RIP

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The story of Peter Parker, the amazing Spider-Man, from an early 70s LP. The narrator is actor Morgan Freeman, then a regular performer on TV’s Electric Company (appearing as Easy Reader, Vincent the Vegetable Vampire and DJ Mel Mounds). Many of Marvel’s comic book characters appeared on LPs, including the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk.

Peter Parker was one of Stan Lee’s most famous creations. Like other Marvel heroes, he became a reluctant superhero, and he often faced everyday problems. Lee passed away yesterday at the age of ninety-five, just over a year after he lost his beloved wife.

Lee left behind an extraordinary legacy. Obituaries rightfully describe him as the architect of the modern comic book. In recent years as his characters appeared in blockbuster films, Lee could be counted on to make a cameo. His trademark tinted glasses and white mustache will be missed by comic book fans around the world.

This video features trumpeter Roy Hargrove performing “I Remember Clifford” with the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Band at the 2007 Burghausen International Jazz Week in Germany. Hargrove passed away yesterday at the age of forty-nine.

Benny Golson wrote the song in memory of Clifford Brown, who was killed in a car accident at twenty-five. Many, ourselves included, consider Clifford Brown one of the greatest trumpeters of all time.

Hargrove came out of the “Young Lions” movement of neo-bop in the late 80s and early 90s, but he quickly settled into a more innovative role, notably recording with R&B acts through the Soulquarians, a musical collective that met at Manhattan’s Electric Lady Studios. Hargrove’s smoldering overdubs warmed neo-soul classics by D’Angelo and Erykah Badu.

The earliest appearance of Hargrove we could find in our own jazz collection was as a sideman on a great Ricky Ford album released in 1989. The album is one of our favorites by Ford, because it marked his shift from being the youngest musician on the record to the one who is supporting the next generation of performers. Although his career quickly shifted away from the neo-bop movement, including a Grammy-winning Cuban collaboration and his hip hop heavy outfit the RH Factor, he was always great in traditional jazz settings. Hargrove’s second Grammy came for an acoustic album with Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker.

The loss of Roy Hargrove at such a young age is a tragedy for jazz, because he won’t have the opportunity to serve as an elder statesman of the art form and continue to help younger musicians.

For Dia de los Muertes, a selection of a few songs about dead celebrities. There are, of course, many more. Some are sincere tributes, and some slightly satirical.

The celebration of a dead celebrity is one of my favorite thematic forms in pop music and today we’re going to listen to a small sampling that runs through most genres. Some of them are genuine tributes and some less sincere.

This first track is Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues” from the 2001 album Time (The Revelator). It was ranked #2 on our “Top Ten Songs About Elvis” ages ago, falling behind “Elvis is Everywhere” by Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper. There are a lot of tributes to Elvis Presley, but he is not the #1 subject of dead celebrity songs.

Our guess is that honor would go to Hank Williams. We have a whole section of entire albums dedicated to Hank Sr. in our shop. Some classic include the Waylon Jennings standard “I Don’t Think Hank Done it This Way” and Johnny Paycheck’s “Help Me Hank I’m Fallin’.” An obscure favorite of ours in Robert Earl Keen’s bizarre “The Great Hank.”

Our own in-house record label released an album by Whiskey Jeff and the Beer Back Band which includes a tribute to Hank!

One of the earliest and most sincere tributes to hank was recorded soon after his death by Ernest Tubb.

“A Tribute to a King” by William Bell is an excellent follow-up to the Ernest Tubb track because each are exemplary within their respective genres. William Bell’s tribute to Otis Redding is great southern soul and our the best track on this playlist. Otis Redding is another frequent subject of tribute songs.

Not all songs about dead celebrities mourn their passing – Millions of Dead Cops spit on the grave of movie star John Wayne with this vitriolic attack. Its kind of hard to tell how much of John Wayne’s legacy is the interpretation of his admirers and how much was actually John Wayne. Was John Wayne a nazi? No. Is it difficult to reconcile some of the things he said? Yes. MDC took it too far with this track, but it remains a highlight of their first record.

Bauhaus’ first single, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” pioneered gothic rock, but also drew from from the dub influence common in UK pop at the time. The epic tune captures the enduring fascination with Lugosi, whose 1931 performance as Dracula seared the image of vampirism into the American psyche.

REM’s super-hit “Man on the Moon” was certainly the most successful tribute to a dead celebrity since “Candle in the Wind,” and unlike most pervasive radio hits of the mid-90s its aged pretty well. This is still a really great song. And Automatic for the People contained a second tribute to a dead celebrity, by the way – “Monty Got a Raw Deal” memorializes actor Montgomery Cliff, who really did get a pretty raw deal.

The members of Bauhaus would probably enjoy Nick Lowe’s gory tribute to silent film actress Marie Provost, who died at the age of forty in 1937. Nick Lowe takes a liberty with the sad circumstances of her death, however, as she did die along in her apartment but was not in fact eaten by her dachshund. Police concluded the dog nibbled at her leg in an effort to rouse her.

Kids in the Hall star Bruce McCollough probably summed it up in “Vigil”, from his obnoxious but surprisingly listenable debut musical performance, Shame-Based Man.

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This may be an unusual place to end our collection of tributes to dead celebrities – After all, what about “Candle in the Wind”, and how can any collection be complete without “American Pie”? You’ve already heard them enough and unlike “Man on the Moon” they’ve gotten to be tired old radio standards. we usually change the station when we hear those tired 70s tropes.

This collection has also entirely omitted jazz, even though jazz artists reliably remember their predecessors. We think Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” (Dedicated to Lester Young) is among his finest melodies, and Duke Ellington’s album And His Mother Called Him Bill is a heartbreaking tribute to the recently-deceased Billy Strayhorn that is beyond comparison. Mingus also wrote a piece about Charlie Parker called “If Charlie Parker Had Been a Gun-Slinger There’d be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats”.

Anyway, here is Simon and Garfunkel’s “So Long Frank Lloyd Wright” which is a pretty simple farewell to the great architect.

[Yes, the image you see at the top of this post is Michael Jackson at James Brown’s funeral.]

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 

 

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