Born on this date in 1898, by the time George Gershwin died at the all-too-early age of 38, he was known across the globe as one of the greatest composers who ever lived.
Born in Brooklyn to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, originally the family name was Gershowitz, which George’s father Americanized to Gershwine. George was actually born Jacob Gershwine, but was called George. He later dropped the “e” from the end of his name, and eventually so did the rest of the family.
Born 2 years earlier, brother Ira (born Israel Gershwine) was George’s lifelong lyricist. Together they wrote songs now considered the foundation of the American Songbook. Songs like (edited list from Ira’s WikiWackyWoo):
As well, George Gershwin wrote many songs without lyrics. F’rinstance, most everyone recognizes passages from Rhapsody In Blue, whether they know the composer or not. The score was commissioned by The King of Jazz, Paul Whiteman, to debut at what he was billing as An Experiment In Modern Music on February 12, 1924. It was an instant classic when it was first performed.
We are used to hearing Rhapsody In Blue with a big orchestration. A revelation of the digital age is this recording of a piano roll that George Gershwin cut during his piano playing prime. Not only do we get to listen to the Master at work, but after he ‘cut’ the piano roll they rolled it right back to the beginning and Gershwin ‘cut’ a second piano part; in effect making this one of the earliest candidates for overdubbing. Close your eyes and listen to Gershwin’s 4 hands.
George Gershwin wrote standards, Broadway shows, classical pieces, and commercial fluff.
Of course one could go on endlessly about George Gershwin — as dozens of books and documentaries have — but as I always say: It’s what’s in the music that counts:
Zappa would go on to release more than 100 albums under his own name or that of The Mothers of Invention.
I have been a fan of Frank Zappa since his first record Freak Out! As I have written elsewhere, I saw the LP at my local Kresge’s. On the cover was the ugliest band I had ever seen in my life. I just had to have the record. I bought it, took it home, and listened to it over and over again until every note was imprinted on my brain.
This little ditty about losing status at a high school was on his 2nd LP, Absolutely Free.
On this Memorial Day, let’s remember what’s really important: PEACE!!!
“I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.”
― George S. McGovern
“Colorful demonstrations and weekend marches are vital but alone are not powerful enough to stop wars. Wars will be stopped only when soldiers refuse to fight, when workers refuse to load weapons onto ships and aircraft, when people boycott the economic outposts of Empire that are strung across the globe. ”
― Arundhati Roy, Public Power in the Age of Empire
“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”
― Mother Teresa
“Well, I know,” she said. “You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.” So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn’t want her babies or anybody else’s babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies.
So I held up my right hand and I made her a promise: “Mary,” I said, “I don’t think this book of mine will ever be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now, and thrown them all away. If I ever do finish it, though, I give you my word of honor: there won’t be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne.
“I tell you what,” I said, “I’ll call it ‘The Children’s Crusade.'”
She was my friend after that.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
“Anyone who thinks must think of the next war as they would of suicide.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt, Eleanor and Franklin
“The wars we haven’t had saved many lives.” ― William Stafford
“Melt all the tanks in the world and make them rubbish bins. They will be much more useful for the humanity!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan
Every song a hit, at least with me, this LP is comprised of “Do You Believe in Magic?”, “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?”, “Butchie’s Tune”, “Jug Band Music”, “Night Owl Blues”, “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice”, “Daydream”, “Blues In The Bottle”, “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It”, “Wild About My Lovin'”, “Younger Girl”, and “Summer In The City”. Perfection!!! Every tune was a Sing-A-Long, at least with me.
What’s of interest to me is how my youth has connected to my dotage and not just in a nostalgic way.
These days I think about The Lovin’ Spoonful a lot. There are times I am down in Coconut Grove taking pictures, or conducting interviews, when their song “Coconut Grove” starts playing unbidden in my head. Suddenly I’ve got an all-day ear worm that won’t shake loose, no matter how much Reggae I apply.
