“Mandolina” vs. The Remarkable Riderless Runaway Tricycle

Media Alert!

A battle has suddenly erupted between two formidable foes who share a common sound — the analog synthesizer.  Not just any analog synthesizer sound, mind you, but a deep burbling one:  pulsating and insistent.

Ronnie Montrose LP

In this corner, wearing a strangely intricate electronic eyepiece, we have Ronnie Montrose with “Mandolina” from 1978’s Open Fire album:

“Mandolina”     Ronnie Montrose     1978

In the opposite corner, wearing an ill-advised sleeveless t-shirt, we have the menacing and flatulent opening theme of Scholastic Video’s interpretation of Bruce McMillan’s classic children’s story, “The Remarkable, Riderless Runaway Tricycle” – also from 1978 (and in the key of D):

“The Remarkable, Riderless Runaway Tricycle”     1978

Note — after the first 15 seconds of the video, you can move the cursor down to the 8:00 mark for a longer disco version of the synthesizer theme from this opening sequence.

Important to note that the aforementioned Moog bass synthesizer part for “Mandolina” was played by none other than Edgar Winter.

And the winner is…

Ronnie Montrose — in a first-round knockout while blind-folded.

“Supersonics in Flight”: Billy Mure’s Jet-Age Guitar Army

Before The Barclay Stars and their lone 1966 breakthrough album, Billy Mure was the first and last name in military guitar ensembles.  The title track from Billy’s 1959 RCA album, Supersonics in Flight, demonstrates the glorious sound of multiple guitars playing stereophonically in tandem.

Supersonics in Flight – Billy Mure

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Supersonics in Flight” by Billy Mure.]

Billy Mure LP

Billboard‘s review from their April 13, 1952 edition:

This album is inspired by the Navy jet fighter F-11F1, the Tiger. Mure and his guitar ensemble with their rapid-fire fingering, are supposedly capturing the speed and excitement of this modern aircraft. Actually there is little of the jet sound here. The production, however, has a fine sound and the artists are adept at their work. The guitars are heard with various types of percussion and in some cases with organ. Musically interesting and the set has a beat.

1959 NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences) Nominations would find Supersonics in Flight up for a Best Engineering award in the “Novelty Recording” category!

“On the Alamo”: (Inter)Twin(ed) Guitars

It is startling and sad the degree to which Jimmie Rivers is not represented in the history of recorded music.  Says AllMusic:

“Despite his obscurity, Jimmie Rivers is one of the great western swing/bop guitarists. His legacy is miniscule, consisting of a disc’s worth of live tracks with his group, the Cherokees, recorded between 1961-64, but these low-fidelity documents show a guitarist with a near-unparalleled ability to construct exciting, melodic solos in the vein of Charlie Christian.”

As Rich Kienzle points out in his liner notes to the lone Jimmie Rivers CD anthology, Vance Terry was a former teenaged steel guitar wonder who originally was “absorbed” into the Texas Playboys when his group –  a western swing outfit under the direction of Billy Jack Wills, brother of Bob – disbanded.  Vance quit the music biz in 1955 to attend Chico State College, not playing for two-and-a-half years until a three-week engagement with former sparring partner, Jimmie Rivers, ended up stretching to four-and-a-half years.

On the Alamo” – a jazz standard composed and published in 1911 but not recorded until 1922 by bandleader, Isham Jones, with Gus Kahn – is beautifully interpreted by Jimmie Rivers and Vance Terry with their twin guitars:

“On the Alamo”     Jimmie Rivers & the Cherokees     196?

Jimmie Rivers - TV studio

Rich Kienzle also notes that Jimmie Rivers’ version of “On the Alamo” was clearly inspired by Speedy West’s 1956 Capitol recording of the song – here is rare TV footage of Speedy West playing “On the Alamo” from The Lawrence Welk Show, back when it was a local show based out of Los Angeles:

“Keep on Tryin'”: Final Song Before Disbanding

How ironic that the last track of the second and final album from American Flyer would be titled “Keep on Tryin’.”  I hate to think the group was burying this song, since it was the closing track on the album — such a radio-friendly tune, it could easily have enjoyed single release:

“Keep on Tryin'”     American Flyer     1977

American Flyer was a supergroup of sorts that featured Craig Fuller (Pure Prairie League), Eric Kaz (Blues Magoos), Steve Katz (Blood, Sweat & Tears), and Doug Yule (Velvet Underground).

American Flyer ad

“Understand Your Man”: Jimmy Dempsey Picks on Johnny Cash

Guitarist “LittleJimmy Dempsey uses twin guitars to transform Johnny Cash’sUnderstand Your Man” into a tuneful instrumental that bears little resemblance to the original – in a good way:

“Understand Your Man”      Little Jimmy Dempsey     1970?

This track can be found on 1970’s Little Jimmy Dempsey Picks on Johnny Cash, the first of four albums for Shelby Singleton’s Plantation Records.

Little Jimmy Dempsey LP

Billboard deemed the album a “4-star” country pick in its September 19, 1970 edition, while Record World saw fit to include this review in their November 7, 1970 issue:

Guitarist Dempsey rounded up all the old Johnny Cash hits and did his own instrumental versions of:  “I Walk the Line,” “Get Rhythm,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “There You Go,” “I Got Stripes,” “Big River,” “Don’t Take Your [Guns] to Town.”

“Musical Fight”: Most Literal Song Title

Musical Fight” by The Crashers is, literally, a fight set to music:

“Musical Fight”     The Crashers     1970

Produced by Sonia Pottinger and released in early 1970, this A-side was initially titled “Target,” with the artist name listed as The Gaytones.  For the first few seconds of the song, you can hear the engineer hold down the “flange” of the tape reel, slowing down the song’s intro — a manual technique known as tape flanging.

