Boneyard Media


Josh Rosenthal, The Record Store of the Mind (2015)

September 23rd, 2015

cropped-Rosenthal_RSOTM-90-percent-smallerMy personal mythology features a specific box of records. A friend gave it to me in the spring of 1985 when I was 16, and it had once belonged to an uncle of his who had died young in a motorcycle crash. The records in this box distracted me for months, if not years, and they’ve had a long-term impact on my life that I’m not sure has been entirely positive. One of these had an image of a crab carved out of wood on the front cover. The label said both “Crab Tunes” and “Noggins” and I never knew which was the album title and which was the group. The album chronicled what sounded like the evolution of two distinct songs on guitar, bass, drums, and piano including every false start, flub, and absent-minded improv along the way punctuated by two separate full-song interludes.

Another friend of mine developed a fascination with this record and always wanted to hear it. He had saved up money doing yard work to buy a Tascam 4-track, and the two of us more or less frittered away the summer of ‘85 making “crab tunes” of our own: barely listenable musical hiccups carefully captured and assigned to luxurious tracks on cassette tapes destined for shoeboxes. I recently found one of these and even heard us playing a motif that scurries in and out like a lost and confused crustacean throughout that entire album. Should we have used our time and musical initiative differently during those precious, formative days? A school of thought would certainly argue yes. But the album had affected us rather deeply, and that’s what I’m getting at: Most record collectors likely end up doing what they do because certain records have broadsided them at unexpected times in unexpected ways.

My other point: When I first cracked open The Record Store of the Mind by Tompkins Square label owner Josh Rosenthal (who understands what I say about record collectors), I beheld the track listing for the Crab Tunes/Noggins album and gasped a bit. Rosenthal’s product had zeroed in like a smart bomb on a member of its target audience who would succumb to it as expected. I trusted correctly that the book would fill me in on records with similarly impressive credentials in obscurity like Crab Tunes (even though the question of where I should file it – under C or N? – remains unanswered). Coinciding with his label’s ten year anniversary, the book aims, as he puts it, to share with readers some of the “records, people, and live music experiences that have forever changed” the way he listens. It’s all over the place, then, and that’s a strength.

Tompkins Square first got my attention when I had started doing my International Folk Bazaar show on Austin’s KOOP radio. I noticed that much of the new instrumental guitar music I was interested in giving airtime to was coming out on the label. I found out in time, though, that it was no mere genre exercise and that Rosenthal was a record man whose sense of aesthetics and personal curiosity were calling the shots. Scan the Tompkins Square catalog and you’ll see that alongside the Imaginational Anthem guitar compilations and expansive meditations by UK guitarist James Blackshaw are releases by jazz pianist Ran Blake, British pop innovator Paddy McAloon’s Prefab Sprout, country legend Charlie Louvin (with label-exclusive recordings), forgotten Texas gospel singer/pianist Arizona Dranes, cajun pioneer Armede Ardoin, and up-and-comers like Ryley Walker and Daniel Bachman.

The music and experiences Rosenthal shares with us in his book are similarly varied. He writes about his teenage days in Syosset in Long Island, where Hicksville’s Billy Joel loomed large, where his buddy Judd Apatow (who would later find inspiration in Rosenthal for his film This Is 40) plotted a career in stand up comedy, where Eric Clapton’s Just Another Night “embedded” itself on Rosenthal’s soul, and from where he would steer his ship directly toward the music industry. The chapter about his tenure with Sony reminisces up close on working with Chris Whitley, T Bone Burnett, and Jeff Buckley, to name a few. (I was glad to read that the album cover for Grace, something that always seemed wrong to me, was not lost on some staffers.) The role of jazz in his musical upbringing gets a chapter, as do the acoustic guitarists who gave early shape to the label Rosenthal would launch, almost as a challenge to the skills he developed at Sony. (He’s printed up a great set of trading cards called Obscure Giants of Acoustic Guitar, by the way.)

The lion’s share of pages in The Record Store of the Mind, though, devote themselves to profiles of specific musicians, most of whom don’t fit in a convenient category and who rightly deserve more of the meager spotlight fate has thus far granted them. Among these are Ron Davies, Tia Blake, Harvey Mandel (who’s fighting cancer and could really use your help), Bill Wilson, Ernie Graham, Robert Lester Folsom, Smoke Dawson, and Mickey Jupp. You’ll want to keep pen and paper handy as you read so you can make a hunting list – it’s a record junkie’s funbook.