Keeping with the theme of mellow melodies, “Coconut Grove” trickles in again spotlighting special instrumentation such as Sebastian’s auto harp and a hand drum. According to John Sebastian this song was conceived on folk icon Fred Neil’s boat in the pre-Spoonful days. The song rides rolling waves of sound, gently rocking to and fro, the breeze of Zal’s guitar gusting beautiful accents across the reflective seas. The strength of the tune is Sebastian’s vocal melody, almost able to carry the track on its own. This song can put you right on the deck, riding straight into a sun dipping behind the horizon. Mood music at its finest.
It should be noted that Fred Neil lived on his boat just offshore of Coconut Grove at the time.
I’m jammed for time this morning, because — not coincidentally — I am currently doing a final edit on my latest story about Coconut Grove. Where do you think I got today’s ear worm?
On this date 50 years ago one of the greatest LPs of the Rock era was released: The Beach Boys 11th studio album, Pet Sounds. It was not an immediate hit, only rising as far as #20 on the Billboard album chart, far below their previous LPs.
Yet, Pet Sounds rises to the top of all critics’ greatest lists. Rolling Stone pegged Pet Sounds as the #2 Greatest Album of All Time, right behind Sgt. Pepper. That’s ironic because Beatles producer George Martin said that without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper would never have happened. No less a musical authority than Sir Paul McCartney has rated Pet Sounds as his favourite LP. In fact, he’s been widely quoted as saying:
[I]t was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the
water. First of all, it was Brian’s writing. I love the album so much.
I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in
life—I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard that
album. I was into the writing and the songs.
Double irony: Brian Wilson, for his part, was spurred on to write Pet Sounds by The Beatles’ Rubber Soul. From the WikiWackyWoo:
Wilson recalls that Asher played him the Beatles‘ newest album, Rubber Soul (1965), it being the alternate US version that was configured by Capitol Records to have a cohesive folk rock sound.[nb 6] Wilson was immediately enamored with the album, given the impression that it had no filler tracks, a feature that was mostly unheard of at a time when 45 rpm singles were considered more noteworthy than full-length LPs.[nb 7] Inspired, he rushed to his wife and proclaimed, “Marilyn, I’m gonna make the greatest album! The greatest rock album ever made!” He would say of his reaction to Rubber Soul:
“I liked the way it all went together, the way it was all one thing. It
was a challenge to me … It didn’t make me want to copy them but to be
as good as them. I didn’t want to do the same kind of music, but on the
same level.” Later, he clarified: “The Beatles inspired me. They didn’t influence me.”[nb 8]
Which makes it a triple irony: Wilson loved that it had “no filler tracks” and “the way it all went together, the way it was all one thing,” but it wasn’t that at all. It was a record cobbled together for the U.S. market by his own record company, different from the canonical Rubber Soul that The Beatles released in Great Britain.
The rest of The Beach Boys were not so enamored of Pet Sounds. Here’s the quick backstory:
After Brian Wilson had a panic attack on an airplane while on tour with the band, he retired from live performing. This gave him the time to produce the more complicated songs he had begun writing. When the rest of the band returned from a tour of Japan and Hawaii, they were presented with an almost completed album, with tracks laid down by The Wrecking Crew, a group of studio musicians who had played on hundreds of songs for everyone from Frank Sinatra to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound productions. All that was needed to complete the tracks were the Beach Boys’ harmonies. However, they weren’t convinced.
One of the issues was the album’s complexity and how the touring Beach Boys would be able to perform its music live. Wilson said that the band “didn’t like the idea of growing musically … They wanted to keep making car songs and I said ‘No, we’ve gotta grow, guys’.” Marilyn said: “When Brian was writing Pet Sounds,
it was difficult for the guys to understand what he was going through
emotionally and what he wanted to create. … they didn’t feel what he
was going through and what direction he was trying to go in.” Tony Asher remembered: “All those guys in the band, certainly Al, Dennis,
and Mike, were constantly saying, ‘What the fuck do these words mean?’
or ‘This isn’t our kind of shit!’ Brian had comebacks, though. He’d say,
‘Oh, you guys can’t hack this.’ … But I remember thinking that those
were tense sessions.”
