given for the words on this Wellesley Glee Club recording.  The second recording, from 1927, correctly credits Katharine Lee Bates for the text (the first draft of which dates to 1893) and Samuel A. Ward for the melody we all know.  Ward composed the tune (titled Materna) in 1883, but obviously not for Bates' text.  His music, plus Bates' lyrics, were first merged in 1910.  Bates words originated as a poem she titled "Pike's Peak," though the title was changed to "America" when it was published in 1895.  See how simple this stuff is?  Nothing complicated at all about the history of our best-loved songs.

I was thrilled to find a choral recording of William Billing's patriotic anthem, Chester.  This marvelous number hails from 1770 and was hugely popular during the Revolutionary War.  For quite some time, the self-trained Billings caught a lot of grief from music historians who pretty much regarded him as a joke, but, far as I know, he's now rightfully credited as the first major American composer.  He's looking good, and the historians who wrote him off... not so much so.

If George F. Root's Tramp, Tramp, Tramp melody has your ears expecting to hear Ray Stevens start in with Everything Is Beautiful, it's because the melody was also used for the famous Sunday School song, Jesus Loves the Little Children.

John Philip Sousa's famous Liberty Bell March was famous long before the Monty Python troupe chose it for its theme music, and this 1916 Columbia recording by Prince's Band boasts extraordinary fidelity.  I almost thought I was listening to a mislabeled electrical side.  One of the finest Sousa marches, though I'm not sure he ever wrote a dud.

And it's inevitable that a racist number would show up at some point, and The Ragtime Volunteers Are off to War is that number, though minus the word "darkies," the lyrics could be taken to refer to soldiers hip to the sound of ragtime.  But given the long minstrel show tradition of lampooning blacks in uniform, you sort of know from the title what it's about.  Bouncy number, though, and we get to hear the fascinating instrumental version by (Ernest) Borbee's Jass Orchestra, from the same year (1917).  Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925 describes Borbee's style as "dance music in a genteel fashion typical of its time," but I hear some solid ragtime in a pretty innovative string band style for the time, complete with percussion.

The Peerless Quartet's Liberty Bell is not the Sousa march--it's a rather strange patriotic number that no one sounds very enthused about.  Even the finally bell gongs sound flat.  Maybe the bells were eager to call it day, too.  "We'll keep the take.  What the heck."--Recording director.  "Who's buying?"  The final track, from 1905, is by the Life Guards Military Band, "with descriptive effects," though there isn't much of a narrative happening.  I've heard similar sides on which the overlapping conversations are more audible.  But it's still quite cool.  I'd almost think it had to have been recorded outdoors, which would have presented a challenge for 1905 recording technology.

DOWNLOAD: Memorial Day, 2020

We Must Be Vigilant (American Patrol)--Chico Marx and His Orch., v: Ziggy Lane (The Hits Record 7003; 1942)

America the Beautiful (C.G. Hamilton)--Wellesley College Glee Club (Columbia A1659; 1914)
America the Beautiful (Ward and Bates)--Columbia Mixed Chorus (Columbia 1202-D; 1927)
Comin' in on a Wing and a Pray'r--Johnny Zero--The Studio Orchestra (London Music Library W. 7051; U.K.)
The Battle Cry of Freedom (George F. Root)--Harlan and Stanley w. Orch. (Victor 16165; 1907)
American Patrol (Beacham)--Chicago Symphony Orch., Dir. Frederick A. Stock (Columbia A5977; 1917)
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (The Prisoner's Hope) (Root)--John Young w. Orch. (Victor 16987; 1911)
Chester (William Billings)--The Madrigalists (Columbia 17251; 1927)
Joan of Arc (Wells)--Henry Burr, Tenor Solo, Orch. Acc. (Columbia A2273; 1917)
Liberty Bell March (Sousa)--Prince's Band (Columbia A2079; 1916)
My Dream of the Big Parade (Al Dubin-Jimmy McHugh)--Peerless Quartet w. Billy Murray (Victor 20098; 1926)
The Ragtime Volunteers Are off to War (Macdonald--Hanley)--Van and Schenck (Victor 18340; 1917)
Same--Borbee's Jass Orchestra (Columbia A2473; 1917)
Liberty Bell (Mohr)--Peerless Quartet (Columbia A2473; 1917)
Departure of a Man of War (Hunting)--Life Guards Military Band, with descriptive effects (Victor 61152; 1905)


Saturday, May 23, 2020

That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland (1916), and more!

