Musical Impersonations (on Wax)

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:

Merle Haggard impersonates Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Buck Owens & Johnny Cash

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:

“The Class”      Chubby Checker      1959

One 45Cat contributor makes this observation —

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 (retitled Imitations! 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:

“Sonny Boy”     Sammy Davis, Jr.     1961

The following year, Davis joined forces with his two A-list pals, Frank and Dean, for a live set at Chicago’s Villa Venice that include “Impressions By All Three.”

Undated EP — AUSTRALIA

Rich Little was a television fixture in my youth, who also released a few singles over the course of his career, with 1968 single “That’s Life” being the best of the bunch:

“That’s life”     Rich Little     1968

The year before, Little had issued “Canada (A Centennial Song)” — a “seldom-heard parody of Bobby Gimby‘s ‘Centennial Song’ [with] Rich Little imitating Lester B. Pearson and John Diefenbaker,” according to the person who posted this audio clip.  Little would also record 1971’s “The Draft” for Mercury Records and 1982’s “President’s Rap” (which “borrows” from Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love“) for Boardwalk Entertainment.

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

Starday‘s 1963 live Big “D” Jamboree LP (recorded at Ed McLemore’s Sportatorium in Dallas, with Horace Logan as Master of Ceremonies) includes Frankie Miller impersonating Johnny Cash in a send-up of “I Walk the Line:

“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 album of 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:

“Two By Four”     Leon Payne     1956

Starday Trivia: 1964’s Special 38th Birthday Edition of Grand Ole Opry Country Music Festival LP — a 17-song various artists compilation album sponsored by Kroger and released on Starday — includes a track by The Willis Brothers that appears to be exclusive to this discImpersonations of Country Music Stars

A search of this website reveals a bonus history bit from last August that marveled at Hardrock Gunter‘s very convincing impression of Hank Williams on 1951’s answer song, “My Bucket’s Been Fixed:

“My Bucket’s Been Fixed”     Hardrock Gunter     1951

Which, of course, brings to mind Zero to 180’s prior celebration of Thumbs Carllile‘s pitch-perfect impersonations of the top country jazz guitarists of the day in his delightful musical roll callSpringfield Guitar Social:

“Springfield Guitar Social”     Thumbs Carlisle     1958

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.

Bonus TV Performance

Rich Little as Johnny Cash — “Orange Blossom Special” (1972)

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

*               *               *

My Next Impersonation
[written by Shel Silverstein]

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

And for my last impersonation…watch him die

Larry Fast: Digital, Experimental

Tip of the hat to my old tennis partner and high school music rival. Ed Goldstein [he was in The Head Band with future “Smooth” songwriter, Itaal Shur, and one-time-bassist-for-Sleepy-Labeef-turned-sociology-professor, Adam Moskowitz, while I was in The Max, formerly Max & the Bluegills], who recently paid tribute to Peter Gabriel and late-70s Genesis as pivotal influences on his approach to percussion, with “Games Without Frontiers” leading the way as his favorite Gabriel track.

As music entered the ’80s, I remember how things got increasingly and disconcertedly digital — MIDI, disk drives, drum machines and the like — putting some of us analog-minded folks off, at least initially.  Not Ed, though, who helped serve as a bridge to fearful, reactionary types like me, whose old school heart will always yearn for analog-only devices, such as a Hammond organ with a rotating Leslie speaker, or a Moog Taurus bass pedal synthesizer (my college roommate had one), or an Echoplex tape delay effects unit (sax man & friend, Bruce Batté, once had one), without which dub reggae would almost certainly have never been born.

                  Hammond B-3                                   red Walnut Leslie Speaker Cabinet

Hammond B-3Leslie speaker

Moog Taurus II Bass Pedal Synth                 Echoplex – Complete with Case

Moog Taurus Bass PedalsEchoplex - vintage

“Games Without Frontiers,” unsurprisingly, would be cited in a fun historical romp – “Ghosts in the Machine:  The Most Important Drum Machines in Music History” – which begins in 1959 with Wurlitzer’s built-in percussion sidekick, the Side Man.  Peter Gabriel, as it turns out, utilized a Linn Drum predecessor I was not aware of until now – PAiA – that enjoys the distinction of being the “first programmable drum machine in history,” having been introduced to the marketplace in 1975.

