We teamed up with Sioux Falls’ Different Folk Records to co-release Jack Klatt’s new album, Shadows in the Sunset. It’s in stores today, but Jack’s release show for the album will be May 7th at the Icehouse (details here).
Shadows in the Sunset was recorded live to 2” tape in just three days at a beautiful reclaimed church in Viroqua, WI, that dates to the early 1900s. Produced and engineered by Tom Herbers (who also recorded Ben Weaver’s I Would Rather Be A Buffalo for our label) Klatt says the album “holds in its grooves ten thousand miles of asphalt, about eight pairs of good shoes, and the generosity of a thousand strangers. It’s a collection of stories about the beauty of blazing sunsets, the art of saying goodbye, and letting endings turn into new beginnings.”
One subject to appear in much of what has been written about Prince since his unexpected and tragic passing last week is his frequent legal battles with Warner Brothers Records. During his conflict with the label over the pace of releasing his recordings, leading up to The Gold Experience in the mid 90s, Prince made his famous appearances with the word “SLAVE” written on his cheek. He also said at times that the reason he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol was because he felt the label owned his name.
Pop records have made reference to the underside of the music industry and artist/label relations since at least around the time Prince was born. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Money” and the Byrds’ “So You Wanna be a Rock and Roll Star?” are both examples of successful sixties singles which reference the industry this way.
Billy Joel has never had a warm relationship with his label, Columbia Records. He presented a particularly sardonic view of the industry in “The Entertainer,” a song of his third album. Describing the decision to shorten his break-through hit for its release as a single, he sings
It was a beautiful song but it ran to long
If you’re gonna have a hit you gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05
Streetlife Serenade is hardly remembered as one of Joel’s best albums. He complains that he was under such pressure to tour he didn’t have time to write enough songs. Columbia had him opening for big name acts like the Beach Boys at the time — this is probably why the album has two instrumental tracks as filler.
Another band with a high-pressure opening gig at the time was Lynyrd Synyrd, who joined the Who on the Quadrophenia tour in 1973 after the release of their first album. The first side of Second Helping, recorded after the tour, ends with “Workin’ for MCA,” a song about the label which ended the band’s “seven years of bad luck.” The song sounds mostly positive about their experience, but the last line is a warning to the label which Prince would probably have endorsed:
I’ll sign my contract baby, and I want you people to know That every penny that I make, I’m gonna see where my money goes
This next artist/label conflict carried over to the cover of the album itself. After their fourth album was rejected and delayed by Apple Records, Badfinger commissioned Peter Corriston to paint the cover (Corriston also made covers for Carole King, The Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, Tom Waits, and many more). His painting portrays a donkey being led off into the desert by a gigantic, but unreachable carrot — presumably representing the way the band felt they had been misled by Apple Records.
The album also became part of a music publishing conflict between the group and the label, so the songs were not credited on original pressings. That’s too bad, because Pete Ham deserves credit for his hilarious break-up song intended for the label, “Apple of my Eye.”
Ass was also an album dumped in the cutout bins quickly, so actually copies like the one pictured (with an intact jacket) are probably harder to find. Its release delayed Badfinger’s debut for Warner Brothers, which the band wanted to title For the Love of Money, a decision rejected by their new label.
The only time the commentary on the record label was released on another label that we’ve found is “EMI,” the last song on Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols. The band had signed a contact with EMI, but were dropped after an incident on television in which Johnny Rotten repeatedly cursed at the host, causing a national uproar.
“EMI” ends with the band saying “Hullo A&M,” but this relationship also didn’t last, owing to equally outlandish behavior. A&M actually pressed 25,000 copies of their second single, “God Save the Queen,” but after dropping the band they were summarily destroyed. It is believed about a dozen exist today, making them among the world’s rarest and most valuable 45s.
Virgin Records signed the band, and manager Malcolm McLaren negotiated a deal for the album to be distributed in the United States by none other than Warner Brothers.
But first, this: the editors of The Star Tribune should be ashamed of today’s front page story about Prince. Their speculation that Prince’s sudden death was due to drug use is based on “unnamed sources” which are clearly the half-brother who sued the rock star several times, and a downright greedy lawyer.
Where the Carver County Sheriff’s office has reminded people that Prince was “a very good neighbor” and declared they will respect his privacy, The Star Tribune has sunk to a new low by placing their unfounded speculations on the front page. Even their own local music writer called the article out as “pitiful.”
Let’s hope that’s the last word on our hometown newspaper, which once again proves to be an embarrassment.
Here’s something from the lighter side of music news:
The Louis Armstrong House Museum has shared with the world rare footage of the legend himself in the recording studio. It was discovered in a warehouse in 2012, and released through the help of his daughter Andrea Bass. One would think there would be more film of Armstrong recording, considering his long and prolific recording career, but there isn’t — making this glimpse into his work all the more valuable to fans.