Twelve tracks, all swiped from the Internet Archive and sound-edited by me.  All of the pre-doctored rips are by George Blood LP, the outfit which uses the four-tonearm turntable.  Its sound files are superb, but sometimes they're whisper-soft, as was the case with 1916's That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland, recorded by Arthur Collins and Byron G. Harland for Edison--which, luckily, I was able to get some volume out of.  That Funny Band was released in 1917, but this take (take C) was recorded on Dec. 1, 1916.  The song title is said to be the first to mention jas/jass/jazz, but it's the band's slightly discordant imitations of Dixieland which make this recording fascinating.  These breaks were clearly meant for humor but they provide incontestable proof  that Original Dixieland Jazz Band-style was around in 1916.  Not that anyone was arguing this, but every bit of audio proof proof is precious when it comes to jazz in its earliest stages.

The record is racially offensive, of course, though it's only a 5 on a scale of 10 as far as dialect humor goes.  For its period, this rates as moderately insulting....

I filled out the playlist with Earl Fuller (Rector Novelty Orchestra) and Paul Whiteman 78s which I haven't (to the best of my memory) featured here, save for Earl Fuller's Mummy Mine, which didn't sound as good as this, and Paul Whiteman's Chicago--ditto.  The 1945 Whiteman recording of San (arranged by Bill Challis) was recorded for the Capitol 78 set The History of Jazz Vol. 2--The Golden Era, and it features original band member Matty Malneck doing his usual masterful violin solo, and... I thought it also had Bill Rank on trombone, but I guess not.  Brilliant performance, and it was the first Whiteman record I ever heard, thanks to my dad's hi-fi set and his copy of the 78 album.

I was very happy to find the superb George Blood LP rip of Paul Whiteman's 1929 Button up Your Overcoat, one of my all-time favorite 1920s sides, which features a charming Ferde Grofe arrangement and an incomparable Vaughn De Leath vocal (she gets no i.d. on the label!).

High entertaining shellac, and I didn't have to set the needle down once....

DOWNLOAD: That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland, more!

That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland (Kahn-Marshall)--Collins and Harlin, 1916 (Edison 50423; 1916)
I Want Him Back (Lew Brown)--Earl Fuller's Rector Novelty Orch. (Columbia A2566; 1918)
Mummy Mine (Hickman-Black)--Same (Columbia A2722; 1919)
We'll Do Our Share (Egan-Creamer and Layton)--Same (Columbia A2566; 1918)
Alabamy Bound (De Sylva-Green-Henderson)--Paul Whiteman and His Orch. (Victor 19557; 1924)
Button up Your Overcoat (De Sylva-Brown-Henderson; arr: Grofe)--Same (Columbia 1736-D; 1929)
Chicago (That Toddling Town) (Fred Fisher)--Same (Victor 18946; 1922)
Dixie's Favorite Son (Lew Brown--Albert Von Tilzer)--Same (Victor 19389; 1924)
I'm Just Wild About Harry (Sissle-Blake)--Same (Victor 18938; 1922)
In a Boat (Lange-Liggy-Klapholz)--Same (Victor 18789; 1921)
Manhattan (Hart-Rodgers)--Same (Victor 19769; 1925)
San (McPhail-Michels; Arr: Bill Challis)--Same (Capitol 10026; 1945)


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Buddy Tate, The Rock and Rollers Orchestra (Halo 50322)