Wilson believed the band were worried about him separating from the
group, elaborating that “it was generally considered that the Beach Boys
were the main thing … with Pet Sounds, there was a resistance
in that I was doing most of the artistic work on it vocally”. The
conflicts were resolved, accordingly, “[when] they figured that it was a
showcase for Brian Wilson, but it’s still the Beach Boys. In other
words, they gave in. They let me have my little stint.”
Next month Capitol Records is releasing a giant 5-CD 50th Anniversary Edition of the iconic LP. According to Ultimate Classic Rock:
Pet Sounds (50th Anniversary Collectors Edition) will include four CDs of various mixes, outtakes and alternate versions of the album as well as a Blu-ray audio disc featuring a 5.1 surround sound mix of the 1966 classic, often heralded as one of the greatest records ever made. The set will be released on June 10, about a month after the record celebrates 50 years.
Like 1997’s celebrated four-disc The Pet Sounds Sessions, Pet Sounds (50th Anniversary Collectors Edition) will include snippets from the studio as Brian Wilson pieced together his masterpiece. Backing tracks, alternate mixes and different versions (including some songs where Wilson or Mike Love sang lead on numbers that were released with other members singing) round out the collection.
As Not Now Silly is fond of saying, it’s all in the grooves. Listen to Pet Sounds.
beautiful South Shore, just down the tracks from Liverpool“, according to his official web site, which continues:
As a boy, Hank faced many difficulties and shortcomings. He had to face
the trauma of his parents’ divorce at just eight years old and he was
forced to stay with his grandparents. He then had to deal with an abusive
grandmother who forbid him to see his mother. He regularly sneaked out
at night and walked the railroad tracks to Liverpool where his mother
was living. Not willing to return to his grandmother, who would often
beat him for visiting his mom, he would sometimes seek shelter in Liverpool’s
railway station, now home of the Hank Snow Country Music Centre.
He learned guitar from his mother. Running away from home at 12, he worked as a cabin boy on fishing schooners out of Lunenburg and bought his first guitar with his first wages: A T. Eaton Special which set him back $5.95. While onboard the ship he listened to the radio, later imitating the Country singers he heard, especially his hero Jimmie Rodgers.
Once he was back on land Snow continued to practice and improve. The WikiWackyWoo picks up the story:
Soon, Snow was invited to perform in a minstrel show in Bridgewater
to help raise money for charity. “Someone blackened my face with black
polish and put white rings around my eyes and lips,” Snow recalls. When
his turn came in the show, he played a song called “I Went to See My Gal
Last Night.” “My debut was a big success,” Snow writes. “I even got a
In March 1933, Snow wrote to Halifax radio station CHNS
asking for an audition. The rejection letter he received only made him
more determined and later that year he visited the station, was given an
audition and hired to do a Saturday evening show that was advertised as
“Clarence Snow and his Guitar.” After a few months, he adopted the name
“The Cowboy Blue Yodeler” in homage to his idol Jimmie Rodgers known as
“America’s Blue Yodeler.” Since Snow’s Saturday show had no sponsor, he
wasn’t paid for his performances, but he did manage to earn money
playing halls and clubs in towns where people had heard him on the
radio. He also played in Halifax theatres before the movies started and
performed, for $10 a week, on a CHNS musical show sponsored by a company
that manufactured a popular laxative. At the urging of the station’s
chief engineer and announcer, he adopted the name Hank because it went
well with cowboy songs and once again, influenced by Jimmie Rodgers, he
became “Hank, The Yodeling Ranger.” Snow also appeared occasionally on
the CBC’s regional network.