This was followed by a second discovery which delighted jazz enthusiasts all over the world. In a storage facility in Germany, three metal mothers featuring Armstrong and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra were found. They had been sent by Okeh Records for pressing by Odeon, but for some unknown reason were never used.
The result is magnificently clear sound for the recordings, made in 1928.
The metal mother falls in the middle of the process of 78rpm record production. It is cast from the lacquer first cut, called the master, on a lathe by a skilled engineer as the recording is in progress. These are very delicate and ideally cast as quickly as possible into a form called the matrix, through a process called electrotyping. In brief, the lacquer is dipped in a bath derived from metals, commonly copper or nickel, while an electrical current is passed through.
Thus far we have created one ‘positive’ image of the recording, and one ‘negative’ image. The difference is that the first, the master, could be played back on a phonograph (this would, of course, destroy the soft and delicate lacquer). The matrix, a reverse image of the master, could not be played back on a phonograph.
The third stage is the production of the metal mother, such as the three from 1928 recently discovered in Germany. These are likewise produced by the electrotyping process, but the results are once again a ‘positive’ image of the recording. For 78rpm records, the sound on a metal mother is stunningly clear. There will be none of the familiar frying pan. Engineer Nick Dellow transferred the three recent discovers, and kindly has shared them on Youtube for all the world to enjoy.
If you are curious about the remaining two stages of the process of production, here they are: the metal mother is used to create a new ‘negative’ image of the recording called the stamper. This is the piece used to finally press the records. Several may be made, depending on how many records the label intends to press.
These parts may all be stored, although after some use the stampers must be changed so they are often discarded. Discovering long-lost metal parts may provide an improved recording of recordings from the era. This is what inspires, for instance, the folks who have been scuba diving in the Milwaukee River for years, in hopes of finding metal parts from Paramount Records, the legendary blues label which shut down production in 1935. It has long been thought employees tossed hundreds or more metal mother and other parts into the river. There is a chapter devoted to this in Amanda Petrusich’s great book, Do Not Sell at Any Price.
Fortunately, these newly discovered recordings of Armstrong and Ellington are available for all to enjoy!
West Side Story was first proposed fully a decade before its first production. The 1957 Broadway musical was an enormous commercial and critical accomplishment but its success was hardly the result of sudden inspiration.
Broadway producer Jerome Robbins conceived the story (originally East Side Story) as a timeless cultural conflict, and screenwriter Arthur Laurents wrote a first draft. This is why he is credited in show business terms with “The Book,” although the actual book from which the story was derived would be a volume of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Laurent wrote a first draft of Robbins’ plan for an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet which recast the Capulets and the Montagues as Catholics and Jews, and Leonard Bernstein was on board to compose the score, but the project was pushed to the back burner.
Laurent and Bernstein mulled over the idea five years later, and the maestro suggested it be re-set in Los Angeles as a conflict between Mexican gangs. Laurent didn’t like the idea, but he did like the latin direction it took the story, and rewrote the book in New York City as a conflict between working class whites and Puerto Rican immigrants. When Laurent dropped out of the project to work on another project, he was replaced by a then-unknown composer and lyricist, not initially enthusiastic, named Stephen Sondheim, who was being mentored at the time by none less than Oscar Hammerstein II. It would turn out to a pretty good move on his part.
West Side Story went into production with an previously unprecedented eight weeks’ dance rehearsals. Bernstein composed concurrently with Candide, his critically panned operetta (which we kind of love and would like to encourage listeners to revisit) — not surprisingly, he’d originally wanted West Side Story to be an opera, and never really let go of his plans. You can hear Bernstein’s operatic aspirations throughout the finished score, which is part musical, part ballet, and also part opera.
After its awesome run — and all the drama over its production and credits — West Side Story was adapted to an epically successfully film, which won an unprecedented ten Academy Awards. The big-selling soundtrack album remains today a staple in the collections folks bring into the shop, but its so damn good we’re always glad to see another copy.
One secret to the story’s success is that it doesn’t shy away from its subjects. The plight of the Puerto Rican gang is portrayed through “In America,” a clever back-and-forth about the benefits and challenges experienced by immigrant communities.
Bernstein adapted the musical’s addictively awesome score into a symphonic suite soon after and recorded it with the New York Philharmonic. This shorter score condenses the music in very much the same way many ballets are shortened into similar suites, and maybe that’s why Bernstein chose to title it “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.”
Of course, the musical’s memorable melodies quickly became jazz standards. Ramsey Lewis recorded an entire side based on them, as did a variety of pianists. We recently posted a tribute to our favorite female jazz pianists and included tracks from Marian McPartland’s version of the score, which is a favorite trio album of ours. Here she plays “Tonight” and “Cool” with a great rhythm section of Ben Tucker and Jake Hanna:
One of the biggest West Side Story jazz tributes was Kenton’s West Side Story, an album which will always be a favorite of Kenton fans but leaves the emotion of the story somewhere far from the west side. Kenton’s explosive arrangements are undeniably appealing, but lose us somewhere in their bombast. Even his own piano introduction to “Maria” seems without the same passion Marian McPartland brought to the song. Still, we can’t deny it’s a helluva big band track, even if it lacks the passion Jimmy Bryant put into singing the song for Tony off screen in the movie.
“Somewhere” was the first cover on a Tom Waits album when it appeared on Blue Valentine in 1978 (this fact is mostly true: a couple Foreign Affairs tracks are a little involved). Perhaps no other recording so aptly demonstrates Waits’ penchants for wistful schmaltz.
The only full-length album by the enormously inventive (although heavily derivative) 90s punk rock band Schlong was a complete cover of West Side Story. Although they shared a sound with bay area punks like Kamala and the Karnivores, Crimpshrine and Operation Ivy, Schlong’s Punk Side Story was a loving interpretation rather than an exercise in irony. We were pleased to read in Pop Matters (here) that when Bernstein’s daughter Nina was presented with a copy of Punk Side Story, “She was surprised that someone of our generation knew her father’s score so well, and said she wouldn’t sue us.”
We think “Lenny” (as he is credited on Punk Side Story) himself would be very pleased with the inventive pistache of Schlong’s “Dance at the Gym,” if not their surprising devotion to his original score. This was, afterall, the guy who composed Candide and lived to see it come into some reknown.
And the band of misfits were perfectly suited to perform the Jets’ hypothetical, subversive response to authority in “Gee Officer Krupke” (a number which, incidentally, borrowed some music from Candide). This song is one of the gems of middle 90s bay area punk rock.
In 1985, Bernstein was finally able to realize the operatic West Side Story of his dreams. Although this recording for Deutsche-Grammophon was not produced for the stage, its stunningly theatrical. Fans of the film are likely to find it alienating, but this triple-album is well worth a second (and third and fourth) listen.
Bernstein’s casting choices were confounding, especially the choice of José Carreras as Tony. This was several years before he became an enormous star outside of opera as one of the Three Tenors — at the time there was some controversy as to whether his accent was fit for the role (Carreras is the second-most-awesome Catalan in any good record collection). In his defense, his duet with Kiri Te Kanawa (as Maria) on “One Hand, One Heart” would captivate anyone who has ever been in love. Bernstein gets a magnificent performance out of the strangely anonymous symphony orchestra, making the action sequences especially exciting.
This West Side Story fell somewhere in between the opera house and the Broadway theater, and maybe never sat well with either audience. We feel its an essential Bernstein recording, if only for the insight it provides into his most enduring work.
Yep, its Paul Simon. For nearly eight years he wrote and recorded pop songs under several names before re-uniting with his childhood pal Art Garfunkel and scoring their breakthrough deal with Columbia Records in 1964.
Of all those oddball songs under various names, our favorite is “Play me a Sad Song.” Simon even gets himself in the credits there, and he deserved any credit he received. Like David Bowie, Paul Simon is one of those enormously influential and important songwriters or performers who worked for years to achieve a dream. It adds up to an inspiring story. True success doesn’t come overnight.
Jazz legend Ramsey Lewis will turn eighty-one next month. He has released more albums that we care or count or dare to collect — but we always enjoy playing them. Especially when we come across one we’ve never seen before. One of the great things about his epic discography is that there’s always something awesome to discover.
For nearly a decade he led the Ramsey Lewis Trio, rounded out by the rhythm section of “Red” Holt and Eldee Young. The early albums lean on jazz standards, but they had their pop breakthrough with a cover of “The In Crowd” in 1965. His backing band left, forming Young-Holt Unlimited (whose sound is characterized by this super swingin’ hit). Holt’s replacement, Maurice White later became a founding member of Earth, Wind & Fire. Lewis never held on to a backing rhythm section as long as he had with his first group, but his albums always feature top performers. Young’s replacement, Cleveland Eaton, stayed with Lewis well into his funkiest years.
Ramsey Lewis had three million-selling mid-sixties hits, pretty unprecedented for a jazz artist. “The In Crowd,” “Hang On Sloopy” and “Wade in the Water” all came from Lps which included jazz standards and sweet arrangements of pop hits. Wade in the Water augments his regular trio with a brass section and is one of our favorite Ramsey Lewis albums.
Ramsey started playing on a fender rhodes and other electric pianos while he was still recording for the Chess Records jazz-leaning subsidiary Cadet, but he really took on electric keyboards after he started recording for Columbia
When Ramsey left the Chess labels to record for Columbia, he started working with larger groups. Some even included a second pianist.
