Merle Haggard‘s tough-as-nails image, at times, belied his comic gifts, particularly his superb abilities as a mimic, represented here on this clip from The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour TV show, possibly from 1969:
Enough people have noticed that The Fut‘s one-off 45 “Have You Heard the Word” (1969) so closely resembles The Beatles‘ sound that more than a few folks have speculated out loud that John, Paul, George and/or Ringo had a hand in its creation. Maurice Gibb of The Bee Gees (it may or may not surprise you) is to blame for an ersatz Beatle novelty tune that is very much along the lines of that same year’s ‘Masked Marauders‘ hoax. According to Richie Unterberger‘s Unreleased Beatles, the resemblance to Lennon was close enough that Yoko Ono attempted to register the copyright for “Have You Heard the Word” on behalf of Lenono Music:
“Have You Heard the Word” (Maurice Gibb &) The Fut 1969
Ten years earlier, Chubby Checker‘s first national hit – 1959’s “The Class” – had announced upfront on the 45 label that within the record’s grooves one would find the future ‘Twist’ singer “imitating” Fats Domino, The Coasters, Elvis Presley, and “The Chipmonks“:
What’s interesting, in hindsight, is that “The Class” was the B-side even though it’s not only fun as a novelty but has a lot of energy and appeal; it was a bit different than the usual quirky fare in those days. Some time and work must have went into its production, yet the more conventional “Schooldays” was the label’s original choice to plug (in other words, playing it safe). If Chubby hadn’t had his first hit with this one, you have to wonder if “The Twist” would have even been recorded and, if it had, if anyone would have noticed. Kal Mann may have been a blatant commercial writer and producer, but when he scored, it was great sonic fun, deserving of more recognition than he’s ever gotten.
Scottish singer Andy Stewart also does a nifty Elvis impression at the 1:55 mark in “Donald Where’s Your Troosers” — released 1960 in the UK (the following year in the US):
“Donald Where’s Your Troosers” Andy Stewart 1960
“Hollywood Party” — the oldest recording of an impersonation, possibly — features Florence (“impersonator”) Desmond covering such notables as Janet Gaynor, Zasu Pitts, Jimmy Durante, Greta Garbo, Tallulah Bankhead & Marlene Dietrich on a disc issued in 1932 by His Master’s Voice.
“A Hollywood Party” Florence Desmond 1932
Wait a second! Ann Penn also recorded for His Master’s Voice, who released a two-sided disc three years earlier in Australia — “Out in the New Mown Hay” b/w “Impersonations” from 1929.
“Impersonations” Ann Penn 1929
Hold it right there: Edison Bell UK released a disc in 1912 by Mr. Vernon Watson that features impersonations of George Formby (Sr.), Wilkie Bard, and George Robey.
Stage and screen star, Sammy Davis, Jr., gained fame through his gift for mimicry (and, yes, for his multiple threats as a dancer, musician, singer and actor). In 1961, Reprise went “all in” with an album, Impersonating (retitledImitations! Impressions! Impersonations! for the Netherlands market) whose cover would boast of 20 prominent persons impersonated by Davis, including James Cagney, Jimmy Stewart, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Billy Eckstine, and Huckleberry Hound = as on “Sonny Boy“:
Speaking of impersonations, Ray Stevens once did his level best to emulate the sound of bagpipes on 1969 B-Side “Bagpipes That’s My Bag“:
“Bagpipes That’s My Bag” Ray Stevens 1969
America’s #1 musical family, The Rhodes Kids, issued a live album — recorded at the Las Vegas Hilton in the early 1970s, most likely — that featured a medley of “Impressions“:Donny Osmond‘s “Sweet & Innocent” (Brett Rhodes); Johnny Cash‘s “Folsom Prison” (Ron Rhodes); Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” (Gary Rhodes) & Tom Jones‘ “She’s a Lady” (Mark Rhodes).
Around this same general time period, impressionist Arthur Blake appears to have pressed his own full-length album for sale at live shows — a disc that features impersonations of Zazu Pitts, Sophie Tucker, Raymond Burr, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marilyn Monroe, Hedda Hopper, Mae West, Louella Parsons, Tallulah Bankhead, and Ethel Barrymore, as well as Lionel Barrymore, Noel Coward, Raymond Burr, Orson Welles, Edward G. Robinson, Peter Lorre, Clifton Webb, and Jimmy Stewart. Summer of 1971 found Blake “performing at the Crown & Anchor in Provincetown, Massachusetts,” according to Discogs.
The Fantastic Baggys — an L.A.-based surf band created by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri — closed their 1964 debut album with a two-part surf celebration/mockfest “Surfin’s Back Again” + “Surf Impersonations“:
“Surfin’s Back Again” + “Surf Impersonations” The Fantastic Baggys 1964
“I Walk the Line (Pull the Twine)” Frankie Miller 1963
1963 also saw the release of Starday’s Country & Western Confidential (A Backstage Expose), an entire albumof impersonations by Gene Martin — with Flatt & Scruggs, The Bluegrassmen, Wayne Raney, Webb Pierce, Johnny Cash, Cowboy Copas, Tex Ritter, Eddy Arnold, Bill Monroe, and Roy Acuff all making an appearance.
Seven years prior, Leon Payne had recorded “Two by Four” — a “love duet” inspired by Kitty Wells’ and Red Foley’s big hit, “One by One” — in which Payne (rather than an “unbilled gal singer” per Cash Box‘s April 7, 1956 review) sang both parts:
Hey, check out Terry Fell‘s “Hillbilly Impersonations” of Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Red Foley, Ernest Tubb, T. Texas Tyler, Roy Acuff, and Lefty Frizzell, among others:
“Hillbilly Impersonations” Terry Fell 195?
France‘s Jean Valton is renowned for his impersonations of Fernand Raynaud, Jean Richard, Darry Cowl, Eddie Constantine, and Jean Nohain, et al., and this single-sided promotional disc enjoys distinction of being underwritten by the insecticide, Fly-Tox, whose active ingredient was DDT, a chemical compound “discontinued in the United States,” according to the EPA’s website.
Q: What other musical impersonations do you think should be included in this piece?
“My Next Impersonation” Jerry Reed 1969
Recording date: November 20 1969 RCA Victor Studio – Nashville, TN Jerry Reed: Guitar & vocals Bill Sanford: Guitar Pete Wade: Guitar Henry Strzelecki: Bass William Ackerman or Jimmy Isbell: Drums Larry Butler: Piano Chet Atkins & Felton Jarvis: Producers Strings overdubbed on December 11, 1969
Now for my first impersonation friends, I would like to do for you A simple lovin’ family man With a simple attitude See him loved by friends and neighbors, See the self-respect he gains See him warm, see him tender…watch him change
Now for my next impersonation, I’d like to do a restless man Who now holds wine and night-life In his inexperienced hands See him jugglin’ all the pieces, As he tries to grab ’em all See him tempted, see him falter…watch him fall
But stick around friends cause the best is yet to come When ya see my impression of a man who’s a steady cryin, nail chewin’…chain smokin’ bum Well friends I see you have seen enough…and you’re ready to go So let me hear one rousin’ cheer as I…close my show With a portrait of a wasted fool, who let his world slip by See him crawl, see him crumble…hear him cry
Much appreciation toself-titled mag* [*link from 2013 no longer active] for seeking out Joan and Alexandra (“Sandy“) Sliwin of Honey Ltd. to ask about what is obviously a stand-out track:
Joan: “Silk ‘N Honey,” written by Laura [Polkinghorne] and [Marsha] Temmer, seems to be our most liked, accessible song over the years. Ian Freebairn Smith did a lovely arrangement for this song that might be the most signature track for us overall. Alex: Yep, love the song but then, I love all of them (except “Louie, Louie”). “Lu ma / Soo wah.” (That’s the background singing phrase on “Silk ‘N Honey.” We made it up as syllables; it doesn’t mean a thing. However I’d like to think of it as a greeting, like “Namaste.” When I say it aloud, people think I’m nuts and look at me funny, like I belong to a strange spiritual tribe. Ha ha.) Joan: Ian Freebairn Smith deserves a lot of credit for really trying to capture the essence of the original tunes. Along with “Silk ‘N Honey,” Ian arranged “The Warrior,” “No You Are,” “I’ve Got Your Man,” “For Your Mind,” “Come Down,” “Tomorrow Your Heart” and “Love, The Devil” … The list of musicians involved with us tells you we weren’t just lucky; we were blessed. It was a grand time. Alex: It certainly was!
Light in the Attic’sComplete LHI Recordings anthologyfrom 2013, thankfully, identifies each and every session musician who helped bring these songs to life during the group’s short existence, and it’s an impressive roster:
Bass: Carol Kaye; Chuck Berghofer*; Harvey Newmark; Jimmy Bond; Bill Pitman & Lyle Ritz Drums: Donald Frost; Jim Gordon; John Guerin Guitar: Al Casey; David Cohen; Don ‘Dirt’ Lanier; Donnie Owens; James Burton; Jim Helms; Lou Morell; Mike Deasy; Bill Pitman & Ry Cooder Horns: Allan Beutlar; David Duke; Dick Hyde; James Decker; Jim Horn; Jules Chaikin; Lew McCreary; Morris Repass; Oliver Mitchell; Plas Johnson; Richard Leith; Roy Caton; Thomas Scott & Virgil Evans Keyboards: Don Randi; Jack Nitzsche; Michael Lang & Mike Melvoin Percussion: Gary Coleman & Norman Jeffries Strings: Armand Kaproff; Arnold Belnick; Bernard Kundell; David Burk; Harold Bemko; Jerome Kessler; Jesse Ehrlich; Leonard Malarsky; Ralph Schaffer; Sidney Sharp; Tibor Zelig & William Kurasch
Lee Hazlewood has signed an all-girl quartet from Detroit named Honey Ltd. to his LHI label, distributed by ABC Records.
The feminine foursome’s first release will be “Come Down” b/w “Tomorrow Your Heart,” two originals. The group’s tunes are written by Laura Polkinghorne and Marcia Jo Temmer. Vocals are done by these misses and Alexandria Sliwin and sister Joan Sliwin.
All four studied at Wayne State University outside Detroit and decided to form a group in their sophomore year. This December, after a year’s experience, they took a leave of absence from school, flew to Los Angeles on their savings and walked into Hazlewood’s office one Monday morning unannounced. By Tuesday afternoon, they had signed a contract with LHI and cut their first single by Thursday.
Hazlewood is supporting their maiden effort with the largest advertising and promotional campaign in the label’s history.
Our “West Coast Girls of the Week” are Marsha (21) who writes movie shorts, Laura (21) who writes poetry, Alexandra (21) who sews all her own clothes (she was also Wayne State U.’s “Homecoming Queen”) and Joan (20) who paints. Together they’re known as Honey Ltd., a new vocal group out of Detroit who are represented this week with their first LHI single “Come Down” b/w “Tomorrow Your Heart.” The foursome formed during their soph year at Wayne State, saved enough during the year to travel to the coast and, we’re told, arrived unannounced at Lee Hazlewood’s office on a Monday morn. By Tuesday, according to an apocryphal publicity handout, they were pacted by Hazlewood and by Thursday they had already taped their sides. Lee, incidentally, is supporting their maiden effort with the most imposing promo campaign in the young label’s history.