Signed to RCA Records Canada in 1936, the radio hook-up brought him greater fame and he started touring across Canada. Eventually radio stations south of the border started playing his records and Snow moved to Nashville, where he had a growing audience. In 1950 Ernest Tubbs invited Snow to perform at the Grand Old Opry. He didn’t go over so big until he wrote his first hit song, I’m Moving On:
Even had he not discovered Elvis, Hank Snow would still be remembered today for his music. However, as the Wiki tells us:
A regular at the Grand Ole Opry, in 1954 Snow persuaded the directors to allow a young Elvis Presley to appear on stage. Snow used Presley as his opening act and introduced him to Colonel Tom Parker.
In August 1955, Snow and Parker formed the management team, Hank Snow
Attractions. This partnership signed a management contract with Presley
but before long, Snow was out and Parker had full control over the rock
singer’s career. Forty years after leaving Parker, Snow stated, “I have
worked with several managers over the years and have had respect for
them all except one. Tom Parker (he refuses to recognise the title
Colonel) was the most egotistical, obnoxious human being I’ve ever had
One of my favourite jokes:
If Hank Snow married June Carter, there would be 6 inches of Snow in June.
Snow sold over 70 million records in his career that spanned 78’s, 45’s,
extended 45’s, LP’s, 8-tracks, cassettes and compact discs.
Throughout his life he recorded over 100 LPs, including everything from hit
parade material to gospel, train songs, instrumentals (alone and with Chet
Atkins), tributes to Jimmie Rodgers and the Sons of the Pioneers, and
recitations of Robert Service poems. He has always kept a warm spot in his
heart for Nova Scotia, and he paid homage with his album “My Nova Scotia
Home”. He also recorded “Squid Jiggin’ Ground” in honor of the fishermen he
sailed with out of Lunenburg in his early youth.
Every August Liverpool, Nova Scotia, holds a multi-day Hank Snow Tribute. This year’s shindig will happen August 18-21 and tickets are already available. However, as Not Now Silly likes to say: It’s all in the grooves. This is why people still sing and play Hank Snow tunes:
On this day in 1946 Lesley Sue Goldstein was born. We knew her better as Lesley Gore.
Discovered by Quincy Jones when she was only 16, Lesley Gore was still in high school when It’s My Party hit the top of the pop charts. Hit after hit followed under the tutelage of producer Jones. However, when she graduated, she chose to go to college, as opposed to pursuing a full-time career in the music biz. She would perform and record on weekends. The WikiWackyWoo picks up the story:
Gore performed on two consecutive episodes of the Batman television series (January 19 and 25, 1967), in which she guest-starred as Pussycat, one of Catwoman‘s minions. In the January 19 episode “That Darn Catwoman”, she lip-synched to the Bob Crewe-produced “California Nights”, and in the January 25 episode “Scat! Darn Catwoman” she lip-synched to “Maybe Now”. “California Nights”, which Gore recorded for her 1967 album of the same name, returned her to the upper reaches of the Hot 100.
The single peaked at number 16 in March 1967 (14 weeks on the chart).
It was her first top 40 hit since “My Town, My Guy and Me” in late 1965
and her first top 20 since “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows”.
It was also at Sarah Lawrence that Gore realized that she was a
lesbian. Before college, she later explained, she simply had never had
the time to examine her true feelings. “I had boyfriends,” she said. “I
was scheduled to get married … All of that was part of the agenda at
the time … Part of the problem that I had … was being out in the
public. It was hard to even explore it. I wasn’t even left that
opportunity. When I talk to some of my gay women friends now who might
just be a little bit older than me, they would come in from [Long]
Island or New Jersey, and they would put on their black Levis and black
jackets and run to the bars. I wasn’t quite able to do that.”
Gore did not come out as gay until after the heyday of her fame had
passed, she says she never concealed it from the people who were close
to her: “I just tried to live as normally as humanly possible. But as
truthfully as humanly possible.”
After graduating college in the late Sixties and staying largely out
of the spotlight throughout the Seventies, Gore resurfaced in 1980 when
“Out Here On My Own,” a song she co-wrote with her brother Michael for
the Fame soundtrack, was nominated for a Best Original Song
Academy Award; Michael Gore would instead end up winning the Oscar for
his song “Fame.”
