Thursday, October 28, 2004


"This fine beer wins more friends every day." Posted by Hello

Saturday Night and Sunday Afternoon

Tex Ritter, "Rye Whiskey

Being drunk has never sounded more glorious. This is the apotheosis of getting smashed. Ritter makes a circus out of his voicebox--part train whistle, part minstrel singer, part trumpet. "If a tree don't fall on me, I'll live 'till I die."

Recorded May 7, 1945, but it was a hit a few years later. Ritter had already made one version in the 1930s, and would keep singing about "whiskey, you villain" for 25 more years. Ritter was one of the many "Hollywood cowboys" who filled wartime movie screens, grinding out, at one point, more than 40 films in seven years.

More on Tex.

The Bailes Brothers, "Dust on the Bible"

It was a rough night, and now Sunday's ebbing away. Maybe you've skipped church, or if you did attend, you sank in the back pew and sat there with a throbbing headache, just willing the preacher to get through it all. Now the sun's heading down and you're starting to feel all right. But then your neighbour comes over--the one with the neat lawn and the frightened looking children, the one whose shirts seem a size too tight. After exchanging pleasantries, he asks to see your Bible. Where the hell is it? You dig through the Sears catalogs, look through the scattered books, talking nonchalantly to him all the time. At last, you see the Bible propping up a low shelf. Relieved, you hand it to your neighbour, but you note the fleeting look of utter damning disgust as the inch-thick coat of dust on the cover stains his fingers...

The Bailes Brothers--Kyle, Homer, Johnny and Walter--came from Charleston, West Va. No "Rye Whiskey" for them--one of their first hits was "The Drunkard's Grave." On "Dust", recorded on Feb. 17, 1945, Walter and Johnny sing lead. By 1949, the brothers had split (Walter and Homer going on to become Pentecostal ministers), though various re-incarnations persisted for decades to come.

Thumbnail Bailes history.

Both of these tracks are from "The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Country Music"8-LP set. On CD, "Whiskey" can be found here; "Dust" here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


home at last Posted by Hello

Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers, The Honeydripper.

From February to May 1945, the War Manpower Commission imposed a midnight curfew on all clubs and theaters. Joe Liggins and his Honeydrippers were the house band at the Samba Club, in Los Angeles, and when the curfew began, they started playing "The Honeydripper," beginning at a quarter to twelve and finishing it exactly fifteen minutes later at lights-out. When Leon Rene, a record exec, wanted to record the song, he asked if Liggins could "cut it down." "We don't cut 'The Honeydripper' down," was the reply. But eventually, Liggins consented.

"The Honeydripper" was recorded on April 20, 1945, eight days after Franklin Roosevelt died of a stroke, and eight days before Mussolini was killed at Lake Como. Rene took the disc "to Sybil's Drugstore at 54th and Central and put it on the jukebox that morning around 8 o'clock. He went back that night around 7 o'clock to see if it had played. It had only played 135 times," says writer Ed Ward. It would ultimately sell a million copies.

If swing was waning, this type of music--bluesy, riff-heavy, dirty, danceable and unrelenting--was ready to take its place.

This and other great Liggins tracks can be found here.

Ward's fine account of the early days of R&B and rock and roll is one-third of "Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll"; the other parts are not as compelling.

Sunday, October 24, 2004


The Hotel Eden, Joseph CornellPosted by Hello

The original work by Cornell, patron saint of Queens, is in the National Gallery of Canada.

Benny Goodman Sextet, Rachel's Dream.

The swing era was dying. Soon all the big bands would go to smash--Gene Krupa's, Tommy Dorsey's, even Goodman's.

The war had done its part (musicians were conscripted, gas & rubber rationing hurt touring), as did a recording ban. And the singers had taken over. In the '30s, the singer was often a girl standing on a corner of the stage, sometimes not coming in until the final chorus. By '45, the singers--Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como--ruled the stage and the songs, absolutely.

And swing was getting stale: Much of it was generic pop music with vague jazz implications.
The improvisation had been steamed out, the beat regulated. It had devolved from Fletcher Henderson to Goodman to Dorsey to Glenn Miller (with Lawrence Welk being the endstop).

But Goodman kept going--even attempting bebop in the late '40s. Throughout his career, at his fame's height, he had always kept a 'chamber' group for his more adventurous work: first a trio with Teddy Wilson and Krupa, then then a sextet featuring vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and genius guitarist Charlie Christian.

"Rachel's Dream" comes from a May 7, 1945 session with Wilson on piano and Red Norvo on vibraphone. Along with Hampton, Norvo pioneered and defined the vibraphone. The rest of the Sextet was Morey Feld (d), Slam Stewart (b) and Mike Bryan (guitar). "Rachel's" can be found on the Goodman compilation that came out as part of the Ken Burns Jazz series.

Norvo is best heard on an ASV compilation Knockin' On Wood, which features another great track from this session, "Slipped Disc."

An exhaustive account of swing is Gunther Schuller's The Swing Era, part two of an alleged jazz history trilogy. "Early Jazz" is the initial volume. It has been 15 years, and still no sign of the last book.

Thursday, October 21, 2004


R&R Posted by Hello

Bobby Hackett and His Orchestra, Pennies From Heaven.

The theme song of the Depression, and still a tonic for a war-numbed world ten years later. Written in 1936 by Johnny Burke and Arthur Johnston, and immortalized by Bing Crosby in a movie of the same name (which also guest-starred Louis Armstrong), "Pennies" soon became a jazz standard, its melody a fine thread that could be stitched into endless variations.

