Songs

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Andy Warhol didn’t design the cover of this Impulse Records LP by Dannie Richmond, although he certainly inspired its eye-catching design. Credit for the photograph of Campbell’s soup cans goes to Chuck Stewart, who took hundreds of photographs for the label. He also worked for Reprise, Mercury, Verve and Chess Records in a career that included work on over 2,000 LP jackets.

Jazz fans would recognize many of his iconic pictures, notably many of Coltrane’s middle 60s albums such as Impressions and A Love Supreme. Our favorite of Stewart’s photographs is the one of Richmond’s regular employer, Charles Mingus, lighting a pipe in his coat and hat on the cover of The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.

Dannie Richmond played drums in Charles Mingus’ groups for more than two decades, and even led Mingus Dynasty after his friend passed away in 1980 from complications associated with ALS. Most collaborators came and went through the Mingus Workshop, some leaping off to larger careers and others leaving for personal differences, so Richmond’s tenure is particularly remarkable. We recall reading that it was after a show in Minneapolis when Mingus went off on the band and one of our favorite jazz musicians of all time, pianist Jaki Byard, left. We couldn’t find that story, so it may be one of the many apocryphal tales of his temper.

This is his Richmond’s LP as a leader, and he brought in Byard, and also two different distinct guitar players, Toots Thielemans (heard on this track) and Jimmy Rainey. You’re hearing “High Camp,” a Gary McFarland tune, but much of the rest of the album is hammy pop covers.

Richmond appeared on a number of jazz albums outside his work with Mingus, including Chet Baker’s classic Chet Baker Sings album in 1958 and about a dozen records by George Adams and Don Pullen. He briefly toured with Elton John’s band and played the drums on three early albums by the Mark-Almond Band.

Interestingly, Richmond was a little older when he began playing the drums, having first been a saxophonist in R&B groups before he met Mingus, who encouraged him to take change instruments. He often performed as a sort of sidekick, as in his backing vocals on “Fables of Faubus.” In his sprawling autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, Mingus describes Richmond as his “heartbeat.”

 

Dick Feller is not the most famous country singer of the seventies, but he wrote more than a few songs fans remember. Johnny Cash’s “Any Old Wind that Blows,” the title song from a 1971 album which was a hit, was an early success for the songwriter, who was already playing guitar in the bands of Mel Tillis, Skeeter Davis and Werner Mack.

Feller’s songs are similar to those of Tom T. Hall, one of our favorites. They run a remarkable range between the sentimentality of “Any Old Wind that Blows” and the colorful storytelling humor of “The Night Miss Nancy’s Hotel for Single Girls Burned Down,” a hilarious slice of small town life which was a hit for Tex Williams.

Jimmy Dean asked him to write a song similar to the Tex Williams hit, and Feller offered him “Lord Mr. Ford,” which was rejected. It was eventually recorded by Jerry Reed (and sung by us in the often unreliable Hymies van fairly often). Feller signed with Reed’s publishing company and the two struck up a partnership, most memorably writing the songs for Smokey and the Bandit together. One song Feller wrote and recorded which we have earlier posted here on the Hymies blog is “The Credit Card Song,” (hear it here) which includes some references to outdated computer technology but is otherwise remarkably relevant decades later.

This is the title song from Dick Feller’s second album, No Word on Me. We’ve empathized with this song a time or two over the years, and there are several other great songs on the album. During this time Feller, like Barry Manilow, wrote a number of successful television jingles for clients including Pepsi, Dodge and AT&T.

Feller most famous song is another we sing when our Ford breaks down, “Some Days are Diamonds (Some Days are Stones),” which was one of John Denver’s last charting hits. Feller first recorded it in 1976 and it was earlier covered by Bobby Bare.

Some Days are Diamonds was also the title of a 2014 book, in which Feller came out as transgender and explained her transition to Deena Kay Rose. By this time she was largely retired as a songwriter, and had not released an album since 1982. As The Dick Feller Trio, he’d did back comedian Lewis Grizzard on an album in 1991, and also contributed some songs to a Sheb Wooley album in the 90s.