Which brings up some questions. Why is Rosenthal telling us all of this? Wouldn’t the more natural instinct for the record collecting personality be to keep more of the best record haunts mum and to preserve the shadows cast on treasured obscurities? Doesn’t music run the risk of losing its savor the more it circulates? Do we want to hear Tia Blake’s lonely voice on car commercials someday? Such questions would likely sound trivial in the ears of someone who heard the late Charlie Louvin utter the following words: “Now I pick up my guitar. My fingers won’t work. The notes don’t sound clear… and Lord, how that hurts. The sweet sound of life is so quickly fading. Still I strain to hear through the silence of aging.” Thanks to people like Josh Rosenthal, more of life’s sweet, age-proof sounds are indeed being heard.

(The Record Store of the Mind will be available October 27.)

Song ID: The Twisters – “Why Don’t Somebody” (1980)

September 20th, 2015

twistersAmerican rockabilly took hold of Finland and never let go. Something about it must have clicked with the national demeanor and sense of humor.

I found this 1980 live video from a group called the Twisters (led by Matti Miettinen) and watched it over and over. They’re doing a version of “Why Don’t Somebody” by Welsh Teddy Boy group Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers, who they cover five times on their cassette. (An alternate version of the cassette featured cover art with the Confederate stars and bars, which the scene had latched onto long ago.) While Crazy Cavan’s original (recorded in ’77) is a more settled-in Scotty-and-Bill situation, the Twisters give it a young punk’s sense of tension, with ratatatting lead guitar, right arms pumping in sync, and sober countenances. I like it better than the original, filled as it is with the kind of artistic virtue only inexperience can provide.

The performance happens in a town near Helsinki in front of one of Finland’s ubiquitous Sokos department stores. Mothers mind their bemused children, heads nod slightly, and rockabilly kids cluster and lean against walls. It ain’t no rumble, but it’s still rock ‘n’ roll.

The Twisters – “Why Don’t Somebody (live)” (1980)

Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers – “Why Don’t Somebody” (1977) 

Song ID: Jimmy Hughes – “Neighbor Neighbor” (1966)

September 14th, 2015

hughes-neighborWith his fan base in Houston and New Orleans, it was fitting that “Steal Away” Jimmy Hughes would also chart with a song written by Crazy Cajun Records’ Huey Meaux. (And no, the unfortunate connection between Meaux’s reputation and Hughes’ lyrics for “Steal Away” is not lost on me.) “Neighbor Neighbor” (1966) reached #4 on Billboard’s R&B chart and #65 on the Hot 100, and captures Percy Sledge’s Alabama cousin sounding like Little Willie John’s rock and roll twin. In 1970, after a few unsuccessful years on Stax/Volt, Hughes would lose patience with the music industry and abandon it for a job with the nuclear industry in Tennessee. (The ad to the left comes from Billboard, May 7, 1966, p. 7.)

 

Jimmy Hughes – “Neighbor Neighbor” (1966)

Song ID: Jimmy Hughes – “Steal Away” (1964)

September 13th, 2015

hughes-stealawayFrom Leighton, Alabama, Jimmy Hughes was Percy Sledge’s cousin, and his soaring, imploring “Steal Away” (which includes the disquieting line “your folks are sleeping, let’s not waste any time”) found its way into Billboard’s Top 20 in 1964. This was one of producer Rick Hall’s early successes for the FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals – the first hit, in fact, to be recorded in that building. The song would naturally influence plenty of soul yet to come and help shape the Muscle Shoals sound, but it also bore the unmistakable musical imprints of the Southern gospel standard “Steal Away to Jesus,” written in the mid-1800s by a former slave named Wallace Willis. The clip below shows future Los Angeles gospel legends the Mighty Clouds of Joy (featuring Joe Ligon) doing their upbeat version of the hymn. It comes from TV Gospel Time in Baltimore, a show that debuted in 1962, in an episode hosted by Sister Jessie Mae Renfro.

