Rock and rollers around the world today are mourning the passing of the music’s primary architect, Chuck Berry. The larger-than-life icon passed away at his home in St. Charles County, Missouri yesterday at the age of ninety.
It was sixty-two years ago that his first single, “Maybellene,” first appeared, combining blues and western swing into an entirely new creation. The single would be the first in a rapid series of hit singles for Berry on the Chess label, most of which have gone on to become rock and roll standards. Its inspiration in a Bob Wills song and its b-side, a smoldering blues tune called “Wee Wee Hours,” are evidence of Berry’s unique ability to blend the different traditions. Of the single, Rolling Stone later wrote, “Rock and roll guitar begins here.”
While so many of Berry’s songs are universally familiar, it was his showmanship more than his songwriting which made him a star in the late 50s. His stage presence and his explosive runs on the guitar, all accented by a signature “duck walk” move established rock music’s over-the-top escapism.
Berry’s career was derailed several times by, to quote one of his songs, “too much monkey business.” He had not recorded a new album since 1979, but had announced last year that he was recording a new record which would feature two of his children as accompaniment. At this time there is no release date for the new record, titled Chuck.
This 1960 sequel to “Johnny B. Goode” is one of our favorite songs from Berry’s original run of hits for Chess Records, even though it is not one of the twelve found on the classic Greatest Hits LP. “Bye Bye Johnny” was one of several of his songs covered by the Rolling Stones (whose first single was a Chuck Berry tune) and was also adapted, uncredited, into an elegy for Elvis Presley by Bruce Springsteen in the 80s. Like its predecessor the song tells a story with vivid details and a sly wink towards the American dream of social mobility.
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 eighths 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.
Drummers around the world are mourning the passing of Clyde Stubblefield, possibly the most-sampled performer on record. He died on Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin, the city which he had long called home and performed regularly.
In a recent interview, Stubblefield described learning to play the drums along with the sounds of factory smokestacks and passing trains as a young man in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He joined James Brown’s powerhouse organization in 1960 and stayed there for just over a decade — Stubblefield can be heard on hundreds of recordings, notably favorites like “Cold Sweat” and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
His solo on “Funky Drummer” (a 1970 single by Brown) isn’t really a solo at all but a continuation of the steady groove he plays throughout the entire nine minute take. The song made its first appearance on In the Jungle Groove, a mid-80s compilation LP of alternate takes and outtakes. The break found new life in the era of hip hop sampling. This is how Stubblefield became one of the most widely-heard musicians in history. The quintessential use of the “Funky Drummer” break may be in Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” in which Chuck D offers credit (if not royalties) to Stubblefield.
Stubblefield is sampled in hit records by Run DMC, LL Cool J, Boogie Down Productions and hundreds of other hip hop records. He was even sampled — we are not making this up — by Kenny G. As explored in the documentary Copyright Criminals, Stubblefield rarely received royalties for the use of his performance. In fact, he found himself in serious financial trouble while fighting bladder cancer fifteen years ago.
And a remarkable part of the story finally found the light last year after Prince passed away. Stubblefield revealed that Prince — who he had never met — contacted him in 2000, and arranged to pay off his medical bills in full. The total was more than $90,000. The only condition was that Stubblefield not reveal who had done it.
The late actress Mary Tyler Moore will surely always be associated with “Love is All Around,” as evident in The Star Tribune’s headline for her obituary in this morning’s paper. She will likewise always be associated with the City of Minneapolis even though she was neither from here nor ever lived here. We heard on the radio this morning that people have already been leaving flowers at sites seen in the opening of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Moore’s acclaimed performance as a caring, optimistic and sometimes neurotic associate producer at the fictional WJM network coincided with Minneapolis’ ascendency as a major economic power. It was in the middle of the series’ seven years that Time magazine proclaimed “the Good Life in Minnesota” with a cover story featuring Governor Wendell Anderson, and most anyone would agree our city looks like a pretty great place to live in the opening credits of the show.
Curtis recorded an unpopular country remake of “Love is All Around” in 1980, three years after The Mary Tyler Moore Show signed off. Curtis, a high school bandmate of Buddy Holly, also recorded a song about his friend in response to The Buddy Holly Story around the same time. He is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, having written hits for a variety of artists and a few which became rock and roll standards, notably “I Fought the Law.”
Although she later hosted a pair of short-lived musical variety shows, Mary Tyler Moore never made an album, other than her appearance in the 1966 cast of Holly Golightly, an adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The show ran for four preview performances before it was canned. The album from the widely-panned production is pretty rare — we’ve never even seen a copy — and probably only worth the hunt for the most die-hard MTM fans. The casually curious can hear a two-minute clip on Youtube instead.