 

Today we have a song we recorded in the record shop a few weeks ago to follow up on a recent post about Bluebird Records, the RCA/Victor subsidiary which specialized in jazz and blues singles. Unfortunately, there’s a skip at the beginning of the track and the record has since been sold to a customer so we can’t record it again until we find another copy of this album.

It should be noted that in the early 20th century, the phonograph and is amenities became one of the fastest-growing new industries in the United States. Some say second only to automobiles. As with every great innovation, it encompassed our entire nation even at a time when basic civil rights did not. Everyone bought and listened to records, and from the most base economic impulses “race” labels like Bluebird were born. As is so often the case, the growing success of the industry did not always benefit all involved, especially those easiest to abuse, which included performers like Green. Despite several successful singles, she was unappreciated by the industry when she died from pneumonia at the age of thirty-two.

Lil Green is described in the liner notes to this LP, written by jazz historian Leonard Feather, as “one of the far too numerous might-have-beens of jazz,” and that’s not an altogether unfair description. Her songs were timely and often witty, and her band sounded fantastic. On this track we chose today, pianist Simeon Henry aptly captures the style Earl Hines had popularized in Chicago at the time. Her songs are often covered by other jazz singers — including Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Nina Simone — and a few like “Romance in the Dark” remain standards today.

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.

 

 

This week we discussed with a friend what his son’s musical taste was likely to become, growing up in a home with two musicians and others often visiting for band practice in the basement. It reminded us of Paul Witgenstein, who was destined to become a pianist, and whose determination to play led to the commission of a whole new subgenre in music for the left hand.

Witgenstein grew up in one of the wealthiest households in the world. His home in Vienna was of often visited by famous musicians, including Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler, and as a boy he played duets with Richard Strauss. What’s more is that his grandmother was the woman who had adopted Joseph Joachim, the famous violinist and friend of Brahms, and arranged for him to study piano with Felix Mendelssohn.

In December of 1913, Paul Witgenstein made his debut in Vienna’s Grosser Musikvereinsaal and received good reviews. The following summer, of course, came “the guns of August,” and at twenty-seven he was conscripted to serve in the Austrian army alongside his philosopher brother, Ludwig. In battle on the Eastern front, he was shot and lost consciousness. When he awoke as a prisoner of war, he found his right arm had been amputated.

While a prisoner in Siberia, Witgenstein “practiced” on a wooden crate with his left hand, and began to dream of ways to play his favorite music of Chopin without a right hand. He was returned to Austria by the Russians in a prisoner exchange in 1915, in part because they felt a one-armed man was not useful for forced labor.

After the War, Wittgenstein used his family’s enormous wealth to commission works from an extraordinary list of great composers, creating a collection of concerti similar to the book of variations created by Anton Diabelli which we featured in a post last month. This collection came to include works by Ravel, Britten, Richard Strauss and Prokofiev, to name just a few.

Pianist Nicholas McCarthy has a lot to say about Witgenstein and the music he commissioned, because he himself was born without a right arm. “The most poignant thing must have been to have lost his hand after such a long struggle to become a pianist,” he wrote. “Because he came from such a high society family, being an ‘entertainer’ was looked down upon.”

Wittgenstein had a bit of an attitude himself, and was even critical of several of the works he commissioned. He did not initially approve of Maurice Ravel’s employment of jazz motifs in his Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major, and to the consternation of the composer chose to perform it with his own revisions. This is a shame because the single movement concerto is one of the most interesting of Ravel’s explorations of American music, while also incorporating clever ideas from Saint Saen’s 6 Etudes por la main gauche seule.

More remarkably, Wittgenstein chose not to perform the concerto composed by Sergei Prokofiev altogether.

We are passionate fans of Prokofiev’s works, and can’t imagine simply sitting on something so lively and inventive. Wittgenstein did not, as is sometimes written, refuse to play the Piano Concerto No 4 in B-flat major, he said he would perform it when he understood it, and this just never happened. This sounds to us a lot like the notorious “Minnesota no,” which is when the booker doesn’t get back to you about your band after repeated entreaties because he doesn’t want to tell you that you suck.