Gore came out to the public when she served as host on a few episodes of the PBS’ LGBT newsmagazine series In the Life. She released her final album Ever Since in 2005.
Dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald was the most popular
female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century.
In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million
Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She
could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an
orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington,
Count Basie and Nat King Cole, to Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and
Benny Goodman. (Or rather, some might say all the jazz greats had the
pleasure of working with Ella.)
She performed at top venues all over the world, and packed them
to the hilt. Her audiences were as diverse as her vocal range. They were
rich and poor, made up of all races, all religions and all
nationalities. In fact, many of them had just one binding factor in
common – they all loved her.
A recent remix of one of Ella’s most well known tunes proving her relevance to another generation
on April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia, singer Ella Fitzgerald was
the product of a common-law marriage between William Fitzgerald and
Temperance “Tempie” Williams Fitzgerald. Ella experienced a troubled
childhood that began with her parents separating shortly after her
My meager Ella Fitzgerald collection, but I have the best stuff
With her mother, Fitzgerald moved to Yonkers, New York.
They lived there with her mother’s boyfriend, Joseph De Sailva. The
family grew in 1923 with the arrival of Fitzgerald’s half-sister
Frances. Struggling financially, the young Fitzgerald helped her family
out by working as a messenger “running numbers” and acting as a lookout
for a brothel. Her first career aspiration was to become a dancer.
her mother’s death in 1932, Fitzgerald ended up moving in with an aunt.
She started skipping school. Fitzgerald was then sent to a special
reform school but didn’t stay there long. By 1934, Ella was trying to
make it on her own and living on the streets. Still harboring dreams of
becoming an entertainer, she entered an amateur contest at Harlem’s
Apollo Theater. She sang the Hoagy Carmichael
tune “Judy” as well as “The Object of My Affection,” wowing the
audience. Fitzgerald went on to win the contest’s $25 first place prize.
unexpected performance at the Apollo helped set Fitzgerald’s career in
motion. She soon met bandleader and drummer Chick Webb and eventually
joined his group as a singer. Fitzgerald recorded “Love and Kisses” with
Webb in 1935 and found herself playing regularly at one of Harlem’s
hottest clubs, the Savoy. Fitzgerald also put out her first No. 1 hit,
1938’s “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which she co-wrote. Later that year Ella
recorded her second hit, “I Found My Yellow Basket.”
When Chick Webb died in 1939, Ella Fitzgerald took over the band, renaming it Ella and Her Famous Orchestra. In 1942 she went solo staying with Decca Records, which had released the Chick Webb band recordings. The WikiWackyWoo fills in the next chapter:
With Decca’s Milt Gabler as her manager, Fitzgerald began working regularly for the jazz impresario Norman Granz and appeared regularly in his Jazz at the Philharmonic
(JATP) concerts. Her relationship with Granz was further cemented when
he became her manager, although it would be nearly a decade before he
could record her on one of his many record labels.
With the demise of the Swing era and the decline of the great touring big bands, a major change in jazz music occurred. The advent of bebop led to new developments in Fitzgerald’s vocal style, influenced by her work with Dizzy Gillespie‘s big band. It was in this period that Fitzgerald started including scat singing
as a major part of her performance repertoire. While singing with
Gillespie, Fitzgerald recalled, “I just tried to do [with my voice] what
I heard the horns in the band doing.”
Her 1945 scat recording of “Flying Home” arranged by Vic Schoen would later be described by The New York Times
as “one of the most influential vocal jazz records of the
decade….Where other singers, most notably Louis Armstrong, had tried
similar improvisation, no one before Miss Fitzgerald employed the
technique with such dazzling inventiveness.” Her bebop recording of “Oh, Lady Be Good!” (1947) was similarly popular and increased her reputation as one of the leading jazz vocalists.