Musical Fight 45Reggae & Strings – You’ve Gone Too Far

Syrupy strings would seem to undermine the menacing broken-bottle sound effects in this special mix of “Musical Fight” with spoken intro — a naked bid, perhaps, to use strings as a way to lighten the sound and help pave the way commercially?

“Musical Fight” — with strings

A YouTube commenter helpfully points out that The Crashers (a.k.a., Gaytones) were the house band for Sonia Pottinger’s recording studio.

“The Ash Grove”: Not a Harpo Marx Original

When I first became enchanted with “The Ash Grove” from Harpo Marx‘s Harpo in Hi-Fi album, I initially suspected Harpo to have written the piece:

“The Ash Grove”     Harpo Marx     1957

But alas, “The Ash Grove” is a traditional Welsh folk song.  Harpo’s version from 1957, coincidentally or not, predates the opening of The Ash Grove folk music club on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by one year.

Harpo Hi Fi LP

“Out of the Blue”: Earliest Toy Piano Pop Recording?

As noted in the update to my original posting, it appears that Neil Diamond has been supplanted by Tommy James & the Shondells as the new reigning champions* in the pioneering use of toy piano in musical recordings with “Out of the Blue,” their pop hit from 1967.  The details, unfortunately, are a bit convoluted.

On the one hand, we know Neil Diamond recorded “Shilo” in 1967, and there even is (was) a video on the web purporting to be an early live performance of “Shilo” at The Bitter End in New York City from August 1967.  However, Tommy James and the Shondells released a string of five singles in 1967 – the final one of the year being “Out of the Blue,” which (I recently discovered) features some toy piano accompaniment.  So, two songs from 1967 – Neil would still seem to be, given the chronology noted above, the likely winner of the toy-piano-in-pop-music-contest, right?

Not so fast.  As it turns out, Bert Berns, the owner of Neil’s record label, Bang, adamantly refused to release “Shilo” as a single despite Neil’s protestations.  This was a deal-breaker for Neil, so he left the label and signed with MCA imprint, Uni, who would release Diamond’s first single in April of 1968.  Bang, in turn, issued “Shilo” as an A-side five months later (out of spite, one assumes), followed soon after by Diamond’s first album for Uni – Velvet Gloves and Spit – which does not include “Shilo” (told you it was complicated).  Even with the release of “Shilo” in the summer of 1968, it is now clear that “Out of the Blue” by Tommy James was first on the radio airwaves – we have a new winner!

Out of the Blue – Tommy James & the Shondells

Note:  Special mix from 1968 Columbia Records compilation LP Super Stars, Super Hits #2 that features groovy outer space sound effects on the intro and outro.

Out of the Blue - Tommy James 45


August 2021 Update:
Everly Brothers — New Toy Piano Champs!

Click on this link for the full story

“Hoopaw Rag”: Mid-Century Modern Western Swing

Steel guitar prodigy, Vance Terry, gets co-songwriting credit on “Hoopaw Rag,” an adaptation of a fiddle tune – “Bob Wills Stomp” – that was recorded January 25, 1955 in     Los Angeles at the beginning of a three-year association with the Decca label for Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys:

“Hoopaw Rag”     Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys     1955

Note:  In the 5 seconds preceding the start of the song, Bob Wills whispers instructions to his band.

Oddly, this song appears to have been kept in the can.  PragueFrank’s most excellent Country Music Discographies points out that “Hoopaw Rag” remained unissued on LP for another 16 years until included on 1971 Vocalion album, San Antonio Rose.

Vocalion VL-73922 San Antonio Rose:
San Antonio Rose; Black And Blue Rag*; My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You**; Four Or Five Times; Roll Your Own; New Dream Eyed Waltz**; Don’t Let The Deal Go Down; I’ll Allways Be In Love With You; Hoopaw Rag**, Carnations For The Memory** – 71
(*previously unissued, **previously unissued on album, reissued on Coral CB-20109).

The authoritative discography in Charles Townsend’s biography of Bob Wills – likewise titled, San Antonio Rose – confirms that “Hoopaw Rag” was only ever issued on LP, never on 78 or 45.  Until two decades later in 1992, that is, when MCA issued a CD anthology of mid-50s Decca recordings entitled, Bob Wills – Country Music Hall of Fame Series.

Bob Wills - 1955

           Bob Wills on WFAA-TV, Dallas, Texas in 1955

“Jazz Ain’t Nothin’ But Soul”: What Jazz Is

From what I can tell, Norman Mapp only released one album as a vocalist – 1961’s Jazz Ain’t Nothin’ But Soul on the Epic label, an imprint of almighty Columbia Records.  As a songwriter, however, Norman Mapp saw his songs recorded by a number of artists, such as “Rock and Stroll Room” for Mickey & Sylvia (1958), “By the River” for Wilt ‘The Stilt’ Chamberlain (1960), “Mr. Ugly” for Aretha Franklin (1963), and “I Worry About You” for Marvin Gaye (1966).

Norman Mapp LP

The title track from Mapp’s lone album has been famously covered by Betty Carter and more recently by Esperanza Spalding, but right here you can enjoy the original version:

Answer Songs:  Validators of Cultural Currency

As a musical artist, you know you’ve penetrated popular consciousness when a fellow artist answers you in song – as when Pat Lundy recorded “Soul Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues” as the title track to her 1968 Columbia album, no doubt in response to Norman Mapp.

Soul Ain't Nothin' But the Blues