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“Spock’s Theme,” as heard in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

star trek 2Leonard Nimoy, the actor who indeed wrote books titled I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock, was much more than the pointy-eared green-blooded science officer aboard the USS Enterprise. In an artistic career of more than seventy years he was an actor of surprising range (given the demeanor of his famous character), a poet, a photographer, a philosopher, and a pop singer.

Maybe it’s for the best Nimoy’s legacy won’t be defined by record collectors like us, because his five albums paint a peculiar portrait of the actor, who passed away yesterday at the age of 83.

mr spock music from outer space

Nimoy had been ailing from obstructive pulmonary disease, which he attributed to his smoking habit, although he had not lit up since around the time he was directing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Maybe some of the young smokers we know will find a lesson in this and quit, maybe especially those who work here at Hymie’s and just had a baby.

Nimoy’s five goofy albums were all released by Dot Records, which had recently been purchased by the giant corporate conglomeration, Gulf Western, who also swallowed up Lucille Ball’s Desilu Productions, which owned the Star Trek series. His albums were just one of many tie-ins to the series, overseen by a corporation which had previously bought zinc and aluminum importers, the largest cane sugar refinery in the world, and arcade game manufacturer Sega. It’s hard to say how seriously the records were taken.

If there was any doubt, consider the 1967 video of Nimoy singing “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” while surrounded by hobbit/Vulcan pixies.

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“You Are Not Alone”

The first two present Nimoy in his Spock persona, and the rest stretch towards the easy listening/country sound of the re-branded label. Although Nimoy was a prolific poet, he wrote very few original songs on the albums, which consist mostly of pop and folk standards like “If I Had a Hammer” and John Hartford’s ubiquitous “Gentle on my Mind.” One song from the TV series appears, the one which those crummy Platonians forced him to sing.

The only time Leonard Nimoy had a hit, so to speak, was when Information Society sampled Spock’s voice on “What’s on your Mind (Pure Energy),” which reached #3 in the US in 1988. We’re guessing since this predates the 1992 US Federal Court ruling which established that sampling can constitute copyright infringement (The Biz Markie/Gilbert O’Sullivan case), Nimoy probably wasn’t paid for the use of his voice.

Let’s remember Nimoy as an inspiring artist, poet and actor, and not as a singer — though we’re sure people will be calling the shop looking for his albums this weekend.Just a couple days Nimoy posted a brief poem on his twitter page: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.”

A couple years ago we posted a musical biography of Quincy Jones, who is one of our favorite jazz arrangers as well as, of course, being one of the greatest record producers of all time. You can read it and enjoy the music here and here (its in two parts). Yesterday’s post featured some footage from his orchestra’s disastrous European tour in 1960, which proved to be a turning point in Q’s career, and highlighted the late Clark Terry.

While we were looking for it we also found this short documentary video about their relationship.

Clark Terry

We’re sad to say so long to Clark Terry, whose seven-decade career is like “Big Band 101.”

During his decade with the Ellington Orchestra he played on a stack of our favorite albums. He was awesome alongside Dizzy Gillespie on “Jazz Party” and doubling on the flugelhorn essential to many of Duke’s extended suites.

He was also the guy to break the race barrier for bands on network TV, joining the all-white Tonight Show Band when it was first founded by Skitch Henderson.

Terry basically established the flugelhorn as a jazz instrument. He was a lifelong ambassador for the art form, especially in efforts to get young people interested. If you collect jazz records it’s pretty much a guarantee there’s a few in your collection on which he performed.

This clip is from the single year he was a member of the Quincy Jones Orchestra, which collapsed during its European tour and was stranded overseas and broke. Jones has said Terry was a huge inspiration to him, and encouraged him not to give up after the disaster.

Lead Belly

Smithsonian Folkways produced a documentary about legendary folk singer Lead Belly which will air next Monday on the Smithsonian Channel. Not being people with a TV in our home, we were excited to find you can watch the first episode of the documentary here.

“The Legend of Lead Belly” is being produced along with an overdue 5-disc compilation, The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, which includes more than a dozen unreleased tracks as well as his entire catalog for the famous label. His music influenced everything, even though he himself never had a hit record. ireneHis song, “Goodnight Irene,” was a million-seller for the Weavers just a year after he passed away at the age of 61 (we posted it here). Lead Belly first recorded the song in 1933, and it’s always been a favorite of ours — we named this little black and white dog after it.

He was born the grandson of freed slaves, his mother half-Cherokee in the northwestern corner of Louisiana. His name was Huddie Leadbetter. He was about fifteen when an uncle gave him his first instrument, an accordion.

He began his career traveling and performing with Blind Lemon Jefferson, whose extraordinary style he emulated throughout his career. Unfortunately he couldn’t keep out of trouble. He did a couple long stints in prison, once earning a pardon from the Governor of Texas by writing him a song, after having served seven years of his sentence. While later incarcerated at Angola State Prison in Louisiana, he was introduced to government folk-lorist John Lomax, who recorded hours of his songs for the Library of Congress. One of the songs he recorded was “Goodnight Irene.”


Lead Belly played the 12-string guitar with a bold, dynamic style which suited his rich voice. The instrument bigger sound probably helped him be heard in noisy bars and on the street, and also came out well on the recordings made with the Lomax’s portable gear.

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“Goodnight Irene”

You can hear his influence in possibly every genre of the record shop, from country and folk music to rock & roll and rhythm & blues. The Animals based their “House of the Rising Sun” on his 1940s recording, and countless other groups covered his songs. Thirty years later, Nirvana included one of his songs on their live album, with Kurt Cobain explaining how he tried to convince David Geffen to buy him Lead Belly’s guitar.

If you watch the new documentary about him, we think you’ll probably recognize things you’ve heard throughout your own record collection.

Here is the next video in our after-hours series, which has been co-sponsored by the folks at Pabst Blue Ribbon. We were especially excited about filming this one because we think the Dead Pigeons are one of the awesomest Americana bands in the Twin Cities but they’ve never performed here before.

The song is “A Letter to a Saint,” and the video was filmed and edited by Lauren Josephine. The outstanding Brian Herb mixed the sound.

The Dead Pigeons have a couple shows at Hell’s Kitchen this month, including a Sunday brunch on the 22nd. They’ll be playing every Tuesday night in March at the 331 Club.

A corny concerto

Looney Tunes provided a lot of us with an introduction to classical music, even if we didn’t realize it. This 1943 classic is a perfect example: “A Corny Concerto” parodies scenes from Walt Disney’s Fantasia while animating two of Johannes Strauss’ most famous waltzes.

Our kids just laughed their asses off watching it, too.

The Cooling

We have no idea what National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Contest is all about. We’re not really NPR listeners, but we do love working with local musicians — and we were glad to help Reina Del Cid create her entry in the contest by offering our tiny stage. And a tiny desk, whatever that’s all about.

The video was shot by Dan Huiting, who has been filming the ongoing “Practice Space” videos after hours here at Hymie’s (here‘s the most recent in that series). The audio was produced by Brad Matala of Essential Sessions.

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