Look at that cover--I had to grab this one.  This was an inexpensive eBay acquisition--I'm still Covid-avoiding the thrifts.  Too many central Ohioans think the virus is a joke, and I don't feel comfortable around folks who don't wear masks.  Like covering your mouth and nose for the common good is some kind of epic hardship.  But, anyway, this is an Eli Oberstein junk-label gem--from the good ol' Record Corporation of America, or, the fake RCA.  I think a lawsuit happened over "RCA" vs. RCA at some point, but don't quote me.  The copyright year on the back cover is 1957, but Discogs says 1958 for the release, so, what the heck.  1958 it is.  The sole Tate discography I found on line tells me that the A-side tracks were recorded by Buddy Tate in 1955, and for the Halo label!  The "for the Halo label" part is the surprise, since I didn't know anyone actually recorded specifically for the fake-RCA junk labels--I would've though these tracks came from some other source.  That's what I get for thinking.  And, meanwhile, I've just found a second Tate discography, though it's not as detailed as the one I linked to.

I like the Tate sides--especially the uptempo Skip It--though the two Christmas titles don't demand replays (they're kind of draggy).  And Snowy White Christmas is a certain famous Christmas standard by an American songwriter born in Siberia.  (Hint: Remove "Snowy" from the title.)  Now, if Tate indeed recorded his tracks for this label, why didn't he do two sides' worth?  Dunno.

The flip side features the Rock and Rollers Orchestra, whom nobody seems to have identified.  And it doesn't sound like the same guys throughout--I hear two, maybe three, outfits.  And it's rock and roll, all right, but not the type that hit the pop charts in the 1950s--it's the 1940s-style stuff that emerged from swing music, and I suspect that these tracks date from that decade.  No way to be sure, of course.  The sound quality goes south with these numbers, the last two sounding especially bad.  Whether the problem happened in the remastering, or if the things were just badly recorded... dunno.  But side 2 really rocks.  My attempts to fix the sound backfired, so I kept the dynamic balance as is.  You'll hear thumping bass and subdued highs, at least compared to the lighter, superior sound on the Tate numbers.

And I do think the source for r&r was big band jazz, or swing.  We've been taught for decades that r&r came together from umpteen sources--the prevailing notion, far as I know, is that parallel strands/styles, each with its own history, merged into r&r at some point (directed by what magical force, I don't know).  How else to explain the stylistic diversity in early r&r?  Well, I have a couple of far simpler explanations--1) popular forms tend to diversify stylistically as they borrow from other forms, and 2) when you have musicians from varied backgrounds involved in getting a new form off the ground, as was the case with r&r, you can expect a variety of approaches.  Popular music evolves at a rapid pace, and this doesn't leave much room for highly complicated processes to occur.  Popular entertainment is sink-or-swim by nature--something finds an audience, or it perishes.  The complicated creation theories of r&r journalism sound fine on paper, but simple is better when it comes to theories, because simple theories are testable (i.e., falsifiable).  800-page theories aren't, because they're too prone to ad hoc revising of propositions, and because they have the same probability of being correct as any other 800-page theory.  A theory that can't be tested is as useful (or useless) as any other.  It's good to remember that theories explain things--they don't describe them.  My contention that r&r came from swing is not a simplification of history.  Rather, it's an acknowledgement that change and mutation are the essence of evolution.  Those two nouns function as synonyms for it, in fact.  Rather than buying the claim that forty forms were placed in a big, magic mixing bowl, with the result being early r&r, maybe we should look for the form which mutated into r&r.  The most obvious suspect is swing.

DOWNLOAD: Buddy Tate, Rock and Rollers Orchesstra

Buddy Tate, His Tenor Sax and Orch.


Moon Dust
Rough Ridin'
Skip It
Lonely Christmas
Snowy White Christmas (White Christmas)

Rock and Rollers Orchestra

Let's Rock and Roll

Romp and Stomp
Long N' Lean
The Screwdriver No. 1
Cool Fool
Soda Bob

(Halo 50332; released 1958--Tate sessions, 1955)