We came across a copy of his 1973 album Funky Serenity for the first time recently. Ramsey and Eaton (joined by blues drummer Morris Jennings) are in top form on this cover of Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to be Right)”. Funky Serenity has quickly become one of our favorite Ramsey Lewis albums.
A very popular album from this period is Sun Goddess, which finds Ramsey joined by his old friend Maurice White and some of his Earth, Wind and Fire bandmates. The album was another huge pop hit for Ramsey.
We really wanted to include the funky Spiderman song from Ramsey’s next album, Don’t It Feel Good, but we couldn’t find our copy (our record collection at home isn’t very organized!). You’ll have to check it out from the link.
Ramey Lewis still lives in Chicago, but if you look at his official website you’ll be surprised to find the eighty-year-old still tours extensively. He just finished a four night stand at Washington DC’s Blues Alley last weekend, and next month he’ll be in Seoul, South Korea!
“Ah, Mancini, you’re a mascot’s best friend,” said the Capitol City Goofball in an episode of The Simpsons. He and Homer were talking about using the composer’s “Baby Elephant Walk” for their routine.
“Baby Elephant Walk” came from the 1962 Howard Hawks film Hatari!, an adventure set in Africa. The music is actually for a group of baby elephants.
Henry Mancini was born in Cleveland in 1924, and his first musical experiences were playing piccolo in an Italian band with his father, Quinto. He studied at Juilliard for a year before he was drafted, serving in the infantry and the Army band. Mancini participated in the last liberation of a concentration camp by Allied forces, the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria.
He was fortunate enough to land a job writing arrangements for the re-formed Glenn Miller Orchestra after the war, while he also continued to study composition. In his next job at Universal Studios he churned out music for more than a hundred movies, including things like It Came from Outer Space and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. He also got to produce jazz scores for The Glenn Miller Story and The Benny Goodman Story, winning his first Academy Award nomination for the former.
He left Universal to work independently, and began recording for RCA/Victor. This is when he first worked with director Blake Edwards, writing music for his television series Peter Gunn.
The Blues and the Beat is one of the best albums from Henry Mancini’s early catalog. The moody title track, “The Blues,” reflects his television work to date, especially the gritty score to Peter Gunn, a private eye program long since eclipsed by the popularity of its soundtrack.
Mancini’s name is hardly found on Terribly Sophisticated Songs, a delightful collection of Spike Jones-like novelty numbers, but he did conduct the orchestra for this novelty album.
This copy has an amusingly altered cover, probably given to someone with a sense of humor named Murph (“A collection of Unpopular Songs for Popular People” has been changed to “A collection of Unpopular Songs for Unpopular People Like Murph“).
The songs were written by Irving Taylor, and include such goofy gems as a song about picking crabgrass and a song about having your car repossessed.
Mancini is best known today for his film scores, although many onf those were rearranged by the composer for their release on Lp. He wrote the music for more than forty movies, including a long collaboration with director Blake Edwards. For the animated opening of Edwards’ 1963 comedy The Pink Panther, Mancini provided one of his most memorable melodies.
One year before The Pink Panther, Mancini scored a thriller directed by Edwards with lightly-swinging, Benny Carter-esque jazz arrangements. His theme for the heroine of Experiment in Terror is a great big band number.
And for another Blake Edwards comedy sixteen years later, Mancini performed the opening theme on the piano himself, with only the accompaniment of subtle strings. The song at the beginning of 10 was called “Don’t Call it Love,” and so far as we can recall is one of the only times Mancini recorded a solo piano piece.
Mancini wrote the score for Me, Natalie, a 1969 movie featuring the late Patty Duke. This score has another unique feature: Mancini playing the Hammond organ on “A Groovy Mood.”
Mancini revisited his famous theme from Peter Gunn with a cast of jazz fusion stars in 1975 on Symphonic Soul. The re-vamped jam features a heavy slap bass solo by Abraham Laboriel and an organ solo by Joe Sample of the Crusaders. Mexican bassist Laboriel was just at the beginning of an extraordinarily prolific career — while he’s only recorded three albums under his own name, he has appeared on more than four thousand recordings, ranging from Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 to Michael Jackson’s Dangerous.
Henry Mancini made nearly a hundred albums. Sometimes he reworked popular songs, occasionally featuring himself as a pianist on easy listening recordings. At his best, however, he remained a jazz arranger. He also conducted several of the world’s great orchestras, including our own Minnesota Orchestra, who debuted his Thorn Birds Suite in 1983. This music was based on a television score which was not released until decades later.
Mancini made a cameo appearance at the end of a 1966 Pink Panther cartoon, applauding a performance of his theme.