Brimming with a youthful vigor and strength, the Honey Ltd. bows on a track that is destined to make a sizeable impression on the teen market. Excellent ork and vocal harmonies combine force with a powerful dance beat to make this side a heavy candidate for breakout action.
BEVERLY HILLS — Lee Hazlewood and ABC-Paramount Records are joining forces to give Honey Ltd. the strongest promotional campaign ever mounted for an artist with his LHI label. LHI is distributed nationally by ABC.
After introducing the all-girl quartet with two page ad spreads, a joint LHI-ABC venture, the campaign moved into a double mailing service, with photos being included the second week, on Honey Ltd.’s first single “Come Down.”
Hazlewood retained four independent regional promo men and ABC added nine promotion men to give the new group national penetration.
Additional promotional activity has stemmed from the the group’s management, Bernard, William & Price. An extensive TV schedule is underway, opening with an appearance on the Jerry Lewis Show March 26.
West Coast promotion trips are being made in conjunction with regional TV appearances and other special events scheduled by the management agency, LHI, and Hazlewood’s public relations firm.
In addition, the campaign has included the mailing of 500 jars of honey to deejays and radio and TV personalities.
Hazlewood said the promo drive will continue into April at which time the group — Laura Polkinghorne, Marcia Jo Temmer, and sisters Sandy and Joan Sliwin — will cut their first album. The girls, all former coeds at Wayne State University in Detroit, were signed by Hazlewood early this year after they flew out to audition for him.
The following month, Record World‘s Ron Baron, who had been given exclusive access to a Honey Ltd. recording session, observed that “the girls write their own material and handle their vocal arrangements” in his enthusiastic report –“Honey of a Session” – published in theMay 25, 1968 issue:
LOS ANGELES — At a recent recording session held here, it was not erroneous to address all of the recording artists as “honey” for this particular quartet of girls on LHI Records are known professionally as Honey Ltd.
The girls, natives of Detroit, have already generated nationwide impact with their first single “Come Down.”
It hasn’t even been a year since Marsha Temmer, Laura Polkinghorne, Joan and Sandy Sliwin flew to California for a vacation, played a dub for Lee Hazlewood, signed a recording contract with LHI, acquired Bernard and Williams as managers, appeared on a half dozen TV shows and now have finished their next single release.
Sessions are especially exciting when there exists the aura of a smash. This hardly happens all the time, but it certainly was prevalent the night of Honey’s session. Laura Polkinghorne wrote the tunes, “The Warrior” and “Silk ‘n’ Honey.” Ian Freebairn-Smith did the arrangements, and one of the most sought-after producers in the world, Lee Hazlewood, produced the date.
Honey can’t spread itself thin. The group has the ultimate to offer in musically satisfying melody and harmony. The girls write their own material and handle their vocal arrangements. The single will be released in a few weeks with their first album to follow later.
NEW YORK — Lee Hazlewood has severed his ties with ABC Records to develop his LHI label as a complete independent, and, at the same time, has ended his team-up arrangement with Nancy Sinatra, to work along similar production and duet lines with Ann-Margret.
In winding up his ties with ABC, Hazlewood said, “In today’s competitive record market, the advantages of an independent record producer to have his own label distributed by a major is rapidly dwindling. Most major companies in effecting dealings with independent producers are really only looking for an automatic hit and not the ‘work’ record. The emphasis by a major company is to work on its own product where its profit margin is highest. If the independent producer creates an automatic hit, then it works out fine. Otherwise to create an artist who sustains over a long period of time, a great deal of promotional work must be invested.”
The first LHI push will be on Ann-Margret and will be tied in with her CBS-TV special set for December 1. She will be going out on a 14-city personal appearance tour in conjunction with the sponsors of the TV special, Canada Dry. Following Ann-Margret’s solo disk release will be an album by the Surprise Package. After the first of the year, LHI plans to release duets by Ann-Margret and Hazlewood.
Hazlewood’s dueting with Miss Sinatra on the Reprise Records LP, Nancy and Lee, is nearing the gold record award category. It is also a top seller in England, Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries. Hazlewood was responsible for Miss Sinatra’s first big single, “These Boots are Made for Walking,” which was released in 1966. It is understood that there are no Lee Hazlewood-Nancy Sinatra duets left in the can at Reprise.
LHI recently took additional space at its headquarters in Los Angeles. The staff of LHI includes Hazlewood as general manager; Gil Bogus as manager of sales and promotion; S.J. Hokum as advertising and packaging manager; Sue Jennings as office manager, and C. Haro as assistant office manager. Red Steigel has been set as West Coast promotion man and a network of local promotion men is now being set up.
Bogus recently lined up 26 distributors in the U.S. and Canada. LHI presently has a deal with Decca Records Ltd. for England and Germany, and with Festival Records for Australia.
Hazlewood is also being lined up for three TV specials. The first will be “Trouble Is a Lonesome Town,” to be co-produced by Roger Smith and Hazlewood. Smith, a film producer, is Ann-Margret’s husband. Another special now in preparation by Winters/Rosen Productions is “Ladies of the World of Lee Hazlewood.” Winters/Rosen produced the upcoming Ann-Margret special on CBS-TV. Also, Hazlewood will be the musical director and appear in the TV special, “The Spring Thing,” which will be shown in April on NBC-TV.
NEW YORK — After several distribution deals, Lee Hazlewood’s LHI operation is going totally indie.
Hazlewood, who formed the label through Decca Records in 1967 and more recently through ABC, feels that today’s competitive demands necessitates the move. He sees as “rapidly dwindling” the advantages of an indie record producer in having his label distributed by a larger company.
“Most major companies in effecting dealings with indie producers,” he says, “are really only looking for an automatic hit and not the work record. The emphasis by a major company is to work on its own product where its profit margin is highest.”
In deciding to put all his energies into the development of LHI, Hazlewood said that he would no longer produce or sing with Nancy Sinatra on Reprise. He said he has also received his release from Reprise. Instead, he will form a new duo of Ann-Margret and Lee Hazlewood for LHI. Other acts on LHI include The Surprise Package, a Seattle-based underground group, another underground team from California, the Aggregation, and the Honey Ltd. The Margret-Hazlewood duo will debut in January. Meanwhile, a solo single by the singer-actress is due soon with 14-city tour by the star to help the disk along.
Move Office Space
LHI recently took additional space at 9000 Sunset Blvd. There’ll soon be a network of local promo men. The current exec line-up at LHI includes Hazlewood, general manager; Gil Bogus, manager of sales-promotion; S.J. Hokum, manager of advertising and packaging; Sue Jennings, office manager; C. Haro, assistant; Red Steiger, west coast promotion manager. Company’s legal counsel is the firm of Marty Marchat.
Bogus has step-up 26 distribs within the US and Canada to service and distribute the LHI line. LHI is presently under arrangement with British Decca Ltd. for England and the German territories and with Festival for Australia.
Hazlewood will this year appear on three television specials, two of which are being built around him. The first television special will be “Trouble Is a Lonesome Town” to be co-produced by Roger Smith and Lee Hazlewood. Roger Smith is the husband of Ann-Margret and the producer of many motion pictures.
Another special is being prepared by Winters Rosen Productions entitled “The Ladies of the World of Lee Hazlewood.” Winters and Rosen produced the Ann-Margret Special which will be seen on CBS on December 1, 1968 in the Smothers Brothers time slot. Also, Hazlewood will be the musical director and appear in the television special entitled “The Spring Thing” to be shown in April, on NBC.
Billboard,reporting from Tokyo in its January 29, 1969 edition, noted that “ABC group Honey Ltd. were a big hit on the Bob Hope Christmas special tour of the Far East.” And yet, when one examines the group’s single releases under Lee Hazlewood’s direction, it’s hard to fathom why the producer did not place greater trust in his artists’ talent. Honey Ltd.’s first 45 for LHI (recorded December 1967,according to 45Cat) had featured original compositions on both sides. The next single – a promotional 45 released inAugust 1968– quizzically, was a cover of “Louie Louie” and hardly the best showcase for the group. February 1969 saw the release of Honey Ltd’s next double-sided disc, and in a more musically just world, “Silk ‘n’ Honey” would have been the A-side. Tragically, that honor went to a track written by Laura Nyro (“Eli’s Coming”) and produced/arranged by Mike Post, although not included on their hard-to-find 1968 full-length LP[according to one Discogs contributor, “so small was the stock copy it may not have actually been properly released to [J]oe [P]ublic” — a claim borne out byauction prices].
The next single release, frustratingly enough, though only a promo, would follow the same pattern: A-side non-original (“Silver Threads and Golden Needles“) produced and arranged by Mike Post (but not included on the album), paired with a fresh pop tune from the pen ofMarsha Jo Temmerand Laura ‘Creamer‘ Polkinghorne — in this case, “No You Are.” Ultimately, the only Honey Ltd. releases that saw any kind of chart action were the ones written by Polkinghorne and/or Temmer.
Toward the end of the group’s run, Hazlewood singled out Laura Polkinghorne as a potential solo artist — as noted in Billboard‘s August 2, 1969 piece, “Hazlewood Doubling As Act, Producer on Label” — although no solo recordings appear to have ever been released:
LOS ANGELES — Lee Hazlewood is working on four record projects for his LHI Records, including two albums featuring himself as an artist.
He will work with vocalistSuzi Jane Hokomfor an October LP release, and sing with a 40-piece orchestra in [Forty], an album recorded in England and due for an Aug. 1 release.
Hazlewood would also produce an album for Laura Polkinghorne, lead singer for Honey Ltd., an LHI group, and another for Ann-Margret, with the film star singing solo. Her initial effort for LHI combined her with Hazlewood inCowboy and the Lady.
Albums distributed by LHI are part of a three-year tape production arrangement with Ampex, whereby LHI will produce at least 30 albums over a three-year span.
LHI will concentrate on about seven artists, said Hazlewood, including Miss Hokom, Danny Mich[a]els, the Aggregation, the Surprise Package, Honey Ltd., Laura Polkinghorne and Ann-Margret. Hazlewood will also record for the label.
Hazlewood plans to emphasize the company’s two publishing firms, Lee Hazlewood Music (ASCAP) and Guitar Music (BMI). He’s looking for additional writers to complement himself, Miss Polkinghorne, Larry Marks and Jeff Cain.
Hazlewood’s bid for independence, sadly and shockingly, only lasted one year — as reported in Record World‘s November 22, 1969 issue:
According to a joint announcement, Jimmy Bowen’s Amos Records will immediately assume management and administration of Lee Hazlewood’s LHI Records.
Hazlewood stated: “I will still maintain complete artistic and financial control of LHI. This management agreement will free to concentrate more on TV production and films.” Hazlewood has just completed his first film assignment for Filmways and MGM, “The Moonshine War.”
Effective immediately, LHI Records will be housed in the Amos Record offices at 6565 Sunset Blvd., Suite 120, Hollywood, Calif. Bruce Hinton, General Manager of Amos Records, stated that distributors for the joint venture will be announced momentarily.
Bowen told the press the alliance would not affect in any way Amos Productions. Bowen stated, “It’s a new, unique move and we believe it is a sound innovation which will give the combined label additional strength from a distribution and promotional standpoint.” Amos Productions will continue to produce for other labels; the engineering division will remain as is; and the production company will continue under its previously set up organization with Bowen as President and Tom Thacker as VP.