It was during this latter period of Fitzgerald’s career that she entered the pantheon of musical superstars to become the First Lady of Song.
I was lucky enough to see Ella Fitzgerald at Toronto’s Imperial Room. I thought it would be her last tour (but I believe she did one more after this) and I thought if I didn’t see her then, I might never have the chance again.
It was my first time in the Imperial Room, even though it was not my first time wearing a tie, required at the Imperial Room. It was also very expensive. It cost $75.00 per person and, of course, I took a date. That was a pretty penny for me back then, but I could console myself that it came with dinner. The Imperial Room was a supper club.
The mediocre meal came and went and now it was time for Ella Fitzgerald. The orchestra started it’s vamp, someone introduced her, and v e r y , v e r y , v e r y s l o w l y Ella Fitzgerald shuffled onto the stage with an anonymous attendant on her arm.
All I could see was my $150 going down the drain in the interminable time it took her to get to center stage where the microphone stood.
Yet, the minute she started singing, all those years fell away. While I had never seen Ella Fitzgerald in her prime, and only had recordings and movies to rely upon, I was taken all the way back as she covered all the highlights of her career, joked with the audience, and giggled like a little girl.
It was one of the most memorable musical moments of my entire life!!!
The Wiki also details her last years:
In 1985, Fitzgerald was hospitalized briefly for respiratory problems, in 1986 for congestive heart failure, and in 1990 for exhaustion.
In March 1990 she appeared at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England
with the Count Basie Orchestra for the launch of Jazz FM, plus a gala
dinner at the Grosvenor House Hotel at which she performed. In 1993, she had to have both of her legs amputated below the knee due to the effects of diabetes. Her eyesight was affected as well.
In 1996, tired of being in the hospital, she wished to spend her last
days at home. Confined to a wheelchair, she spent her final days in her
backyard of her Beverly Hills mansion on Whittier, with her son Ray and
12-year-old granddaughter, Alice. “I just want to smell the air, listen
to the birds and hear Alice laugh,” she reportedly said. On her last
day, she was wheeled outside one last time, and sat there for about an
hour. When she was taken back in, she looked up with a soft smile on her
face and said, “I’m ready to go now.” She died in her home on June 15,
1996 at the age of 79. A few hours after her death, the Playboy Jazz Festival was launched at the Hollywood Bowl. In tribute, the marquee read: “Ella We Will Miss You.” Her funeral was private, and she was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
As always it’s all in the grooves. Here are some of my favourite Ella Fitzgerald recordings out of the hundreds that she has made.
On this day in 1968 “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” rose to the top of the charts, making Otis Redding the first recording artist to have a posthumous #1 hit. Too bad he was no longer around to enjoy it.
Redding died on December 9, 1967, when his private airplane crashed as he and his band flew from Cleveland to their next gig in Madison, Wisconsin. According to the WikiWackyWoo, there was only one survivor:
Although the weather was poor, with heavy rain and fog, and despite warnings, the plane took off. Four miles (6.4 km) from their destination at Truax Field in Madison, the pilot radioed for permission to land. Shortly thereafter, the plane crashed into Lake Monona. Bar-Kays member Ben Cauley, the accident’s sole survivor, was sleeping shortly before the accident. He woke just before impact to see bandmate Phalon Jones
look out a window and exclaim, “Oh, no!” Cauley said the last thing he
remembered before the crash was unbuckling his seat belt. He then found
himself in frigid water, grasping a seat cushion to keep afloat. A non-swimmer, he was unable to rescue the others. The cause of the crash was never determined.James Brown claimed in his autobiography The Godfather of Soul that he had warned Redding not to fly in the plane.
“(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” was released in January, just weeks after the plane crash. It was quickly picked up by radio stations and took almost no time to rise to the top of the charts. However, it didn’t get there just due to sentiment over Redding’s untimely death. The song, co-written with Stax Records‘ guitarist — and the song’s producer — Steve Cropper, is the very definition of a great tune.
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” has been a hit with ears ever since: