RIP

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The New York Times has reported the passing of Batman star Adam West under the headline “A Sad Day for Gotham.” West, who was eighty-eight, would have appreciated the wry humor. His portrayal of Bob Kane’s caped crusader was a world apart from any other interpretation of the comic book hero. In the Times obituary, he described his approach to the role:

What I loved about Batman was his total lack of awareness when it came to his interaction with the outside world. He actually believed nobody would recognize him on the phone when he was Bruce Wayne, even though he made no attempt to disguise his voice.

The short-lived series was a masterpiece of clever camp, with West at its center. As Batman (and, spoiler alert, millionaire Bruce Wayne) he encouraged the young citizens of Gotham to eat their vegetables and wear their seat belts. He hoped his adversaries could be redeemed.

One of the series’ most endearing features was Neil Hefti’s unforgettable “Batman Theme” and Nelson Riddle’s swingin’ mod score. Several unusual records came out of the series, including a single by West himself and another by Frank Gorshin, as the Riddler, which was written and arranged by Mel Torme. Frank Zappa wrote and arranged a song for Burt Ward titled “Boy Wonder, I Love You” and best of all Burgess Meredith recorded an awesome single, “The Escape” backed with “The Capture.”

Hefti and Riddle each released LPs of music from Batman. In line with the television show’s camp approach, the theme (a hit for the Marketts and Hefti himself) credited “Words and music” even though there was only a single word in the song.

His album, fairly rare today, contained the theme and eleven additional tunes with fun titles like “Evil Plot to Blow Up Batman” (heard below).

The Nelson Riddle LP contains the actual television score, or at least a sampling of songs from its three seasons. It also has hilarious clips of dialogue which feature West at his best.

Here are a couple tracks from the soundtrack LP in honor of the actor, who couldn’t ever really escape the role he played so well but came to embrace it. We grew up watching re-runs of Batman and we never really outgrew the show.

 

It’s been one year and Prince’s estate has already become a multi-million dollar enterprise. In its most recent visit to court the estate blocked the release of Deliverance, and EP that was to be released digitally today. The reason? The estate argued that recording engineer George Ian Boxill violated his agreement “for his personal gain,” although the ‘independent label’ RMA set to release the recordings claimed the majority of its sales would benefit the estate.

Universal and Warner Music Group are in court with one another, and the estate, over ownership of Prince’s released and un-released catalog. The contents of Prince’s so-called vault of unissued music is the subject of legend, and those industry giants know there’s a fortune to be made in mining it.

For our part, we’re happy with the albums that were released, and hope to see all of them remain in print throughout the manic cash-grab. Honestly, the albums he released in his five decade career are a pretty incredible legacy without any embellishment. His records are steadily being reissued, including a series of classic 12″ singles out tomorrow for Record Store Day, but the fate of those post-Warner-era albums is uncertain. His last two albums weren’t even issued as LPs, although pricey European bootlegs with poor sound do exist.

As for his unreleased recordings, its entirely possible he intended to collect them but just as likely he kept them the same way a painter may keep his sketchbooks, that is solely for his own use. And maybe we don’t need to hear everything he chose to keep under lock and key in his studio.

All of this is before we even consider all the tell-all interviews and books, and the obsessive peering into the life of this famously private person. Its heartbreaking to see someone who had so much love being treated so poorly.

 

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!

Princess Leia had her own theme in the first Star Wars film, but we’ll always associate her — and by association Carrie Fisher — with the love theme from The Empire Strikes Back. The fact that John Williams borrowed it from Tchaikovsky’s 1878 Violin Concerto in D Major only adds to its magic, for Williams was, like the Correllian smuggler, a scoundrel.

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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…”

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