Hazlewood has recorded his first record under the new arrangement, “Trouble Maker,” shipped to over 2000 radio stations in four days. At press time, the record, according to Hi[n]ton, “is breaking in several markers with over 40,000 shipped already.”
HOMECOMING QUEEN at Wayne State U. in Detroit (1966), Alexandra (Sandy) Sliwin came to L.A. as part of the Honey Ltd. foursome who recorded for LHI Records. The group, now known as Eve, still works studio dates with Sandy but most of her working hours are spent as receptionist at Amosand secretary for v.p. Tom Thacker. Sandy is blonde, 24 and enjoys sailing, modeling she’ll occasionally pose on behalf of Commercials Unlimited and vocalizing. Current pet project: the fourth annual Amos Invitational Golf Tournament (committee headed by Tom Thacker, Dave Pell, Piggy Smith and Artie Valando with Jimmy Bowen hosting the Aug. 9th meet at Los Robles in Thousand Oaks). Sandy is in charge of the entry list. She’s also our breathtaking West Coast Girl of the Week.
Drums: Hal Blaine & Ron Tutt Bass: Joe Osborn Rhythm Guitar: Mark Creamer & Ry Cooder Bottleneck Guitar: Ry Cooder Lead Guitar (Dobro): James Burton Pedal Steel Guitar: Sneaky Pete Electric Piano & Organ: Gary Illingworth Organ & Piano: Larry Muhoberac
Hazlewood would, again, select a non-original (Bacharach & David’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart”) for a promo 45. .However, a second promo 7-inch saw release that same year — Dylan’s “You Go Your Way” b/w title track, “Take It and Smile” — though not on the LHI label, but ratherBell Records, curiously enough. .Worth noting that Eve’s sole LP – which generally commands two figures at auction – includes a version of John Randolph Marr’s “Hello L.A., Bye Bye Birmingham” — a song previously celebrated by Zero to 180.
Billboard selected Tennessee Firebird as a “Jazz Spotlight” in the album reviews for theirMarch 18, 1967 edition:
An interesting, enjoyable experiment — country music artists supporting an accomplished jazz musician — and it works. The effect is countrified, but solid jazz. Tunes country fans would recognize include “Born to Lose,” “I Can’t Help It,” and “Gone.” This album will sell well in the jazz field and many country music fans will purchase it, too.”
An interesting and effective blend of jazz and country sounds, this striking album by Gary Burton and Friends could win the approval of an extremely diverse audience. Alternately playing vibes, piano, and organ, Burton leads his group through twelve rousing instrumentals including “Gone,” “Just Like a Woman,” “I Can’t Help It,” and “Alone and Forsaken.” Deserves close attention.
Interesting to note that a few months later, Burton “was beating out melodies from his RCA Victor Tennessee Firebird LP with [Larry] Coryell’s searing guitar driving each phrase home” at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival, as reported in theJuly 15, 1967 issue of Cash Box.
Nashville’s radio clout with two 50,000-watters has had an immense effect on the music industry. Thousands of present day music business performers and executives cut their teeth on the late night offerings of WLAC or its down-the-dial counterpart, WSM, home of the “Grand Old Opry.” WSM can be heard in all 48 continental states — as a mail-in contest proved a few years ago.
And then, along came jazz.
In the late ’50s, the music scene drew a very young Gary Burton to Nashville from Indiana, and he impressed no less an expert than Chet Atkins, who won the Playboy Jazz Poll guitarist award for nearly a decade.
Monday night jam sessions were held for years in Printer’s Alley at the Carousel Club — an off night when the country musicians would sit in and play jazz. The leading picker was alwaysHank Garland, but the rest of the jazz lovers were on hand — and they included Gary Burton.
The first jazz LP to be cut in modern Nashville probably was the Tennessee Firebird album thatBrad McCuenproduced with Burton for RCA. “We used Burton’s quartet and a large number of local pickers,” recalls McCuen. “The men had a good time and this experience led to the formation of the band Area Code 615 which cut several commercially successful albums in the late ’60s and early ’70s.”
Nashville is the home of of the statewide Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society, an organizations that for the past seven years has held a Jazz Festival that has brought Nashville such attractions as Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Stan Getz and their groups.
McCuen andBruce Davidsonhave a National Public Radio network show on jazz that originates from the studios of WPLN-FM, Nashville, and is syndicated.
Burton and Garland had already worked together in the studio six years earlier on Garland’s second solo album, Jazz Winds From a New Direction, recorded August 23, 1960. Rich Kienzle explains how the musicians initially connected in his first-rate liner notes for Sundazed’s 2001 CD reissue:
“[Hank’s first] album appeared in January, 1960 on Columbia’s Harmony budget label, not a first-priority release but one that got his foot in the door. As the Carousel jams continued [i.e., after-hours improvisations with fellow Nashville A-teamers at Jimmy Hyde’s Carousel Club in Printer’s Alley], the club became a magnet for every jazzman passing through town. One night, Dave Brubeck showed up. Another night, members of Stan Kenton’s Orchestra stood awestruck as Hank tore through “Back Home in Indiana.” RCA executive Steve Sholes, Chet Atkins’s boss and close friend, brought Newport Jazz Festival producer George Wein to the Carousel. Wein booked the group, Hank, Atkins, [Floyd] Cramer, Boots [Randolph], [Bob] Moore, [Buddy] Harman and a few others for Newport in July. RCA would record the live performance [1961’s After the Riot atNewport LP].
Billboard’s Oct. 31, 1960 review: “The country acts acquit themselves with distinction on seven tracks, with honors going to vibest Gary Burton, guitarist Hank Garland and pianist Floyd Cramer.”
“Hank needed a vibes player for his band that summer. Boots brought him talented 17-year-old Princeton, Indiana native Gary Burton. Preparing to begin classes that fall at the famed Berklee College of Music (where in 2001 he serves as Executive Vice-President). Burton played locally with Hank and became a Carousel regular who accompanied the group to Newport. After rioting ended the festival prematurely, they recorded an impromptu session at the rented mansion they stayed at. Two songs, “Relaxin'” and “Riot-Chous,” an extemporized bop piece that Boots and Hank created, figured prominently in Hank’s next Columbia session, scheduled for August 24.
[Incident at Newport — Billboard’s “Nashville” beat (7-11-60)
Newport Jazz Festival was musically successful but hectic for local musicians who had little to do with which way they were going when they met a milling mob of thousands head-on. Group, including Floyd Cramer, Brenton Banks, Buddy Harman, Bob Moore, Boots Randolph, Gary Burton and Hank Garland, was going one way when they met the mobbing crowd going the other. The Nashvillians joined the crowd and helplessly went along with them. They finally managed to identify themselves, however, and recorded with RCA Victor’s Chet Atlkins before leaving for home.]
“That day, Hank Garland realized his dream when he recorded the album that became Jazz Winds From a New Direction. Burton was along for the auspicious occasion. So were two established New York jazzmen: bassist Joe Benjamin and Hank’s old [Paul Howard & His Arkansas] Cotton Pickers buddy Joe Morello, now well-known as drummer with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Though listed as producer, Don Law held the title in name only. Grady Martin, Hank’s friend and friend session partner, actually ran things in the studio.”
Paul Hemphill‘s The Nashville Sound: Bright Lights and Country Music — published in 1970 during a particularly vibrant musical era — includes this passage about the pushback against attempts to de-emphasize country’s less “polished” elements in order to increase the music’s appeal in the (more lucrative) “pop” marketplace:
It isn’t really liberalism, of course, that has brought about the recent changes in what used to be country music. Call it free enterprise. Hell, call it money. Galloping capitalism overcame country music during the Sixties, and many examples have already been given (See Singleton, Shelby S. and Owens, Alvis Edgar “Buck”). Good old country boys just flat got tired of watching Eddy Arnold and Dean Martin and Jimmy Dean and Patti Page fancying up country songs and making big money doing it, so they started doing the same thing and demanding their writers give them songs that weren’t so country — “so damned nasal, whiny and scratchy and corny,” said Jack Stapp [of Big Tree Publishing] — and then they started angling for their own network television shows.
And pop stars started going to Nashville to record. And the Nashville sidemen started getting the hang of this pseudo-country music. And the younger guys in Nashville started talking dirty about anybody who still turned out hard-country songs. And business was so good that the music industry was worth almost $100 million a year to Nashville. And somebody started calling it “Countrypolitan” music. And the nation decided that “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” rather than the Grand Ole Opry, was the real mirror of country music. And then the people in Nashville started becoming very concerned about their image. We got to get out of this firetrap, they said about the Grand Ole Opry House; which is roughly equivalent to demolishing the Tower of Pisa because it leans funny. Don’t say the fans ride in on buses, Opry management admonished the press, they own their own cars and they average making $10,000 a year.
Maybe country music started in places like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, but now they don’t want to admit the place exists. Image.
Earliest commercial release that includes the term “countrypolitan“:
Nashville’s Crystal Corporation (previously celebrated here and here) issued this undated “countrypolitan” hits collection that was probably released — based on the catalog number, as well as release dates of the tracks within — in 1969:
Two of the least “countrypolitan” instruments — fiddle and banjo
This 1971 compilation with the striking cover photo includes a dozen lesser-known songs (1966’s “Pablo Diablo” by Dick Hammonds the only one available in streaming audio).
The big city
The dictionary definition on the rear cover of this album performs a valuable public service:
Countrypolitan (adj.) = Belonging to all the world; not confined to local enjoyment; at home in any country. And so it goes with country music today. It is no longer provincial in scope, nor limited to a particular region.
This educational audio clip helps flesh out the concept in a down-home digital way:
A simple “countrypolitan” search of the Discogs database — a mere 39 items, as of February, 2021 — reveals the sad fact that this term never caught on with the public. An analysis of the music trade literature further supports this view. A “countrypolitan” scan of Billboard‘s back issues, for instance, yields only 49 “hits” (likewise, 19 for Cash Box and 18 for Record World), although a few items reveal some key historical details:
Birmingham, Alabama’s WYDE celebrated its third anniversary as a countrypolitan radio station with broad community support, reported Cash Box in its December 21, 1968 edition, as “260 business, civic and governmental leaders” turned out for the event.
Four months earlier, WIKI in Chester, Virginia (outside of Richmond) had changed its format from Top 40 to Countrypolitan, as noted in Cash Box‘s August 31, 1968 issue. How come? “WIKI is making the switch because listener surveys, personal interviews and response to the station’s present two and one-half hours daily country programming have indicated an overwhelming preference for C&W music.”
Orlando’s WHOO 990 AM went “Countrypolitan” in 1968, says the Ken Burns Team. Zero to 180’s own fact-finding team has even pinned down the launch date, thanks to Billboard, who took photos of some of the 250 clients, agency executives, city officials, record company personnel, and country music artists — including Skeeter Davis and Willie Nelson — who joined Orlando’s 50,000-watt station in celebration of the new music format for Saturday night’s “Shower of Stars” on August 10, 1968.
That same year at the National Association of Recording Merchandisers annual convention, Starday promoted its latest releases as the “Starday Countrypolitan Hot Line” [while generously dispensing gift baskets that consisted of “a pouch of stereo flavored Country Cream tobacco raised at Starday’s Five Coves Farm, corncob pipes, and a bottle of Jack Daniels Sippin’ Whiskey”], as reported in Cash Box‘s April 20, 1968 edition. One month prior, Starday’s Don Pierce had told both Cash Box (per the March 9, 1968 issue) and Record World (per the March 9, 1968 issue) that the label will be focusing efforts on the growing “modern Countrypolitan Nashville sound.”
A year earlier, Cash Box had noted in its October 28, 1967 “Country Roundup” column that “the need to change the name of country music has already been recognized by a great many individuals in the business, particularly those in radio — the area which is perhaps closest in recognizing public tastes.” Furthermore, “phrases such as ‘Countrypolitan Music’ and [thanks to DC television host, Connie B. Gay] ‘Town & Country Music’ have been springing up with more and more regularity, pointing the way to more modern identification of this particular field.”
1967 would also bear witness to Memphis’s “Chet Atkins Festival of Music” — hosted by ‘The Countrypolitan Gentlemen’ at radio’s WMQM — with live musical entertainment provided by Boots Randolph, Floyd Cramer, and Mr. Guitar himself, Cash Box reported in its May 13, 1967 issue.
One of the earlier references to country music’s commercially-oriented “uptown” strain appeared in this news item from Cash Box‘s January 8, 1966 issue:
New York Building Strong C&W Audience
NEW YORK — Yes, Virginia there is country music in New York, and from all early indications, it’s here to stay for quite a while.
Continuing in the successful trend that began a short while back, WJRZ-Newark defied the time-honored theory that sophisticated urbanites, securely entrenched in the concrete-and-steel homestead of New York, automatically rejected the nasal, twangy hillbilly sound as inferior musical product. On Sept. 15, contrary to the odds, the New Jersey station took a gamble and switched to country programming. Aiming at the toughest and largest of urban bastions, the station presented a dignified, “countrypolitan” format that shattered the association of country music with corncob pipes and Hatfield-McCoy-type characterizations. The response that followed was far beyond the station’s expectations. Flooded switch-boards and overworked mailroom personnel became the order of the day at the outlet.”
This adfrom theMay 12, 1969 issue of Broadcasting spells out the demographics of the Grand Rapids-area countrypolitan listening audience — note the ways in which the messaging drives home the “counterintuitive” notion that country music fans can be young, urban, and flush with spending money. WJEF’s similar-themed ad from the previous year shows a family with three children unloading picnic supplies from a station wagon (while the ad from the year prior shows a young couple who are said to be, in the parlance of the times, “turned-on“).
Cincinnati’s WUBE – noted Record World in their September 30, 1969 issue – took the big countrypolitan plunge, making it the city’s only 24-hour country music station.
“Stringer Clamps Down on the Use of Countrypolitan” screamed the title in Billboard‘s September 6, 1969 edition — a report on Lou Stringer’s cease-and-desist order to radio stations.
This likely explains why the term is under-represented in the music history in favor of similar verbiage, such as “modern country” and “the Nashville Sound.” Stringer claims to have copyrighted “countrypolitan” in 1966, says Billboard, who pointedly assert that radio station owner, Country Music Association director and philanthropist, Connie B. Gay “has owned the copyright to the name ‘Town and Country,’ but has allowed widespread use of the same.” Stringer is also the publisher behind “tabloid” newsletter/radio tip sheet, The Countrypolitan, whose launch was noted in Billboard‘s April 22, 1967 issue.
The Journal of Country Music, an organ of the Country Music Foundation (published from 1971 through 2007), produced a special report in 1989 entitled “The Unseen Hand: How Producers Shape the Country Sound” that includes a few paragraphs about Chet Atkins‘ critical role in edging country music toward a more tuneful, pop path:
A rising class of session players was there to give the producers the sound, which was based on the relaxed jamming Atkins and friends had developed improvising together at the Carousel Club in Printer’s Alley. The traditional country elements came from the basic instrumentation—fretted instruments, plus piano most of the time and also the drums that had been commonplace since the emergence of western swing and honky-tonk. The beat was softer, looser—if rockabilly was to take over as rural dance music, country would become primarily listening music, even easy listening music, radio music. The new elements included violin sections and vocal choruses that owed more to pop music, along with some echo (a technique learned from rockabilly) on the lead voice.
In fact, everything was meant to emphasize that vocal; where “hot picking” had once been a virtue in a country band, now the musicians, except for the occasional soloist, were there primarily to provide what could be termed a “cushion” on which the producer could rest the lead voice. In the studio, those jazzy jams were formalized and compressed into two-and three-minute songs.
For guitarist Atkins, a self-styled “country gentleman” with a taste for classical music, and pianist [Owen] Bradley, a society bandleader, this sound was a natural enough step in the evolution of the music. In interviews, Atkins has always claimed he became a producer/A&R man more by accident than by design, but that explanation sounds awfully ingenuous when you listen to the first record he cut, Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me” b/w “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” done only days after Chet took over at RCA. These two sides sound little like Gibson’s prior work; especially in their use of violins, they clearly didn’t come out of nowhere, either. They are the product of much thinking and experimenting—much conceptualizing, if you will.
In general, Atkins created the fatter sound of his records by using more instrumentation, his biggest successes coming with Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold. Bradley favored more voices to get a similarly lush effect, peaking with the torchy Patsy Cline. But Bradley was also the first to insist that the Nashville Sound wasn’t really a sound so much as a way of doing things. However formalized the final result may have been, the musician and producer usually reached it through trial and error, working out their parts in the studio with the use of a notation system that required numbers instead of notes because few of them read music. Since this all had to be done quickly to keep studio costs down, and because artists were on the road so much of the time (that’s where the real money was), a very small group of men who working together efficiently would up cutting most sessions.
Thus, the producer system marked the beginning of assembly-line music in Nashville; it also created the need for professional songwriters (country artists, being folk-based, had until then usually taken material for traditional sources or written their own along with the professional sideman. As this system evolved even further (thanks mainly to overdubbing), the artist became increasingly but one cog—the voice—in his own record; in the most extreme cases, he was even presented with a finished track of a song he’d never heard before, his or her job being simply to add the vocal to the other elements already assembled by the producer.
The sound peaked with Billy Sherrill of Columbia/Epic. Sherrill made his first big splash with David Houston singing “Almost Persuaded” in 1966, but he’s most identified with Tammy Wynette hits like “Stand By Your Man” and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” in the late sixties, as well as seventies sides by George Jones and the duets George and Tammy sang together.
“Blues Stay Away From Me” by The Willis Brothers
Written by Alton Delmore, Rabon Delmore, Henry Glover & Wayne Raney
What a revelation to find out thatWorld Radio History‘s website not only allows access to a comprehension collection of music trade publications, including Billboard, Cash Box, and Record World, but also the ability to search all back issues simultaneously! What’s especially helpful is how the search results often show each magazine page rendered in miniature, while the search terms are shown in relation to the other text on the page, thus allowing you to see more readily which articles are actually germane to your search (and not simply “noise”).
Just from reading the titles of the articles and summary notes cited below, one can take in the magnitude of the King musical legacy — a remarkable span of commercial success for an independent operation that restlessly sought to exploit areas of the marketplace that were insufficiently served by the major labels. Thisdetailed bibliographyof over 1,000 items— many in full text — will be updated over time and is a public service of Zero to 180:
King Records & Cincinnati Music History in the Periodical Literature
“Real Estate Transfers” – Cincinnati Enquirer – Jan. 13, 1940
Boone County Jamboree & Lulu Belle and Scotty referenced in “Case for Hillbillies” – Billboard – Apr. 13, 1940
Review = “Boone County Jamboree of 1941” [this latest edition “has gone sophisticated, gradually getting away from the fiddling and guitar type of hokum and hoe-down dancing”] – Billboard – Nov. 9, 1940
“Renfro Valley [Barn Dance] Dropped by WLW” = “WLW severs all connections with the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, rural show managed by John Lair, which started on this station several years ago” – Billboard – Apr. 19, 1941
“WLW – a pioneer” as noted in “Air, Outdoor Give and Take” [“WLW, Cincinnati, has had an attraction working fairs and outdoor celebrations since 1938” – the first being John Lair’s Refro Valley Folks] – Billboard – Mar. 29, 1947
“Weaver Brothers First Country Folk” = includes mini Boone County Jamboree history lesson (“WLW became the third station in the nation to introduce a major jamboree attraction”) – Billboard – May 21, 1955
“Billy Ward & the Dominoes” – Big Town Review – Feb/Mar 1972 (vol. 1, no. 1)
Polydor announces James Brown ‘Soul Classics’ 45 series – Cash Box – Mar. 4, 1972
“Starday-King Wraps Up Ross Distribution Deal” – Billboard – Mar. 11, 1972
“Starday to Distribute Hopi [New Label]” – Billboard – Apr. 1, 1972
‘Cool Jerk’ by The Coasters – a Pick of the Week – Cash Box – Apr. 8, 1972
“Avco’s Credo – Produce Shows Live for TV” by Bill Sachs [four shows beamed over WLW-T & affiliates: ’50-50 Club’ with Bob Braun; ‘Paul Dixon Show’; ‘Midwestern Hayride’ & ‘Phil Donahue Show’]– Billboard – Apr. 15, 1972
“Aiding and abetting all of those aspiring producers were countless new independent studios and pressing plants.. Small studios like Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service (which advertised, ‘We Record Anything, Anywhere, Anytime’) charged a mere $2 for a single-sided acetate, or $3 for a double.. King executive Jim Wilson recalled, ‘Theoretically, you could walk into King Records in the morning, record, then walk out of there with a dee-jay copy in your hand to take to radio stations.”
Several months ago, I received a surprise phone call from writer, Steve Rosen, who informed me that he was putting together a feature article for Cincinnati Magazine that uses my “Cincinnati in Song” piece as a launching point.. Furthermore, for this piece, I was invited to contribute a 500-word sidebar of my Top Ten Cincinnati songs — such a marvelous birthday gift! . To help generate buzz for this article (entitled “Sing a Song of Cincinnati“) in the magazine’s December issue, I rolled out my Top Ten on Zero to 180’s Facebook page one song per day (beginning December 1st), with supplemental historical details not previously disclosed.
Unfortunately, today’s post threatens to undo all the positive momentum, as a result of the misguided decision to unfurl a new guitar arrangement of the “Midnight Cowboy” theme by Silver Spring-based music duo, Dubble Trubble.
Dub-inspired pop fusion (or so it says in their press packet), this take on John Barry‘s haunting soundtrack theme may one day end up as the title track of the duo’s debut collection — Twelve O’Clock Cowboys — of late-night sounds (streaming audio link):
“Twelve O’Clock Cowboy”
Richard Harrington recently observed that Joni Mitchell submitted her own composition for the film – titled “Midnight Cowboy” – only to have the song rejected!. The sole recording of Mitchell’s soundtrack offering, notes Harrington, can be found on the Atlantic debut album by Washington, DC’s one-time “favorite folk singer” (and Roberta Flack collaborator), Donal Leace, who departed us this past November due to COVID-19.
1st anniversary piece that featured an exclusive “Howard Dean” remix of a delightful Sesame Street song about anger management (with a special rant about how WordPress’s peculiarities made me homicidal the moment I launched this blog).
2nd anniversary piece that refused to acknowledge the milestone but instead celebrated the under-sung legacy of songwriter/session musician, Joe South – with a link to South’s first 45, a novelty tune that playfully laments Texas’s change in status as the nation’s largest state upon Alaska’s entry into the Union.
3rd anniversary piece that revealed the depths to which Zero to 180 will sink in order to foist his own amateur recordings onto an unsuspecting and trusting populace.
