RIP

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Since his tragic death in 1998, Phil Hartman has been mourned by fans as one of the greatest comic actors of his time. His performances, from Pee Wee’s Playhouse to Saturday Night Live and News Radio, displayed a comic genius far beyond his peers, and his film career was far too brief. Many like myself remember him best as two of television’s funniest character: Struggling lawyer Lionel Hutz and washed up actor Troy McClure, beloved residents of The Simpsons‘ Springfield.

What many may have not known about Phil Hartman – who’s name was actually spelled with two n’s before he got into show business – is that he had a career as an art designer when he was younger. Hartmann designed at least twenty-five album jackets for bands in the 70s, notably several for chart-toppers Poco and America.

 

(History: America’s Greatest Hits, by the way, is one of my least favorite Greatest Hits albums even though I like the band all right.  Here’s why:  George Martin started producing America’s albums in 1974, after they had already recorded three albums.  Tracks from those three records – America, Homecoming and Hat Trick (the only really good America albums) – were remixed by Martin.  It’s subtler than what he did with, say, “The Long and Winding Road”, but unnecessary nonetheless.  It’s also sort of anathemic to the idea of a Greatest Hits album.)

We haven’t found a list of the complete Phil Hartmann covers – send us a link if you have.  The Silver album was surprising because it came a few years later and was on the then-new label Arista.  It’s also interesting because it’s credited to Hartmann and Goodman, so must have had a partner or started a firm.  Phil Hartmann’s album covers are pretty cool, anyway, and Cantamos is pretty awesome.  We’d bet you have an album with a Phil Hartmann cover and you never knew it.

Today’s musical entertainment will be the original, pre-George Martin 45 of America’s “A Horse with no Name”.

This is a rerun of a post from last February, which was posted after the legendary conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who had a long relationship with the Minnesota Orchestra, passed away.

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, the conductor rememebered in this morning’s Star Tribune, is all but synonymous with the Minnesota Orchestra. Skrowaczewski came to Minnesota from his native Poland to take over as musical director in 1960, and although he stepped down from that role after nineteen years, he never left. Last fall he conducted his last concert at Orchestra Hall, a praised performance of one of his favorites, Bruckner’s eighth symphony.

Skrowaczewski has remained the Orchestra’s conductor laureate after 1979, when Neville Marriner began the succession of new musical directors which has led us to the current, successful Osmo Vänskä era. He was always there through its transition from the Minneapolis Symphony to the Minnesota Orchestra and the building of Orchestra Hall in 1974.

The Skrowaczewski years are a challenge for record collectors, however. After their contract with Mercury Records expired, the Minnesota Orchestra released music on a variety of labels. Some were one-off recordings like the 1981 debut of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Violin Concerto for Columbia Masterworks, on which Skrowaczewski conducted its dedicatee, Isaac Stern. A number of records were part of contracts with smaller classical labels, like Candid and Turnabout, both Vox subsidiaries.

Skrowaczewski’s own Concerto for English Horn appeared on Desto Records, not exactly an industry powerhouse. The work, which he composed for a member of the Minnesota Orchestra, Tom Stacy, debuted in 1969. Skrowaczewski was to be conducting the Metropolitan Opera at the time, but its strike that year left him with several weeks to compose.

This is presumably not a very common record to find these days, although many others with Skrowaczewski conducting the Minnesota Orchestra can certainly be found. We have a whole section just for them in our classical collection here at Hymie’s! One of our favorite covers for a Minneapolis Symphony recording from that period is this album of Schubert’s 9th Symphony, which has the composer behind the wheel of a psychedelic convertible.

Staniskaw Skrowaczewski will be remembered by many fans at a memorial at Orchestra Hall on March 28th. He was an extraordinary versatile conductor and he recorded a remarkably wide repertoire. The photographs in today’s obituary in the paper captures him in his 90s — one shows only his aged hands as he prepared to conduct that Bruckner symphony last fall.

 

We can’t criticize the Star Tribune for this because for reasons we can’t explain we find album art of Leopold Stokowski’s wild white hair hilarious — but we’d also like to remember Skrowaczewski, truly a Minnesota music legend, as he appeared on the back of an album years ago. He was so full of life and energy to the very end, and in this picture he looks proud to be conducting the Minnesota Orchestra.

 

 

Next week we’ll mark the fiftieth anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s tragic death. The occasion has inspired much speculation about alternate histories, but of course we cannot change the past.

Just a couple months earlier, Kennedy faced the unfortunate task of informing the crowd at a campaign rally of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. His speech in Indianapolis on April 4th was unscripted and heartfelt, and is regarded as one of the high points of those turbulent years when America, like today, seemed irreparably damaged and divided.

This speech has appeared on many albums over the years, but it is all the more moving in the news footage.

You might have noticed a clipping of this news story in the shop, about Leonard Skinner, the coach at Jacksonville’s Robert E. Lee High School who sent teenage Gary Rossington (or Ronnie Van Zant, depending on the account) to the Principal’s office, causing his suspension. His hair violated the dress code because it was long enough to touch his collar.

We were reminded in most stories about Skinner’s passing in 2010 that the band should have listened to him, as though wearing their hair shorter would have prevented the tragic airplane crash which killed several members of the band and crew.

In fact, after their debut album, (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd), became a certified-gold chart topping hit, the band began a long friendship with their former coach. Skinner introduced them on stage in Jacksonville, and allowed a photograph of his Skinner real estate sign to appear inside their third album, Nuthin’ Fancy. Go ahead and look inside your copy.