Jimmy Hughes – “Steal Away” (1964)

The Mighty Clouds of Joy – “Steal Away to Jesus” (c. 1962)

Steve Karmen’s Who Killed the Jingle?

September 8th, 2015

karmenjinglebookCuriosity about the Budweiser and Pontiac jingles I’d written about earlier led me toward composer Steve Karmen’s book Who Killed the Jingle?: How a Unique American Art Form Disappeared (2005). I approached this expecting Karmen – who wrote hundreds of ad jingles, many of which you’d instantly recognize – to attempt to explain how the end of his own career equaled the end of good advertising.

In fact, Karmen demonstrates quite convincingly how this was actually the case: his own legal efforts to strengthen the financial future for ad composers in the present, where unique content routinely gets passed over in favor of recycled pop songs, really did have implications for his trade. Karmen was one of the very few jingle writers who has managed to retain his own publishing rights and, therefore, the proud sense of legal ownership for his work normally afforded to pop songwriters, and he advocated for this on behalf of all jingle writers.

In Who Killed the Jingle?, then, Karmen details his failed attempts as Chairman of the now-defunct Society of Advertising Producers, Arrangers and Composers (SAMPAC) to challenge the payment scale adhered to by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). This is the original performance rights organization, formed in 1914, which favored – then as now – the same pop songwriters who invented it, giving themselves sacred protections forbidden to the vermin who wrote for the not yet fully understood media of TV, movies, or radio. For these folks, the quick payout and relinquishment of ownership rights was, and continues to be, a standard expectation.

One of Karmen’s key hardships, apparently, was an inability to rally the troops in a way that inspired them to envision a future in which a classic jingle, like Karmen’s own “When You Say Bud” or “I Love New York,” could bring its writer ongoing financial rewards. What has this situation led to? An advertising world in which the traditional songwriting industry has swallowed up everything. Pre-existing pop songs now sell products, and ad agencies hunt for them with sizzling hot branding irons.

Gone are the days, in Karmen’s words, of “custom-made music and lyrics for advertising.” Because my own father was a regional jingle writer, whose work put food on the table, my own loathing for the current state of advertising perhaps runs a bit high. Maybe the sick feeling I get when I hear a pop song on a commercial is just a psychological response to the devaluation of the jingle writer.

But I do believe, like Karmen, that advertising was a more creative industry before the song-usage practice, which “exhibits nothing more,” as he puts it, “than a profound lack of imagination.” Would I have an easier time with all media if the advertising they feed on were more straight up? Karmen’s book has me thinking that I would, which is a surprising admission, but I think it beats the current, sneak-attack approach, which succeeds only in appearing sneaky. Like Karmen, I feel advertising should “go back” to “what it once was. Honest. And entertaining.”

Hot Rod Hundley Transcribed, Ex. 1

September 3rd, 2015

This clip shows Utah Jazz guard Darrell Griffith having a big 40-point night on March 9, 1985, on the road vs. Chicago. This was from Griffith’s best season and he’d never be the same after hurting his foot and riding the bench for ’85-’86. Also having a great night, though – as he did every night the Jazz played – was play-by-play announcer Hot Rod Hundley, the heart and soul of the organization. As I’ve mentioned before, if his musical patter ever came out on record, I’d listen to it. If it ever got transcribed and published, I’d also read it.

My first exercise in transcribing Hot Rod (you can follow along):

Stockton to the left corner to Darrell Griffith. Griff fake right, go left, over the base, underhand shovel, good! Beautiful move.

All right, ball stolen by Griffith, and David [Ennis] Whatley threw it away. Watch this one – slam dunk! Reverse! Darrell Griffith!

Fred Roberts rebounds. Down court to Griff. Griffith takes it in over Oldham, slam dunk! The Golden Griff!

All right, Utah with the ball. Stockton hurries down the middle. Right side to the Golden Griff. Backs his way in. Fake right, turn left. Hook it up wildly and it goes in! Oh, what a shot by Darrell Griffith!

Jazz on the run. Griff down the middle. Griff behind the back. Alley oop! It goes, it counts, he’s fouled! Oh my goodness! Darrell Griffith.

Darrell Griffith. Take that! In your face, Mama, and lay it in! Darrell Griffith.

Woolridge with 14. 64-62. Right side, Griffith! A three-pointer from the parking lot! Darrell Griffith from Section J!