Three recording facilities — Adelphi Studios, Track Recorders, and DB Sound — have helped put Silver Spring, Maryland on the world’s musical map, while a fourth, Paragon Studios, is notable for having captured The Muffins’ influential early work (as was noted in the recent Bob Devlin piece) . Thanks to Jeff Krulik, I now know of a fifth Silver Spring studio — a 24-track facility, in fact — whose history is virtually unknown except by a relative few who were active in the Washington, DC music scene during the 1980s and early 90s.
Zero to 180 is currently developing a story about Central Recording Studio, its recorded legacy, and all the factors that conspired (unfairly, perhaps) to obscure the studio’s history. Please check back in December for the full story — in the meantime, follow Zero to 180 on Facebook for the latest word.
Jeff Krulik and Betty Green of Mother’s Band @ Central Recording Studio
“After making the label an important artistic nest for major jazz artists like Nina Simone, Carmen McRae, Chris Connor and Mel Tormé,” notes Discogs in a summary overview of Bethlehem Records, its founder Gustav Wildi, in 1958, “gave the major label King Records half ownership as payment for distribution, and in 1962 Wildi sold King Records the second half of Bethlehem Records.”
With “Monster Mash” topping Billboard’s singles chart in late October 1962, Mann Drake‘s “Vampire’s Ball” — released on Bethlehem and rated as a “new single” in Billboard‘s November 17, 1962 edition — appears to be King’s attempt to cash in on the smash hit by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt Kickers:
“Vampire’s Ball” Mann Drake 1962
“VAMPIRE’S BALL” MANN DRAKE 1962
Billboard designated the single three stars (“moderate sales potential”) in their November 17, 1962 edition, while that same week, Cash Box had no compunction about stating the obvious in their “graded” singles review:
Mann Drake (Bethlehem 3049) (B) “Vampire’s Ball” (2:34) [Lois-Beck BMI — Zanino, Canton] Side undoubtedly was inspired by the “Monster Mash” hit and, like the original, features [Bela] Lugosi & Boris Karloff imitations against a “mash” sound from the combo-chorus.
(B) “Horror Movie” (2:32) [Lois-Beck BMI — Zanino, Golding] Voice here is that of a hip-talking fella. Back-up sound resembles that of the top portion.
The King recording session notes compiled by Michel Ruppli indicate the 45 to have been released October, 1962, both sides having been recorded elsewhere and “leased” to King.
“Vampire’s Ball” would be remembered in decades hence as having been deemed worthy of inclusion in the following various artists compilations:
Both 45Cat and Discogs indicate this sole 45 to be Mann Drake’s entire recorded output — is this stage name (i.e., “Mandrake“), therefore, simply sleight-of-hand? Al Zanino, who co-wrote both sides of this 45, seems to be the key that unlocks the mystery behind the artist’s identity, so says Discogs:
A songwriter, band promoter and manager, Al Zanino co-owned his own record label in Reading, PA, Al-Stan. He released a popular horror record in the 1950s, “The Vampire Speaks” and also released “The Vampire’s Lair.” Additionally, he sang on his own under the stage name “Tony Albert”.
Vintage copies of the original “Vampire’s Ball”/”Horror Movie” 45 have fetched decent money at auction in the past ten years.
Five years earlier, Zanino had recorded a horror 45 for the local market in Reading, PA — one that would be reissued on the single’s 50th anniversary in a limited edition of 500:
“The original was recorded back in 1957 by Al Zanino and Cliff Juranis of Reading, PA. Only a few copies of the original pressing survive. This pressing features a new picture sleeve designed by John Fundyga along with artist Rick Ulrich. The back features a copy of a rejection letter written by Roland/Zacherle on his original 1957 letterhead. Al Zanino sent a copy of the 45 to Roland when he hosted his Chiller Theater show back in 1957 in Philly. His letter was recreated from the original copy on the back of the sleeve. The letter has some funny comments written by Roland himself! The record label was painstakingly made to look like the original [on Al-Stan, presumably].”
Zero to 180 has been a direct benefactor of Tom Avazian’s unending quest for musical inspiration, a journey that has informed this website in countless ways. When Tom recently handed over a selected set of second-hand musical acquisitions, he knew darn well that I’d be powerless to resist this color-your-own cover for a 1977 album by Michele Valeri and Bob Devlin whose title track derives inspiration from P.D. Eastman’s classic children’s tale, Are You My Mother?
original LP cover
There seems to be an obvious story, however, behind the flaming red copyright sticker that interferes with the album cover’s imperative to “color me please.” Thanks to a phone conversation with Bob Devlin’s collaborator, Michele Valeri — graciously facilitated by Grammy Award-winning folk musician Cathy Fink — I now understand the situation with the discontented copyright-holder-in-question to be even more convoluted than I had initially imagined.
However, I am still experiencing cognitive dissonance over the fact that Devlin performed at some of the DC area’s most prestigious venues in the 1970s and 80s, including Wolf Trap, The National Theatre, The Kennedy Center, and even the White House, and yet this album – originally issued on West Springfield, VA-based indie label, Pot Luck Records – remains uncataloged on Discogs. Where do I file a grievance?
Odder still, around the time of this album’s “release,” Are You My Mother? was voted by the American Library Association as one of the top “children’s records” — even though the primary “distribution point” for obtaining the LP was Devlin, a master street performer, and Bread & Roses, a cooperative (i.e., “worker-run”) record shop located in Dupont Circle.
Helping to unpack this story is Jeff Krulik, DC-based documentary filmmaker (best known for Heavy Metal Parking Lot), who righteously endowed Zero to 180 with choice ads, articles, and artifacts from his vast archives of Unicorn Times back issues, thus almost single-handedly serving up the images used in this piece. Thanks to Krulik’s copy of Richard Harrington‘s Unicorn Times review, for instance, we now know that Are You My Mother? had been released just before year’s end in 1977.
Unicorn Times — December 1977 — “Aerial” view
This sophomore release on the fledgling Pot Luck label had been preceded in September of the previous year by the debut album Live at 18th & M from “The Bob Devlin Street Band” — in actuality, a one-person operation, who had been recorded documentary-style with nary a post-production enhancement.
Unicorn Times — December 1977
Alternate ad for Devlin’s live debut LP
Devlin, by this point, had also begun placing ads in the Unicorn Times that announced his weekly performance schedule at two downtown DC locations — 21st & L and 18th & M:
Connie McKenna‘s feature article “Sunshine Street Singer” in the March 1977 edition of Unicorn Times revealed that Devlin, who once managed DC’s esteemed Iguana Coffeehouse, “sang with Pete Seeger and others at the recent opening of the Woody Guthrie movie, Bound For Glory.”
Devlin’s musical career, we learn from McKenna, began after a two-year stint as an Army draftee, having spent two years in Germany. Observing all the greenbacks earned in just a couple hours by a DC street musician playing the hammered dulcimer, noted McKenna, Devlin saw a potentially viable escape hatch from the soul-crushing drudgery of office work. Initially shy, Devlin hid behind his harmonica at first. Once he plucked up the courage to sing, however, there was no denying that “singing and eye contact were the ultimate street skills.”
Devlin, meanwhile, continued to employ a folksy charm in his marketing outreach efforts:
Within six months of pressing his first album, Devlin announced in the June 1977 issue of Unicorn Times that all 500 copies of the first pressing had been purchased, primarily on the strength of street sales:
In October, Unicorn Times readers were informed that a new album by Michele Valeri, in collaboration with “The Bob Devlin Street Band,” was now in the works:
Michele Valeri relayed the details behind the making and marketing of this album by phone to Zero to 180. Valeri says that she and Bob initially got together to trade songs, with Michele sharing songs written as a children’s entertainer. “You have some kids’ songs, I have some kids’ songs,” enthused Devlin, “Let’s make a record!”
Meanwhile, Joan Cushing – “Mrs. Foggy Bottom” – who played piano in cocktail lounges and dished about DC politics (not unlike Mark Russell, whose place at the Shoreham she would one day take) and Michele developed a budding friendship. While Valeri was doing an engagement at DC’s Mayflower Hotel and Cushing had a string of dates in Alexandria, Virginia, the two would see each other’s show on days off.
Cushing would be recruited for the new record, along with Steve Gray (bass, banjo & guitar), Marc Spiegel (vocals), Connie McKenna (autoharp & vocals), Barbara McKenna (vocals), Linda Devlin (siren whistle & vocals), Rob Bayne (drums), Michael Cotter (flute & vocals) & Hank Tenenbaum (bones). The album was recorded in Marc Spiegel’s apartment at Calvert and Connecticut in the Woodley Park neighborhood above a bakery (hence the song title, “Strawberry Pastry”).
Mobile Master’s Ed Kelly, who engineered Devlin’s Live at 18th & M album, was on hand (somewhere between the hallway and bathroom, where the vocals were primarily recorded) to capture the performances, including a “disgruntled” neighbor, whose sounds were incorporated into “The Dinosaur Song.” The album was recorded in two afternoons, according to Valeri, with Joan Cushing providing her services at no charge.
With regard to the featured song “When the Rain Comes Down,” Valeri reveals that Devlin one day was waiting for the bus, along with a cross-section of America [i.e., a well-appointed gentlemen with lawyer’s satchel, wildly-attired “hippie” types, day workers], when an unsuspected rain event caught the entire assemblage by surprise — and sparked a classic folk song in the process:
“When the Rain Comes Down” Bob Devlin & Michele Valeri 1977
Bob Devlin: Guitar, Cymbal & Vocals Joan Cushing: Piano Michael Cotter: Flute Steve Gray: Bass Michele Valeri: Vocals Connie McKenna: Vocals Barbara McKenna: Vocals
Album mixed at Paragon Studio* — Silver Spring, MD CD remastering at Tonal Park — Takoma Park, MD
Michele & Bob’s bios — from the LP’s inner sleeve
Richard Harrington’s album review from the December 1977 issue of Unicorn Times:
Woody Guthrie had a rare talent for creating children’s records that made children out of all listeners, regardless of age. It came from various qualities in the music, not the least of which was his refusal to pander to pre- or mis-conceptions of what children’s music should be about.
Bob Devlin and Michele Valeri have rekindled those attitudes in this delightful album. The most obvious qualities are a gentle insistence and honesty towards the music itself, supported by unpretentious and amenable lyrics. This is a friendly record, folks, and when you’re not considering the innocence of many of its themes, you’ll be laughing at most of its characters.
The title song is a variation on the Old McDonald theme, here taking a Roots-like approach, but all in fun. It’s the story of a little chick who gets hatched alone and has to try and locate the warmth that once surrounded it. Animals figure a lot on this album, from the “Dinosaur Song”‘s classic 50’s rock and roll parade of species to Devlin’s sly “Little Black Bug” ballad.
There are people too: the little girl who really does want chocolate, the shared learning partners in “The Letter Song.” There are even vegetables on parade in “Fruit Salad Scenario.” It’ll be a challenge after hearing that one to blot out the theme centering around the line, “Oh you can’t elope with a cantaloupe…”
In other words, this is fun. Valeri has a classic cabaret voice by way of the Grand Guignol and Devlin, of course, has been entertaining all sorts of children on street corners for years. They are joined by good friends like Steve Gray and Connie McKenna and Joan Cushing and poet Marc Speigel. The songs come mostly from Devlin and Valeri, but there are literally as many flavors as there are tunes. Somehow it flows together beautifully, anchored by a spiritual undertow from Devlin. This record will last because, like Guthrie’s best “children’s records,” its values are timeless and equally fun for young and old.
November 1977 — Unicorn Times
P.D. Eastman’s “Are You My Mother?,” as the title track’s reference point and backdrop for the color-your-own cover (drawn by Michael Cotter, founder of Blue Sky Puppet Theatre), was discussed at one point by the two artists after the album’s recording had concluded. Valeri suggested that perhaps they should seek permission from the powers-that-be; however, Devlin indicated that was not necessary, saying in essence, “I researched the matter and have found that you can’t copyright a title.”
Meanwhile, the album that (like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue) had been recorded in two days had somehow, as previously noted, made the American Library Association’s list of top children’s albums. Richard Harrington’s thumbs-up review added to the positive momentum.
Unicorn Times — December 1977
At this early point in their careers, there was so much uncertainty around the two musicians’ occupational trajectory, that Valeri’s parents’ West Springfield, VA address was listed as the base of operations for the wee Pot Luck label...This is an important detail, since by this time, Valeri had proactively and forthrightly mailed a copy of the new album to P.D. Eastman himself — in hindsight, almost certainly accelerating the chain of events that would inevitably follow...For, one day soon after, Valeri received a call from her mother, who told her, “I just signed a registered letter from Random House...I’m not sure, but I think you’re being sued!”
Many of her friends were delighted by the news, but Valeri, who was understandably horrified, immediately contacted an infuriated Eastman, who threatened to litigate. Valeri, whose teaching gig at David Perry’s Guitar and Lute Shop in DC’s Dupont Circle was her primary source of income, happened to have, by curious coincidence, Worth Rowley as a student.
Rowley — the guitar pupil who specifically sought out Valeri, as a result of his children’s enthusiasm for Are You My Mother? — was a prominent lawyer from a well-connected “Old Boston” family who had served the Justice Department for many years as an antitrust specialist. Rowley had turned up for his lesson one day to find Valeri especially down in the dumps and promptly agreed to intercede on her behalf. Before you know it, Rowley was in a three-piece suit and on an Amtrak train bound for New York City. Rowley clarified the optics of the lawsuit for Eastman and his legal reprentatives: “You’re suing a street musician and a special needs educator who serves severely handicapped children through music,” Rowley informed them. “Are you sure you want the bad publicity?”
Alexandria Gazette – June 28, 1979
Devlin’s “Folksongs Americana” children’s program at Fort Ward Park
[courtesy Jessie Devlin]
Both sides, thankfully, worked out an agreement, whereby the first 2,000 copies of the original Are You My Mother? album would be allowed to remain as is, provided that copyright stickers be affixed to the front cover of each copy, as well as inner sleeve adjacent to the title track. Additionally, all future releases of this album must be done under a new title and without the inclusion of “Are You My Mother?” [The CD reissue would be retitled When the Rain Comes Down and include ten songs from the original album, plus “The Tomato Song”; “You Best Take a Bath” & “Tiny Little Gear”].
Fortunately, this legal episode in no way deterred Devlin from becoming the cover story (penned by Matt Holsen) for Unicorn Times‘ October 1980 issue:
Holsen gleans a bit of wisdom from Devlin, who observes — counterintuitively perhaps — that “the street audience is more attentive, more involved in the music than the club audience.” Devlin explains: “You look up and there’s a hundred people standing there. They’re not there to drink or socialize. They’re just listening It can really scare you.”
Devlin acknowledges the challenge of creating a body of work that is consistent with his strong Christian faith while being able to stand solely on its musical merits. Devlin points out that “the Gallop Poll indicates that there are 80 million Americans who say they are born-again Christians. To the record companies, that’s 80 million customers.”
As Holsen observes —
Commercial music may be dominated by simple-minded hedonism, equally simple-minded cynicism or, at best, the dark melancholy of a Jackson Browne, and Christian music may be just another marketing strategy, but Devlin knows that he has an audience. He sees it every day on the street. He also knows that the very qualities that hinder his commercial success — his optimistic outlook and his unassuming, folksy style — are what endear him to that audience.
An unabashed proponent of folk music, Devlin believed its verse/chorus, verse/chorus structure to be a fundamental device for engaging others, providing opportunities for the audience to “join in.” Since people in other parts of the globe abide by the verse/chorus format, Devlin reasoned earlier to Unicorn Times in 1977, “it must be a part of the human psyche, it’s what works for people.” Furthermore, “the secret is to watch people walking by, to sing to each person as he comes by. Give ’em a wink. Be there for people.”
Matt Holsen noted in his October 1980 Unicorn Times cover story that the US Dept. of Labor once devoted four pages of a Bureau of Labor Statisticsbulletin to Devlin, who was presented as a “model for youngsters considering careers in the performing arts.” This surprisingly informative bulletin from 1979 (#2001-14) speaks in practical terms to those considering Performing Arts, Design, and Communications Occupations:
Bob looks the crowd over with a practiced eye as he strides up to the busy corner in the heart of the business district. “Mostly office workers out for lunch, as usual, but there seem to be some tourists today too...Quite a mixture, in fact...They have the makings of a good audience,” he thinks to himself as he begins to set up his gear.
He removes the backpack that holds his guitar and a folding stool, then sets up his speaker system and hooks the microphone into it. After removing his guitar and leaning it upright against the stool, he unpacks a large cymbal and places it on the ground. He takes several record albums out of the pack and props them up against the speaker. Next he pulls his harmonica out of a side pocket of the pack and attaches it to a brace around his neck. Finally he places a very small cardboard box a few feet in front of the stool. “Hello, folks. How are you today?” he says into the mike as he sits down and begins tuning his guitar. A few people stop to watch, but most just continue on their way. Bob blows into the harmonica a few times, strums a chord, and then, assured that his guitar is in tune, begins to play.
“Bob Devlin’s my name, and I’m going to start off today with an old ballad that you may know.” With that, Bob starts to sing. More people stop to watch. As he begins the second verse, he can feel himself warming up to the song. About a dozen people have gathered around him, although most of the sidewalk traffic is still moving. As he finishes his song, a distinguished-looking man in a pin-striped suit walks over and drops some coins into the box. Bob acknowledges the contribution with a nod and a smile, then moves right into another tune. A faster one, this time. His right foot moves in time to the music, tapping the brass cymbal.
He’s feeling fine. .It is a beautiful summer day, sunny and warm, and Bob knows from experience what a difference the weather makes to a street musician. A balmy day like this is perfect. Bob moves quickly from one song into another, pausing between songs only now and then to talk to the people gathered around him. A number of people know him, or at least recognize him, and call to him by name. Bob has played on this corner before, and many of the people who work in nearby office buildings are familiar with his music. They make a point of coming when they find out that he’s giving a lunchtime concert here.
Bob is pleased with the audience he’s developing in this part of the city. And that audience, after all, is one of the main reasons he plays on the street. The money’s good—for only a few hours’ work he can make $40 on a good day. But the main advantage of playing on the street is the exposure he gets. More people hear him play on this corner sidewalk than would hear him play at a coffeehouse or club. In fact, most of the club dates he’s gotten lately have come about because someone from a nightclub heard him on the sidewalk, liked his music, and offered him the job. Playing on the street has actually saved him the trouble of having to go and audition.
Career World — 1980
[COURTESY JESSIE DEVLIN]
Right now, Bob’s musical goal is to make a name for himself in Washington, D.C. He wants as many people as possible to recognize his name, his face, his musical style. He hopes that as he becomes better known, more and more people will make an effort to catch his performances—on street corners, in the parks, at craft fairs, wherever he happens to be playing. Then, as his reputation grows, there will be more demand for him to perform. Later on, Bob hopes to go on tour with an established singer or group...And he expects to make more records.
Bob already has made one album [Live at 18th & M]...He cut the album last fall, knowing how hard it would be to make a living by playing on the street once winter came and the weather turned cold. Bob hoped that his record sales would bring in enough income to tide him over the winter. He sold them throughout the year wherever he played, in nightclubs, coffeehouses, and private parties.
Like all musicians who are just starting out, Bob had to cover the cost of cutting the record himself. He used his savings, around $700, and borrowed the rest from friends. He made the recording, or master tape, during a session when he was playing on the street. That saved him the expense, which can be quite substantial, of having to rent a recording studio. .Later he took the master tape to a record pressing plant that transferred the taped recording onto a master disc. The master disc was then used to create the molds, called stampers, that were used in pressing the records. Having the album covers made was expensive, but Bob was able to afford both the album and the covers at the same time. In the end Bob found that the $ 1,100 he had was enough money to cut about 500 records.
Selling his records at $5 each, Bob was able to regain his initial investment after selling less than half of the first printing. From then on, everything he sold was pure profit. He sold all 500 records within 7 months, and, when people continued to ask to buy copies, he decided to print 1,000 more! With the master disc already made, the second printing was much less expensive. He paid for those records with money he had saved from earlier record sales.
[COURTESY JESSIE DEVLIN]
A few college and underground FM radio stations have given his music air time, but he’s found it difficult to get his music played on most of the commercial AM stations. “I’m lucky to have opportunities like this to advertise my record,” he thinks as a teenager in faded jeans picks up one of the albums and then pulls a wallet from her pocket. Most of Bob’s income still comes from performing, however.
As Bob finishes another song, a few people begin to clap. Soon the entire crowd is applauding. He pauses for a moment, then starts into a well-known folk tune. “You probably all know this one,” he says, “so sing along if you like.” The music Bob plays is easy to listen to and appeals to a large audience. That’s part of the reason for his success. It would be harder to be a successful street musician with a classical repertoire.
His rapport with his audience is another reason for Bob’s popularity. He talks and jokes with the people gathered around him in a relaxed, easygoing way. At the same time, Bob attributes some of his success to downright practical considerations—picking the right time of day and the right places to play. The crowd around Bob grows larger, and people start walking up and dropping money into his box. He continues playing, responding to the encouragement and appreciation of his audience.
[COURTESY JESSIE DEVLIN]
Bob has been a professional musician for only a few years. He never thought seriously about being a musician when he was growing up, even though he’s played the guitar since 8th grade. He never even took guitar lessons—just learned to play by ear, picking up what he could from friends. He played occasionally in coffeehouses while he was in high school and college, but at that time he thought of music as a hobby rather than as a possible career. Shortly after college, however, he decided that he was bored with his job as a shipping clerk in a warehouse. Playing on the street might be an interesting way to earn some money, he decided. So he gave it a try.
Once he started playing on the street he realized how important music was to him. All of a sudden he knew that, if he could manage it, he wanted to devote himself to music for the rest of his life. Bob feels lucky to be able to support himself by making music. For only the $15 annual cost of a vendor’s license, he’s able to play on the street whenever he wants, and make enough to live. Bob knows that performing is a very competitive field, and he doesn’t expect to become famous overnight. Until he does, he’s content with days like today, when he’s able to share his music with people on a street corner. For Bob, a life that revolves around music is reward enough.
Montgomery County MD’s Journal — Sept. 23, 1988
The Montgomery County native “does not simply start a song, he launches it”
[COURTESY JESSIE DEVLIN]
Original track listing for the 1977 Are You My Mother? LP
[ARTWORK BY JENNY, CHRIS & VALERI GILMAN]
Cover for the 1984 CD reissue
[artwork by Rae Owings]
CD track listing
By the 1990s, Devlin would halt his street performing work in order to make recordings that “reflected his strong Christian commitment,” as Richard Harrington noted in his tribute for The Washington Post in 1995. Nevertheless, Devlin possessed a special ability — as many have borne witness – to connect with people of all ages. “What Bob did was to transcend all the divisions that are there for entertainers, when it comes to what age you can appeal to,” Cathy Fink told Harrington, who joined WOWD host DJ Mackie in 2019 for a celebration of legendary DC street performers Bob Devlin and Flora Molton, among others. “Little kids, old folks and everybody in between liked him. Bob could get a 60-year-old to sing along as fast as he could get a 4-year-old to sing along,” recalled Fink, “He had a keen sense of the fact he was able to entertain every audience he got in front of.”
Harrington tells Zero to 180 that Bob was “a public showman” who “reveled in that role, leading people into song and choruses.” Devlin was “in a field of one” in his capacity to evoke an uninhibited response from young people, whether inside a school building or out on the streets, says Harrington. Christine McKenna, in her 1977 Unicorn Times profile, stated that “one of Bob’s best nights was when he had 150 people jammed into Canal Square, ‘singing like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, one song after another, it was like magic, like something from another time.'”
Michele Valeri minces no words today —
[Bob] was definitely one of my mentors. He pushed me into recording that LP. I don’t know where I would be in the world of music without him.
Silver Spring put out a mini 8-page coloring book about their wonderful city. It was published by the SS Urban District. There is no date on it….some time in the 90s?? Some of the topics are penguins [unofficial mascot] waiting for the metro, the bronze statue of a juggling unicyclist, and the SS 10K Challenge Run, and there on pg 6 is a nicely done drawing of the One-Man-Band [whom Devlin hoped “would never break up,” remembers Ken Giles of Bright Morning Star].
Jessie Devlin Responds to An Early Draft of This Zero to 180 Piece
As soon as I began reading this, a name came to mind – Chris Core – he was an announcer for WMAL radio. He often played Bob’s music on the “talk” radio which I thought was really dear of him. He loved Bob and his music and paid Bob a wonderful tribute on radio when he died. Last time I was in contact with him, I think he lived in Bethesda/Chevy Chase area, but he’s easy to find thru radio if you want to include him.
As to the P.D. Eastman story, our first notice that we were in big trouble was the fact that Michele, Bob, and Potluck Records each received a registered/sign-for letter from Random House. This letter alone was enough to freak us out and luckily, as you write, Worth Rowley who just happened to be going to NY City for some kind of meeting told Michele he would check out the situation. Michele told me later that Worth’s biggest convincing argument – besides his legal stature – was that he asked the Random House rep somewhat along the lines: Do you really want your very big corporation to be seen as going after a young lady who makes her living off of teaching guitar lessons, and, a young married street musician with a newborn child who lives in a one-bedroom rental? That did it. And Worth returned with a decent agreement that allowed us to sell the remaining albums with the promise not to print more. As to Bob, he was very concerned; he realized the seriousness of it all. But he always had this attitude of: Well, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll fix it; and that’s it.
In his early gigs, when he was the Bob Devlin Street Band, his performances were mostly outside so there was never a problem having all the instruments played. However, as the number of indoor gigs picked up, he realized that the under-foot cymbal – bent to give it a pop-back-up motion for the next beat – was not going to work. It was deafened on rugs and scratched wood floors. So “Rock” was added to the group. Rock was a piece of slate Bob found on one of his endless shopping trips – he was amazing at always finding exactly what he needed. Rock was chipped to the appropriate size and at the next gig, Cymbal and Rock had their own duo going. But rugs came in handy outside also. Bob was wearing so much electrical wiring in addition to having a ton of equipment around him that anyone who was partying a little too hard and got too close, well, it could be dangerous. So, to have a more “official” placement, he would put a rug under his setup and let people know that it was his “staging area, (as well as adding a little bit of hominess!).
I believe it was the Washington Post writer Eve Zibart, who added the suffix to what became “Bob Devlin One-Man-Band Extraordinaire.” Bob often introduced himself: “I’d like to introduce the members of my band! Fingers! on guitar” – with a ripping guitar solo; “Feet! on drum and cymbal” – solo added to by Fingers; “Mouth! on the harmonica” – blasting a full-speed every note solo; and finally ~ “my name is Bob Devlin and I am the lead singer! of the group” at which moment he would launch into a most glorious ripping rendition of “The Wabash Cannonball.” People went wild with delight, only to laugh even more when Bob added after the musical intro: I’d be in big trouble if the band ever decided to break up!”
In 1979, Bob launched into a business deal with real estate businessman, Harvey Fernebok, whom he had met through Marc Spiegel (think Strawberry Pastry!). Harvey would make it financially possible for Bob to record his next album, String Rambler. It was a street singer made classy! Bob’s writing skills were finally in the forefront of what they were thinking as a next big national hit. But although the album received acclaim, by others it was judged harshly because of the multi songwriter genres that were presented. Some said it was fantastic and original; others who couldn’t understand his talent said he needed one concentration of type.
In 1980 Bob was featured in Career World as a successful Offbeat Job in which one could make a reasonable living.
In Richard [Harrington]’s tribute to Bob, he mentioned: By the 1990s, Devlin would halt his street performing work in order to make a recording that “reflected his strong Christian commitment.” This is a little off on timing and reasoning. And it’s not something he went after. It came after him! His Christian songwriting had already begun taking form but it was something very personal for him – more like worship – and he postponed doing much publicly until he strongly felt the time was right. Once in a while he would share a song at church, mostly for the children. Then one time, LillAnne Pitts, head of the Children’s Dept of the church, approached Bob and asked if he could possibly write “two or three” songs to use with the Bible School curriculum that year, 1983. After looking over the curriculum and meeting with LillAnne, he came home and in less than three days composed nine of the twelve songs that would become the tape: For the Shepherd’s Children. I think it took him by surprise as much as any of us.
Also, by 1983, Bob was experiencing a huge influx of indoor gigs. Having started out singing year-round including in cold weather, these were a welcome treat. Not only for the warmth but also the guaranteed income. Wanting his wife to be an at-home mom for their two girls, these gigs multiplied income into a dependable support. Indoor gigs also included an upgrade in costume. Although the street bandanna and red carnation remained, the jeans were replaced by black suit pants, and the once brown leather cap was replaced with the same style of Greek fisherman’s cap but in black. And the brown shoes were traded in for black. This was difficult because his shoes/boots weren’t just any kind. The heel of the boot had to be made of a hard substance, more like wood that when striking the bass would create a sharp, clear, cracking sound rather than a muddled sponge-rubber of comfort heels. More indoor gigs included numerous museum and zoological performances, local craft and music festivals, and countless school performances that had first begun in 1977. He was considered entertainment and when pressured to be just as entertaining but to somehow make it educational, he designed his infamous and educational “Folksongs Americana” presentation.
In 1985, Bob was once again asked to write songs for the Bible School curriculum. However, now having both a 7 and 4 year old at home, he knew he wouldn’t get the silence he needed so the church offered to allow him to use one of the empty Sunday School rooms during the week and he was able to leave most of his equipment there overnight. Another unexplainable happening – much like any great writer, designer, performer, artist – achieves in those special once-in-a-lifetime moments, Bob – in a span of less than two weeks – composed twelve songs that combined to become Circle of Love. Another Devlin classic but short-lived, as we didn’t have the advertising help of big backers. Ultimately, after Bob’s death in 1995, the non-profit designed to field these two tapes was dissolved by meeting IRS requirements of paying past taxes due on all monies received. In the meantime, it was one more amazing creation to be boxed away and set aside to make room for further dreams.
Also, the reason we don’t have a whole lot in pics of the private gigs is because most would have had to be taken before or after the guests appeared. Not that they were nervous about anything, Bob understood as when you are in the upper echelons and you are invited to a home for the evening, you want to enjoy the food and people and the music without having a camera in your face. But one fantastic thing that these gigs did was to let people see Bob out of his street gear and into his very classy presentation dress wear. So more people felt relaxed and wanted to hire him. And the residence part of his career took off.
10 Questions with Jessie Devlin
Q01: What memories stand out from the recording sessions for Are You My Mother?
A01: Memories…..Anytime I think of those recording sessions, the most memorable thing was the light – we were in Marc’s empty rental apt and there was so much light coming thru the windows. And everyone was happy! There was a lot of laughter and also a lot of ideas created in the moment as to how a line should be played or where an instrumental flourish could be added. I was there to watch. I took a ton of pictures and I enjoyed every part.
Q02: At the time, did “When the Rain Comes Down” hold any special place in Bob’s repertoire? I know Bob was not commercially driven or oriented, but was there any thought given to making “Rain” the A-side of a single release? [Cathy Fink estimates that 30 other artists include the song in their repertoire as a result of her championing the song].
A02: “Rain” always held a special place in his repertoire. It was the song that people sang along to. And it would meld audiences together into one. As to an A-side single, no, we were doing everything we could money-wise for his music on our own and we never discussed …..no, I can’t say that – we did discuss it. But it just wasn’t possible.
Q03: Was Bob particularly concerned during the legal tussle over the copyright issue, or was he able to hold the matter at bay and trust that everything would work out in the end? Or neither?
A03: Random House – that’s elaborated [in the preceding paragraphs] above
Q04: Did Bob originally contact Bread & Roses about distributing Pot Luck releases?Was this a “special” arrangement, or did Bread & Roses support other local musicians in this regard?
A04: Bread & Roses – this is one aspect I knew nothing about because I didn’t handle any of this. But knowing Bob, it was probably something he presented to them. As to other artists, you’d have to ask someone who knew B&R. I was mainly the mom, cook, cleaner, bookkeeper, drop and pick up Bob at gigs or on the corners. It wasn’t until the girls got a little older and lot of indoor gigs began to happen that I began to be the gig scheduler.
Q05: How would you describe the energy that Bob conveyed as a street performer, and what were some of his favorite techniques or characteristic ways of engaging rapport with an audience?
A05: Engaging the audience: Not much of a need there. He was a HUGE happening and people wanted to be part of it, so they would come pouring out of their offices for lunch and join in with clapping and singing – Bob was a respite for their brains and a stress reliever for their bodies! Once in a while he would add little stories to introduce a song and if the story worked he would keep it with the song but he never overused a story – just once in a while; a rarity. Because his music was so welcoming and friendly, he didn’t have to draw people in – they couldn’t wait to jump in.
Q06: Given that DC is the Federal City, I’m just curious to know if there any other notables – besides Jimmy Carter, Cesar Chavez, Pete Seeger, and Sen. Howard Metzenbaum – who have been entertained by Bob?
A06: Oh sure, tons, but I can’t even begin to get into that right now. It would take a ton of time and research. I will say, he played for George and Barbara Bush ….I can’t remember if it was the Easter Egg Roll or one of the Congressional Picnics.
Q07: Did Bob and Flora Molton ever play any sets together while street performing?
A07: Flora Molton. I slightly remember Bob taking his guitar and harmonica down to Flora’s corner [7th & G] one time but it was a very limited thing. I think it was just something he wanted to do, to be with her. And it wouldn’t be on the books because it wasn’t a paying gig.
Q08: Who were Bob’s favorite musical artists (or “heroes,” if any)? Was Bob a music collector or “consumer” in any serious regard?
A08: Fav music artists ….oh my ….this is one of those questions that could be answered with a much shorter list by saying who he didn’t like. In fact, I can’t remember him ever dissing another artist – famous or local. That wasn’t the type of person he was. Some of his favs included Bob Dylan – of course, and any song sung by someone with soul or party attitude or whatever. He knew hundreds of songs besides the ones he had written and it’s what made it possible for him to play absolutely any type of gig that came along.
Q09: I suspect Bob had little to no tolerance for any commercial radio stations (even WHFS) – were there any DC stations that Bob actually enjoyed?
A09: Actually there were several stations he enjoyed. I’d have to get a list and tell you because I can’t remember the call letters off the top of my head. Why are you dissing WHFS? Bob loved rock music …..haha…..that’s what he’d say to people when he put Rock on a rug in a home and he’d say: Okay, we’re going to be hearing a little rock music tonite. People would good-naturedly boo and then laugh. He loved ALL music in the sixties ….well, except maybe the acid rock. That was a bit much. But all the songs written with good lyrics, whether supporting a march or walk-out or just a good time with a girlfriend, he appreciated the writer’s creativity. But on top of it all – he rarely listened to radio – he was SO busy writing music and recording it over and over to see if he should change or add something. Radio was not a high demand in his week or even a month.
Q10: What were the circumstances that led to Bob’s decision to retire from street performing?
A10: Like I said – there was no retirement. It was more of a thing where, although he was making a ton of bucks at the time, the indoor gigs were even more financially beneficial and as people got to know him as an indoor performer, the gigs multiplied.
Northern VA’s Gazette — Oct. 25, 1984
[“whose one-man band is one of few besides Devlin’s on the East Coast“]
Quote: “Bob Devlin is certainly the best no-hands harmonica player I’ve ever seen”
Bread & Roses: A Community Record Store
The cooperative record store that once stood in Washington, DC at 1724 20th St. (between R & S) — and served as a distribution point for Pot Luck Records — no doubt took its name (Bread & Roses) from a slogan (“Bread for all, and roses, too”) coined by Helen Todd that captured the essential spirit driving the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century:
Not at once; but woman is the mothering element in the world and her vote will go toward helping forward the time when life’s Bread, which is home, shelter and security, and the Roses of life, music, education, nature and books, shall be the heritage of every child that is born in the country, in the government of which she has a voice.— Helen Todd, 1910
Ralph Nader reported on Bread & Roses and other cooperative enterprises for In the Public Interest‘s March 4, 1974 edition in a piece entitled “Coping With Consumer Shortage“:
One development in various parts of the country that bears watching is the spread of “community stores,” particularly in Seattle, Washington, Minneapolis, Madison, Wisconsin, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Washington, D.C. ..In the nation’s capital, drab with bureaucracy and impersonal architecture, a colorful, almost oldfashioned group of these community store coops are busily serving people who want to change their habits and find less expensive alternatives. “Stone Soup” and “Glut” sell food and another store, “Rainbow Bridge,” is about to open...There is a community warehouse and trucking coop to serve this network that hopes soon to connect up directly with farmers...“Bread and Roses” is a community record shop not far from a community bookshop. .“Romah” is a home repair service while the Quaker House Print Shop helps the communications process...A community pharmacy and food store called “Fields of Plenty” is now underway to practice the preachments of consumer protection.
Thank you, once again, to Jeff Krulik for all the images in the Bread & Roses gallery below (save the last one):
THE MUFFINS – CHRONOMETERS (Cuneiform 55007) CD 73m The Muffins were one of the most innovative fusion bands to emerge from the USA during the late-70’s, and whilst resembling Henry Cow in many ways, and also with notable Zappa/Mothers Of Invention influence, their complex style also drew them close to the Canterbury sound.
The recordings on this disc date from the very early days of The Muffins, circa 1975-76 and offer insight into the origins of a most talented and inventive band. The 23 minute suite, Chronometers itself, was only previously available in a very edited form on the Recommended Records Sampler, and it’s now really quite a revelation to hear it complete, notably the bizarre “Wizard Of Oz” collage and a music that nimbly cuts and jumps around, sounding like a mixture of Soft Machine (circa Volume 2 and Third), Matching Mole and Hatfield & The North. The other twenty, considerably shorter, tracks date from 1975, and would seem to be early demo recordings exploring a wide range of structures and styles. Mostly, these tracks present some of The Muffins’ most accessible music, rarely breaking out into the more crazed experimental realms of later works. Many of these tracks are arranged to flow in such a way as to seem like much longer suites, and thus (even though there are some very short pauses) tracks two to eight actually flow as if one 20 minute complex and cleverly conceived suite. Some of the tracks do stand on their own, like Peacocks, Leopards & Glass, a track previously heard many years ago on the Random Radar Records Sampler.
As an LP release, this would have been a double album, and thus Chronometers is an all round winner in terms of value for money, excellent music and as a curious insight into the origins of a most inventive band. A Recommended album indeed! review by Alan Freeman in Audion magazine #25 (June 1993)
Today’s piece is inspired by (i.e., lifted from) a special Top 40 list of 7-inch vinyl compiled by 45Cat contributor, stereotom. These (literally) defining songs — whose titles all begin with the phrase “What Is a [blank]” — have been organized chronologically and married with streaming audio where possible (click on song titles). Was just about ready to post this piece when I stumbled on the fact that a key Johnny Cash tune was missing from this list. Any others?
Music by Alec Wilder; words by Alan Beck; orchestra directed by Mitch Miller.
Billboard‘s review in their August 4, 1951 edition: “[‘What Is a Boy?’] This is the original, done here to cover on Jan Peerce’s hit version. Godfrey’s family following should be good for a few sales. [‘What Is a Girl?’ The sequel and companion piece to ‘What Is a Boy?’ is similar in construction and ideas. Godfrey recites it Edgar Guest style with a pretty background set up for him by Alec Wilder.”
Billboard‘s review in their August 4, 1951 edition: “[‘Girl’ side] Companion recitation piece to ‘What Is a Boy?’ follows the same successful format of the earlier work. Writer Spear handles the background ork on this but comic Jackie Gleason fails to inject enough schmaltz into his reading. [‘Boy‘ side] Coverage waxing doesn’t figure to catch the Jan Peerce disk. Again Gleason doesn’t sell the recitation very strongly.”
Spoken rap by Steve Allen, while the 45 label appears to indicate that the orchestral backing is an arrangement of “Mississippi Mud” by Harry Barris & James Cavanaugh (though I don’t hear the same chord changes — compare with Paul Whiteman’s original version from 1928)..
Billboard‘s review in the January 14, 1956 edition: “Following up the successful ‘What Is a Wife’ bit, Allen comes thru with an apt successor which carries a load of crazy mixed-up double talk. This is extremely well-written material, good for lots of chuckles and with Allen riding high on TV, albums and the ‘Wife’ disk, this could just carry on the happy trend. It’s a particularly good programming bet.”
According to Audio Culture (“the noisy library of New Zealand music”):
“In the early to mid-1960s, Westport radio station 3YZ was a home of broadcasting talent. Reon Murtha, Lloyd Scott, Peter Sinclair, Bill Toft, Ian Watkin, Bob Sutton, Warwick Burke and John Pike were just some of the announcers who either started or built their careers there. A good broadcasting team is only as good as its technical support and writers. 3YZ was lucky to have the witty producer/writer Alwyn (Hop) Owen on staff (he later founded the long-running RNZ Spectrum series). In 1960 Owen and station announcer Pike recorded ‘What is a Rugby Supporter?’ – a spoken monologue reminiscent of the newsreel shorts shown in cinemas before the main feature. Calling themselves The Rugbymen (with the Halftimers), it was released on Kiwi, backed with ‘The Rugged Rugby Playing Trail’.”
“What Is a Grandmother?” by Paul Randal
Written (in all likelihood) by (Ruth) Roberts, (Bill) Katz, (Gene) Pillar, (Stanley) Clayton & (Teresa) Brewer
This 45 — released March 1961 on Roulette. — appears to be Randal’s sole release.
“What Is a Daddy?” by Jeff Price
Written by Joe Darion & Hecky Krasnow.
Arranged & conducted by Glenn Osser.
Released 1962 on May (“product of Colpix/Columbia Pictures Corp”).
Cash Box’s 45 review in their December 8, 1962 edition: “[A-side] In this adaptation of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ a disk jockey learns from Santa himself that he’s doing something worthwhile by working Xmas eve spinning Holiday songs. [B-side] A sympathetic view of the deejay.”
Another 45Cat contributor recalls with a chuckle: “He was one of the best bluffers on TVs ‘Hollywood Squares’ game show, such that contestants would try to avoid choosing his square unless they needed to. The pinnacle best bluff on the show was when he was queried, ‘Who wrote The Diary of Anne Frank?’ He rolled his eyes, seemed to be thinking deeply, and had Peter Marshall begin to inform the contestant, ‘It appears Robert doesn’t have…” – he blurted out, “That new Hollywood guy, Spielberg.” The contestant agreed with him! If you search clips from Hollywood Squares, you will glimpse him in a number of saved games.”
Dreier — American news reporter and commentator who worked with NBC Radio during the 1940s, and later with the ABC Information Radio network in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Variety notes in their bio of Dreier: “While in Los Angeles, an on-air commentary he delivered, ‘What Is a Jew,’ became a rallying cry for fund-raising to help Israel during and after the Six-Day War and was sold as a record in local shops.”
Both sides “composed” by Don Bresnahan & Alex Dreier.
Streaming audio on YouTube still but a pipe dream — sing along in your head [To the tune of “What Is Truth“]:
A whole bunch of kids with real long hair Standin’ throwin’ rocks at the town square Might be fun but I don’t think it’s fair Cause they call me the town square
Sure was different back when I was a kid Some of the mean things that I did The old man took down the razor strap And he’d say Ben bend over my lap
Then the lonely voice of youth cried awow that is truth You can’t even whistle at a girl anymore It could be a boy and he might get sore Then again he might not you can’t ever tell
Some of them fellers are really swell They travel a lot and they’re really hip Seems they’re always takin’ a trip Bet there’s a lot of pretty country to see Ridin’ around in an LSD And the lonely voice of truth cries what is youth
I saw a young man sittin’ on the witness stand And the man with the book said raise your right hand Not that right hand you’re other right hand The young man on the stand didn’t understand
The judge said son do you solemnly swear Said I swear I can’t hear you on account of my hair Really it was long as a horses tail But I guess that’s the US male And the lonely voice of truth cries what is youth
Heck I went to college for quite awhile They say I made straight A’s in wild Guess I was a little bit slow I flunked protestin’ two years in a row
Couldn’t learn to speak the language of the kids in town I’d say burn it up instead of burn it down Even used pot to wipe out my head But I used the one that was under the bed And the lonely voice of truth cried What are youth doin’
Youth are my friends youth and youth but not himth
“Original lyric from the motion picture, Romeo and Juliet.”
Written by Nina Rota & Eugene Walter.
Produced by Bernie Lawrence — arranged & conducted by Jimmy Wisner.
Designated by Billboard as a “Special Merit Spotlight” (new single deserving special attention of programmers and dealers) for the week ending Sept. 5, 1970: “Good new group sound with the original film lyric from Romeo and Juliet make this outstanding arrangement a hot contender for the Hot 100 chart. Could prove a big one.”