After the October 20, 1977 plane crash, in which Van Zant was one of several killed, Skinner spoke about them with reporters. “They were good, talented, hardworking boys,” he said. “They worked hard, lived hard, and boozed hard.”

gimme back my bullets

We think all the reporters with their clever story missed the point by dwelling on the band member’s faults, and it seemed like most of them hadn’t really listened to a Lynyrd Skynyrd record in a long time. If they had they might have quoted from one of our favorites, Gimme Back My Bullets. “Every Mother’s Son” is sometimes mistaken for a cover of the song from Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die, but all they share in common is a title. It’s almost as if Ronnie Van Zant were predicting the future.

Well I’ve been ridin’ a winning horse for a long, long time
Sometimes I wonder is this the end of the line
No one should take advantage of who they are
No man has got it made
If he thinks he does, he’s wrong

Every mother’s son better hear what I say
Every mother’s son will rise and fall someday 

 

Monday’s snowstorm was the biggest here in Minneapolis since 2012. We were thrilled to have a snow day and spend it romping outside with our kids, except that there was also a lot of shoveling to do. Even Irene took the day off yesterday, which is very rare.

We haven’t had the snow piled so high on the sides of our shop since that 2012 snowstorm, and unfortunately the parking spaces on Lake Street haven’t been plowed very well. We’re hoping that improves today, but if not we’ll have to get out there and shovel some more.

Today’s main feature is a couple songs by South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who passed away this week at the age of seventy-eight.

Although he spent many years away from his homeland, Masekela’s music is indelibly marked by South Africa. He was twenty-one when he left in 1960, in part because being an anti-apartheid activist made him a target. He finally returned in 1990, after Nelson Mandela had been freed.

Masekela’s song “Bring Him Back Home” was a hit in 1987 and became an anthem of the anti-apartheid movement.

Masakela also had several pop hits in the U.S., notably the 1968 cowbell jam “Grazing in the Grass.” He recorded two hugely successful albums with Herb Alpert and also had a dance hit from his 1984 album Techno Bush. Our favorite of his nearly fifty albums is Introducing the Hedzoleh Soundz, the first of three albums he recorded with that group in Lagos, Nigeria during the middle 70s. Here are the first two tracks from that record, called “Languta” and “Kaa Ye Oya.” Masakela wrote the first song and members of Hedzoleh Soundz wrote the second.

Coltrane plays for Reverend King

John Coltrane’s “Reverend King” was recorded in February 1966, just a few weeks after Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his family had moved into their 1550 South Hamlin Avenue apartment in Chicago, to begin working on the Open Housing campaign.

coltrane cosmic music

The recording was released posthumously in late January 1968 on Cosmic Music, one of the first two LPs his label, Impulse Records, pulled from unissued recordings after Coltrane’s death. Eventually there would eight albums in all — plus many live recordings — found in the archives. Fans have mixed reactions to some of these recordings, but “Reverend King” is surely an excellent example of Coltrane’s last group at work. This band featured his wife, Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, Jimmy Garrison, Rashid Ali, and on “Reverend King” additional percussionists Ray Appleton and Ben Reilly.

At the time the recording was released on Cosmic Music, Reverend King had recently announced the Poor People’s Campaign, with a focus on pushing Congress to pass a economic bill of rights” for working people, as outlined in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? 

The campaign’s broad agenda was not received well by many of The Reverend King’s dearest supporters, notably Bayard Rustin. Five years earlier Rustin had been the primary logistical organizer of the 1963 march in Washington DC at which Reverend King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

After Reverend King’s assassination on April 4th, thousands of demonstrators established a symbolic shanty town at the National Mall where he had delivered this famous address. The encampment was called “Resurrection City” and remained for nearly six weeks.

“Reverend King” was not the first piece of music in which Coltrane expressed the inspiration he felt for the Civil Rights leader. He modeled one of his most moving songs, “Alabama,” on Reverend King’s eulogy for the four victims of the September 15, 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church.

Reverend King’s eulogy for Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carol Denise McNair was delivered three days later, and is a deeply moving and spiritual address, which does not shy from the political situation which led to the terrible terrorist attack. A funeral for the fourth girl, Carole Robertson, was held on a different date.

(we posted an alternate version of Coltrane’s “Alabama” here). There is no account of John Coltrane having met the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. or having been present to hear him speak. His views on politics and the Civil Rights movement we know mostly through the universalist spiritual liner notes he wrote for A Love Supreme and Meditations.

Thank to all reading. We hope you take an interest in these recordings because the goals of racial and economic equality outlined by Reverend King in these speeches and in his last book are still within our reach, if a little further down the road than they were on this day last year.

We also hope you stay warm on this snowy day here in Minneapolis and do not forget those around us who struggle for safety and shelter in this weather.

Oh, and your friendly neighborhood record shop will be open from 1-6pm on this national holiday.

Fats Domino has passed away at the age of eighty-six in his Harvey, Louisiana home, across the Mississippi from the city of New Orleans where he remained a popular fixture even in retirement. He released his last album, Alive and Kickin’, the same year he was rescued by helicopter during Hurricane Katrina. The following year, he described his retirement in a rare interview, saying, “I just drink my little beers, do some cookin’, anything I feel like.”

We couldn’t choose a favorite from the dozens of hit singles he recorded in the 50s and early 60s. In fact, we could hardly narrow it down to four. Here are a few of our favorites. All of these were co-written with Dave Bartholomew, who at ninety-six is still alive and kickin’.

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