Unlike Ravel, Prokofiev remained friendly with Wittgenstein. He considered adapting it as a two-hand concerto, but never found the time. Sadly, it went unperformed until Wittgenstein passed away in the early sixties. This is because he retained exclusive performance rights for the works he commissioned during his lifetime. “You don’t build a house so that someone else can live in it,” he famously explained.

For this reason many of the works Wittgenstein commissioned are not familiar, even to fans of the composers. For instance, Erich Wolfgang Korngold wrote a characteristically bombastic concerto for in 1922 which has elements of his exciting film scores as well as a Wagnerian sense of tonality. It is, in many ways, our favorite of the left handed repertoire.

Wittgenstein’s exclusivity caused one of the lefty concertos to nearly go unheard. This was the concerto written by German composer Paul Hindesmith, which Wittgenstein apparently so disliked he did not keep the autograph (or original) copy. After his widows’ passing his papers became available to researches and in 2004 a copy of Hindesmith’s Opus 29 was discovered. Although it contained errors, Hindesmith’s enthusiasts were able to reconstruct his Concerto for the Left Hand from sketches and it received its long-overdue debut in Berlin.

Paul Wittgenstein lived out his late years teaching in the United States, where he’d become a citizen in 1946. In spite of his complicated relationship with some of the composers, his commissioned works and their story inspire pianists whether they have the use of one or two hands.

Another remarkable story began in 1964, when concert pianist Leon Fleisher developed a nerve condition called focal distonial, which cost him the use of his right hand in the middle of a successful career distinguished by his interpretations of Mozart and Brahms. For years he performed the left handed repertoire, until his condition was improved with the experimental use of botox. In 2004, the same year he performed the debut of the nearly-lost Hindesmith concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic, Fleisher released his first album since his recovery. He titled it Two Hands.

Here is “Bayou Lebatre,” the first song from Sabyre Rae’s EP Revel. Ms. Rae will be performing on the stage inside the record shop at our block party on April 22nd, along with Mike Munson, Ben Weaver and Dingus. We’ve posted set times for this stage and also the stage outside here. She first performed here several years ago as a member of Jack Klatt’s backing group, and played with him on his Mississippi Roll album.

Revel is her debut recording and you can hear another song from it on her Bandcamp page. We think her combination of country blues and swamp rock is a particularly unique sound, and we’re looking forward to hearing more recordings from her.

Hey everyone, just a quick note here at the beginning to letcha know that we posted the set times for our SEVENTH ANNUAL RECORD STORE DAY BLOCK PARTY on our facebook page and on the events page here on the website.

The Clash has always been one of our favorite bands, and Mick Jones one of our favorite musicians in the world. We were beside ourselves when he came into our li’l neighborhood record shop years ago. In our view, the only problem with Mick Jones’ records is that there aren’t enough of them — sometimes we’ve listened to all our Clash albums, all our Big Audio Dynamite albums and all our Carbon/Silicon albums (do you remember this band he founded with former Gen X guitarist Tony James?) and we wish there were something else.

After hearing new that Gorillaz has a new album out in April, we recalled that Jones and Paul Simonon played on the title track to Plastic Beach and toured the band. This inspired us to find his other guest appearances on albums.

We dug up a record by his one-time flame Ellen Foley on which he was a producer and songwriter, and also this album by Ian Hunter.

The last time we listened to the former Mott the Hoople frontman here on the Hymies blog we were making the case he was owed credit for the melody of John Cougar’s “Small Town.” Other folks know his solo career for introducing “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” and “Cleveland Rocks.” We’ve always liked listening to Hunter’s albums while we’re working here in the shop, but we never put this one on the turntable.

Jones produced the record in between The Clash’s Combat Rock and Sandinista! and you can definitely hear those records reflected in this one, especially the two songs we chose here. Jones’ bandmate Topper Headon even played the drums on Short Back n’ Sides. We’re gonna go out on a limb and guess that the 1995 CD reissue’s bonus disc includes a lot more material like the Clash-y ‘instrumental’ “Noises.”

Anyways, fellow Clash fans, if you’re ever in the mood for a li’l more Mick Jones, check out the Ian Hunter section at your favorite record shop for this one.

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