During her early career as the tiny Hotpoint elf in advertisements (this is a not a joke) Moore modeled for a number of budget-label “cheesecake” record covers.
That’s a pretty inauspicious debut considering how legendarily barrier-breaking her career was. Of course, in one of the series’ most famous episodes Mary Richards learned it was okay to laugh in the face of death. In the words of Chuckles the Clown: “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”
Even though she wasn’t really from Minneapolis, we’re proud to claim Mary Tyler Moore as one of ours!
Actress and author Carrie Fisher will certainly be called “Hollywood royalty” in her obituaries over the next few days, as she was the daughter of singer Eddie Fischer and actress Debbie Reynolds. She will always be Princess Leia to those of us who grew up on stories from “A long time ago and a galaxy far, far away…”
So another holiday season has passed, and this year we were blessed to not hear Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” even once, not even while waiting in line at the post office! We were also blessed to see folks who don’t live here in the Twin Cities but stop by every year when they come back for visits.
There’s some talk about 2016 being a terrible year, and often — outside of politics — the reason cited is the deaths of major pop stars like David Bowie and Prince. We usually eschew the political discussions, and can’t add much to what’s already been written about the celebrity deaths this year (we have no comment on George Michael, by the way). All we can say is that it was a pretty good year around here. We watched a lot of local musicians have their biggest successes this year. We finally fixed a few things around the shop which have been broken since we moved, and at home our family had another great year.
Its sad that so many of the celebrity deaths are forgotten by year’s end. One of this year’s first famous musicians to pass was composer/conductor Pierre Boulez, and we posted about him in January. And after reading about Leon Russell after he passed away last month, we started to notice his credit on some interesting records — for instance, this one which turned up over the weekend.
“Deep Listening” signified Ms. Oliveros’s emerging aural discipline: a practice that compelled listening not just to the conventional details of a given musical performance — melody, harmony, rhythm, intonation — but also to sounds surrounding that performance, including acoustic space and extra-musical noise.
Although our introduction to her music was through the Minneapolis-based Roaratorio Records release of her orchestral work,To Valierie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation, we thought about her concept of “deep listening” while working on the release for the first album on our own label. Folk singer Ben Weaver chose to record that album in a barn, retaining the background sounds of breezes, birds and creaking floorboards, giving the album its unique atmosphere.
Ben Weaver’s I Would Rather Be a Buffalo is a world apart from Oliveros’ electronic compositions, but a quote from her writing in Smith’s obituary points to how they are similar: “All societies admit the power of music or sound. Attempts to control what is heard in the community are universal,” Ms. Oliveros wrote in a preface to the meditations. “Sonic Meditations are an attempt to return the control of sound to the individual alone, and within groups especially for humanitarian purposes; specifically healing.”
Another aspect of Oliveros’ music and writing was an examination of gender roles, and that was the subject of the piece released by Roaratorio Records. We posted about it a few years ago in a celebration of that label’s diverse catalog. Here’s what we wrote about it at the time:
The album collects two performances of the piece, its 1970 debut and a 1977 reproduction.
Shortly after it was published in 1968 the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas fell into my hands. Intrigued by the egalitarian feminist principles set forth in the Manifesto, I wanted to incorporate them into the structure of a new piece that I was composing. The women’s movement was surfacing and I felt the need to express my resonance with this energy. Marilyn Monroe had taken her own life. Valerie Solanas had attempted to take the life of Andy Warhol. Both women seemed to be desparate and caught in the traps of inequity …
In the score all players have a non-hierarchical role. The parts for the piece are the same for each player and within the given guidelines each individual interprets their part differently. If any player starts to dominate the musical texture, the community that is created by the piece absorbs the outstanding sounds back in to the collective.
You can read Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifestohere. It was received as a satire along the lines of Swift’s “Modest Proposal” until she shot Andy Warhol at his New York studio, the Factory, on June 3rd, 1968. You can, of course, find most of Marilyn Monroe’s films online and we’ll leave it up to you whether she deserves more recognition, as Olivaros has written, as an actress. We think she does, but we’re not big fans of her singing.
If you’re interested in Pauline Oliveros, you can find out more about her forty year (and going) career in music on her official website. She is a highly regarded accordionist, the author of five books about music, and a pioneer of electronic art music. Important Records recently compiled a twelve-disc collection of her experimental electronic music from the 60s (and it’s already sold out!).
So there’s a short tour of Roaratorio Records. Most of these titles are still in print and we have them in stock at the shop — you can also buy them direct from the label if you’re reading this from outside the Twin Cities (check out their site here). They have just released a new Rodd Keith collection (their third) and will soon put out a Sun Ra album (Other Strange Worlds, which we are very excited about — hopefully it’s a sequel to the Strange Worlds collection of the BYG/Actuel albums and contains similar, awesome recordings from 1970-1).