Frustratingly, that information is not spelled out in the otherwise detailed credits captured on Discogs for the UK edition of Peter Gabriel’s third album from 1978.   Did Gabriel himself do the drum programming vs. Jerry Marotta & Phil Collins, the drummers listed on the track?  We do know, however, that Gabriel and Larry Fast both did some programming with respect to synthesizers, such as “Games Without Frontiers,” on which both musicians programmed synth bass lines (one of which I initially assumed to be Tony Levin playing a Chapman Stick).

Larry Fast LPSoon after playing bagpipes on the album’s concluding track “Biko,” Larry Fast — under the name Synergy — would issue his fourth long-playing release Games, an “all electronic production” that, like his three previous efforts, would be produced, engineered and programmed by Fast himself.   Released in 1979, Games is an instrumental song cycle that some might deem “experimental, ambient” (Discogs) and challenging at times but is hard to categorize given the dynamics and dramatic shifts in mood and intensity, as demonstrated on six-minute composition “Delta Four:

“Delta Four”     Synergy     1979

From the liner notes courtesy of Discogs:

Digital synthesis realized using the digital synthesizer at Bell Laboratories – Murray Hill, New Jersey.

Mixed at House of Music June and July 1979 by Larry Fast except Delta One which was mixed by Charlie Conrad & Larry Fast.  Mastered by Robert Ludwig, Masterdisk, NYC.

Digital synthesizer computer programming by Greg Sims.  Equipment used on this production manufactured by — Moog Music Inc.; Oberheim Electronics; Sequential Circuits; Paia Electronics; 360 Systems; Musitronics; MXR; DBX; MCI; Eventide Clockworks; Sony; Teac-Tascam; EMT; The Synergy System; Apple Computer Corp.; Bell Labs Digital Synthesizer; Deltalab Research.

Soundcheck:  “Delta 3” [parts A-F] developed from themes written during soundchecks on the August to December 1978 Peter Gabriel Tour.  “Delta Two” themes are remnants of 1974’s electronic Realizations For Rock Orchestra writing sessions.  “Delta Four” is a surviving digital synthesizer sequencer program experiment combined with some advanced tape loops.  “Delta One” is an experiment fusing the pop and electronic vocabularies of turn of the decade composition.

Electronic music pioneer & Occasional Bagpipist – Larry Fast

Larry FastIn a 2004 interview, Larry Fast would have a lot to say about the experience of the album:

“Games was the first encounter on a Synergy album with digital synthesis and to some degree, digital recording.  It was done under laboratory conditions at Bell Labs, which was then the crown jewel of the AT&T Research Lab.  It’s still there [or is it?], but it’s now part of the crown jewels of Lucent.  AT&T was the telephone company—Ma Bell—back then and had lots of wonderful “blue sky” research going on in computers, audio and various other technologies.  They would fund these things thinking—and rightfully so—that at some point, something would surface out of these free thinking projects that might be beneficial to the phone company.  They don’t do that so much anymore.  At that time, there wasn’t any real competition in the phone business.  Now, it’s very cutthroat.  However, at that time, one of their great, shining lights was Max Matthews, one of the pioneers of computer music and electronic music, at the academic and theoretical level. One of his departments was speech and synthesis.  They were exploring several areas of synthesizers, speech and vocals, which could be made into singing.  He had worked on one project as early as 1976 that incorporated aspects of that.

By 1978, they had some of the very earliest digital synthesizers, running essentially as software, with some concurrent specialized hardware they had built on minicomputers.  They were just mind-boggling to me after struggling to extract sounds from the Moog, Oberheim and related instruments I had been working with in the analog world.  This was positively world changing.  Again, like any technology at the beginning, it was a little tedious and difficult to control. I was just getting my feet wet, but there were a few passages recorded at Bell Labs that found their way onto the Games record.  The passages were enhanced with some of the analog synthesizers to flesh out the arrangements.  It was a very eye opening experience.  It set part of the tone for the album.  The other aspect of Games it that I was on the road a lot with the Peter Gabriel band and recording with them as well.  It meant that some of the writing was done on the road, captured on small cassette recorders and lots of scribbled-down notes.  It was the first album where I hadn’t set aside a block of time in my composer’s studio to write.  It was a different approach.”

Is it ironic that this digital work was issued on 8 TRACK?

Larry Fast 8 trackEd Goldstein’s current percussion philosophies are being carried out through Big Car Jack.

Big Car Jack-xThis piece, by the way, is not Zero to 180’s first reference to bagpipes in popular music — sorry Ed, I’m not referring to AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” but rather “Reggae Bagpipes“!

Abstract Interjection!  This is the 4th Zero to 180 piece tagged as “Experimental Pop

“Reggae Bagpipes”: Pop Reggae in the Extreme?

As I asserted in an earlier piece, string arrangements – when appropriate or called for – have the potential to enrich a song (reggae included)    Given Jackie Mittoo’s fundamental role in the development of Jamaican music as both a founding member of The Skatalites and music director at Studio One since the recording studio/label’s inception, I think it’s fair to assume that his decision to utilize a 32-piece orchestra on his 1971 album Wishbone was coming from, artistically speaking, “a good place” (“Right Track” would be the A-side of a 45 released in Canada, where Mittoo had emigrated).

But what about this 45 – a reggaefied take on an unofficial Scottish national anthem.  Artistically speaking, do you support Tony King‘s decision to marry “Scotland the Brave” to a breezy early reggae backing track embellished with marimba?  Is this an inspired cross-cultural “mash-up” or rather, cloying crass commercialism?   Perhaps neither or both?

“Reggae Bagpipes”     The Magnificent Seven     1972

The single would find release in the UK, South Africa, Turkey, and New Zealand.  Says the person who uploaded this YouTube audio clip:

“South African group that evolved from The Vikings, formed in Johannesburg in the 1960s.  The group [Magnificent Seven] consisted of Emil Dean (Zoghby) (vocals); Paul Ditchfield (keyboards); Peter Michael (trumpet); Barry Jarman (trumpet); Harold Miller (bass); Jimmy Kennedy (guitar); and Doug Abbot (drums).”

Reggae Bagpipes 45

Music History Lesson:  “Scotland the Brave”

The Fiddler’s Companion dates “Scotland the Brave” to the turn of the 20th-century or just before — the tune sounds much more ancient than that, don’t you think?

“Scotland The Brave” from The Fiddlers Companion
“The oldest appearance of the melody Campin has seen was in a Boys’ Brigade pipe tune book from about 1911 where the title appeared as ‘Scotland, the Brave!!!’  Charles Gore say the tune appears to date from about 1891-5, when it was published in Keith Norman Macdonald’s Gesto Collection of Highland Music under the title ‘Brave Scotland’ and/or ‘Scotland for Ever.’  Brody (Fiddler’s Fakebook), 1983; pg. 252.  S. Johnson (The Kitchen Musician No. 4: Collection of Fine Tunes), 1983 (revised 1991, 2001); pg. 10. Reid, pg. 5. Reiner (Anthology of Fiddle Styles), 1979; pg. 16 (includes variations).  Sweet (Fifer’s Delight), 1965; pg. 50.  Wade (Mally’s North West Morris Book), 1988; pg. 18.”

Rufus Harley’s “Scotch ‘n’ Soul”

Rufus Harley‘s sole 45, “Bagpipe Blues” on Atlantic Records – an original amalgamation of Scottish highland and African-American musical traditions from 1965 – was undoubtedly the first of its kind.  The title track of Harley’s second Atlantic album – “Scotch and Soul” – would find a way to incorporate Afro-Cuban jazz into the mix, as well:

“Scotch and Soul”      Rufus Harley    1966

Harley would release four albums for Atlantic between 1965-1970 — plus one track (“Pipin’ the Blues”) on Sonny Stitt’s 1967 Deuces Wild album on Atlantic.  Harley’s 1972 release, Re-Creation of the Gods on the Ankh label, would be his last for awhile.

Rufus Harley would re-emerge in 1982 to play the bagpipes on one track (“Sweater”) from Laurie Anderson’s 1982 debut “avant-pop” album, Big Science.  In 1994 The Roots would also feature Rufus Harley’s bagpipes on one of their earlier efforts, From the Ground Up., as well as the following year’s Do You Want More?!!!??!

In 2005 Harley would take the helm on his French-only CD release, Sustain.   Sadly, Harley would pass the following year – click on link to his New York Times obituary.  Hip Wax also has this affectionate tribute to the world’s only jazz bagpipist.

Rufus Harley and Friends In New York City

Rufus Harley & Co.Rufus Harley was also a special guest on 1967 Herbie Mann LP, The Wailing Dervishes, on the track, “Flute Bag.”

Herbie Mann with Rufus Harley LPThis Date in History:  March 22, 1965 = Rufus Harley’s appearance on To Tell the Truth.