This version is fairly obscure-- it was compiled by Gary Giddins on a double-CD complementing his book Visions of Jazz--but its quiet, placid beauty is appealing. Hackett, best known for his work with Jackie Gleason (when Gleason moonlighted as a rival to schlock maven Mantovani) on a series of "Music for Lovers Only" LPs in the 1950s and 1960s. Hackett was as much a guitarist as he was a trumpeter (though he plays trumpet here.)

Giddins: "He played so well that he made elevator music interesting."

Recorded May 31, 1945-- the band includes Carl Kress on guitar, Dave Bowman on piano and Deane Kincaid on baritone sax.

More on Bobby Hackett.

Visions of Jazz, a thumbnail history of jazz music on two discs, can be found here.

"Pennies from Heaven" is the centerpiece of Dennis Potter's brilliant 1978 BBC serial, starring Bob Hoskins, which was adapted in Herbert Ross' 1981 film, starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters, and featuring a Christopher Walken dance routine.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Hiroshima, after the warPosted by Hello

Photo from The Navy Office of Information.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Strange Things Happening Every Day.

Sister Rosetta knew it, even before the A-bombs fell in August. "On that last great Judgement Day, when they drive them all away, there are strange things happening every day." The song is joy and defiance in the face of the unthinkable--Rosetta makes the Last Days sound pretty fun--and is pure gospel rock and roll, driven by Rosetta's guitar and Sammy Price's piano. It topped the R&B charts the week Hitler killed himself.

More on Sister Rosa, Johnny Cash's favorite singer,here. "Strange Things" can be found here.

Sunday, October 17, 2004


"In their glowing hours" Posted by Hello

Winston Churchill, days after the German surrender, May 1945:

"I wish I could tell you tonight that all our toils and troubles were over...On the continent of Europe, we have yet to make sure that the simple and honourable purposes for which we entered the war are not brushed aside and overlooked in the months following our success, and that the words 'freedom', 'democracy', and 'liberation' are not distorted from their true meaning as we have understood them..."

"We seek nothing for ourselves. But we must make sure that those causes which we fought for find recognition at the peace table...and above all we must labor to ensure that the World Organisation which the United Nations are creating at San Francisco does not become an idle name, does not become a shield for the strong and a mockery for the weak. It is the victors who must search their hearts in their glowing hours, and be worthy by their nobility of the immense forces they wield..."

"...Forward, unflinching, unwavering, indomitable, till the whole task is done and the whole world is safe and clean."

Wartime songs in the U.S., though, often revolved around a subject far more interesting and sordid: what the GIs were getting up to with native girls, from the Philippines to Trinidad.

The Andrews Sisters, "Rum and Coca Cola"

A number-one smash in spring '45, and allegedly plagiarized from the calypso singer Lord Invader, the song's fairly risque nature escaped the Andrews Sisters, or so they say now:

Maxine Andrews: "We didn't think of what it meant; but at that time, nobody else would think of it either, because we weren't as morally open as we are today and so, a lot of stuff - really - no excuses - just went over our heads. " Read more here.

Cowboy Copas, "Filipino Baby"

Meanwhile over in the Pacific War, we find a spectacle that is as old as The Odyssey --a troop ship pulling out of the Philippines (likely heading up to the meat grinders of Okinawa and Iwo Jima), filled with weary and possibly venereal sailors who have been "making love to every pretty girl they met." But one little sailor has fallen in love with his "dark-faced Filipino" and eventually marries her on the deck of his ship, or so it seems. Their son could have served in Vietnam.

"Rum" can be found on 1,003 compilations--here's one:.

"Filipino" comes from the bountiful masterpiece "The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Country Music,", an 8-LP (16 sides!) set which should be released on CD in full, not in the abridged version that's out there. Again, "Filipino" is compiled in a host of places, such as this. It's unclear if this is really a 1945 song-- it was recorded in '44, but was a hit in '46. So we'll slot it in the middle.

Churchill's 6-vol history of WWII is likely the last great literary work written by a politician. Vol II is the most exciting, and Vol VI, in which Churchill is betrayed by Stalin and from which I quoted, is the saddest.

Saturday, October 16, 2004


Here's an experiment of sorts. Once I get some technical issues out of the way, I will post a few songs and other scraps from each year, 1945-onward. To give a taste of time.

To start, two excerpts from Loving, published in 1945, by Henry Green. Let's begin with a death.

"Once upon a day an old butler called Eldon lay dying in his room attended by the head housemaid, Miss Agatha Burch. From time to time the other servants seperately or in chorus gave expression to proper sentiments and then went on with what they had been doing.

One name he uttered over and over. 'Ellen.'

The pointed windows of Mr Eldon's room were naked glass with no blinds or curtains. For this was in Eire where there is no blackout."

The War has seeped in everywhere.

and, later, when the head butler finds two maids dancing together in an empty wing of the castle:

"They were wheeling wheeling in each other's arms heedless at the far end where they had drawn up one of the white blinds. Above a rather low ceiling five great chandeliers swept one after the other almost to the waxed parquet floor reflecting in their hundred thousand drops the single sparkle of a distant day, again and again red velvet panelled walls, and two girls, minute in purple, dancing multiplied to eternity in these trembling pears of glass."

Green is still greatly, amazingly neglected. Buy his books here:

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Bob Dylan: Chronicles, Volume One.

As if they had found Charles Foster Kane's memoirs.