Again to Griffith. Darrell fakes right, go left, he’s down the middle, runnin’ up underhanded, scores! The Golden Griff!

Down the left side to Franchise [Hot Rod’s nickname for Jeff Wilkins]. Back to Griffith, two minutes left. Griffith drives the paint, slam dunk! In your face, take that one! The Golden Griff!

Super Moon Racing, 8/29/15

August 29th, 2015

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Full moon mayhem at the Central Texas Speedway tonight in Kyle, Texas. Yellow flags and car parts flying all night long. No. 80, with the Confederate flag on his hood, lost control on the last lap of the street stocks race. It looked like something on Bewitched, as though someone wiggled a nose and made him crash. When they towed the car back all you could see was charred and tangled machinery where his flag used to be.

San Antonio Plastichrome postcard

August 28th, 2015

sanantonio50s

I bought this uncommonly gorgeous postcard at San Antonio’s Buckhorn Saloon and Museum in 2002 or so. It’s Houston Street in the late fifties – the same neighborhood where I bought it. Postcard scores like this are the only reason I ever go to gift shops. I’ve visited the same shop a few times since and have found nothing as remotely attractive, but that’s how it goes. It’s credited to Plastichrome © Colourpicture (Boston) and A.W. Distributors (Irving, Texas).

Song IDs: Willie Mays – “My Sad Heart”/ “If You Love Me” (1962)

August 27th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 1.52.54 PM

In the realm of musical recordings made by athletes, which includes such sobering entries as Terry Bradshaw’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Ron Cey’s “Third Base Bag,” and Shaquille O’Neal’s “I Know I Got Skillz,” this one’s as good as it gets. Willie Mays’s “My Sad Heart”/”If You Love Me” came out the same year his San Francisco Giants lost a hard-fought seven-game World Series to the New York Yankees, and it reveals a musical version of the Say Hey Kid as appealing as the famous baseball version.

We can tell from both sides of the record that Mays had good taste, demonstrating familiarity with Sonny Till and the Orioles (side A), Bobby Blue Bland (side B), and Little Willie John (side B). Writer credits for both went to Deadric Malone, the pseudonym for Don Robey, who owned the Duke-Peacock label empire. Before this, Mays had appeared on a 1954 cut credited to “Willie Mays of the New York Giants with the Treniers” called “Say Hey (the Willie Mays Song),” one of the other great baseball singles. Did any suspicion-prone baseball people notice in ’62 that the previous time the Giants had won a pennant Mays also recorded a single? (1954 was the year the New York Giants swept the Cleveland Indians and Willie made his celebrated catch.) He should have been pumping out a record every year since then.

I’m hoping someone will step forward with footage of Willie Mays’ 1962 appearance on Tennessee Ernie Ford’s TV show to promote “My Sad Heart,” which never ended up charting.

***

Willie Mays – “My Sad Heart” (1962) : Maybe this song’s lack of chart success, come to think of it, had to do with its having no title hook.

Willie Mays – “If You Love Me” (1962)

Willie Mays of the New York Giants with the Treniers – “Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song” (1954)

Song ID: The Beach Boys – “Breakaway” (1969)

August 25th, 2015

breakaway   pontiacbreakaway

This 1969 single written by the unlikely team of Brian Wilson and father Murry (as “Reggie Dunbar”) perhaps should have been a higher charting follow up to “Do It Again” for the Beach Boys (although it did sit rather uncomfortably as part of the 1974 Endless Summer lineup). Why didn’t “Breakaway” do better than its numerologically eye-catching #69 peak position? My theory: the “Breakaway” catchphrase had already been getting tons of airplay with Steve Karmen’s jingle for the 1969 Pontiac.

Beach Boys – “Breakaway” (1969)

Beach Boys – “Celebrate the News” (1969): This was the broody B-side, a Dennis Wilson track that gives the single the yin yang tension familiar to many a Beach Boys observer.

And here’s this:

The Steve Karmen Big Band featuring Jimmy Radcliffe (1968) – “Breakaway Parts I and II”: Side A is Jimmy Radcliffe talking and singing over a troubled, minor key arrangement of Karmen’s theme, while Side B is the major-key instrumental version more familiar from TV and radio ads.