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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Three Miles South of Cash - Bob Wills and Carolina Cotton



We're in full Western Swing mode here at Dreamtime, this time around with a video of Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys from 19 and 51, featuring a semi-duet of Three Miles South of Cash between Wills and Carolina Cotton, who performs her signature yodelin' as Wills tries to keep pace.

This is from a so-called "Snader Telescription," one of television's first music videos. Snaders were 3-4 minute films shot live and produced from around 1950 until late 1953 or early `54, according to this site. The brainchild of Louis D. Snader, a Southern California real estate developer, almost all of the several hundred Snader Telescriptions were written, produced, and directed by a Duke Goldstone, who even helped design many of the sets. Goldstone could shoot as many as 12 Snaders in one day.

A bigger live draw than Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman in his heyday during in the 1940s, Wills career was winding down by 1951, as was Western Swing itself. He'd have one last Top Ten hit with Faded Love in 1950, although he'd continuing performing into the late `60s. The Yodelin' Blonde Bombshell - Carolina Cotton - was a featured songbird in the Spade Cooley, Deuce Spriggins (to whom she was briefly married), Hank Penny, and Bob Wills bands, as well as cutting her own singles.

Cotton appeared in several B Westerns as well as in some of the first "Soundies," an even earlier precursor to music videos (although the audio was taped, rather than performed live). Cotton was also one of the first female deejays, as well as a television pioneer. She turned down the role of Annie Oakley (later played by Gail Davis) to develop her own series, Queen of the Range, although the show was never aired. In the early `60s, Cotton retired from her entertainment career, earned her Masters Degree in Special Education, and taught at several schools in California. She'd occasionally still perform at Western Swing fan conferences and charity events into the late `90s, before passing away in 1997.

Cotton had a fascinating career, and you could learn more about her and her life at carolinacotton.org, a great site maintained by her family.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Hank Penny - Missouri



I need to do a Dreamtime episode on the Western Swing phenomena of the `40s and `50s, which has just a ton of great subject matter and characters to write about, including Carolina Cotton - "the Yodelin' Blonde Bombshell" - who you can see on bass in this clip, and Spade Cooley, the King of Western Swing, whose life played out like a James Ellroy noir novel.

Here we have the Deuce Spriggins Orchestra, featuring Hank Penny, doing Missouri. Spriggins - real name George Braunsdorf - and Cotton (Helen Hagstrom) were secretly married in 1945, and left Spade Cooley's band that same year, taking many of Cooley's musicians with them to form their own band. Spriggins and Cotton would be divorced the following year, with few people knowing that they had been married.

Hank Penny, whose 1950s hit Bloodshot Eyes was featured on Dreamtime 39, was born Herbert Clayton Penny on September 18, 1918, in Birmingham, AL. By the age of 15, he was performing professionally on local radio, and had formed his own band, The Radio Cowboys, before he turned 18.

By the mid-'40s, Penny was in Los Angeles, and had been recruited to front one of the pseudo-Spade Cooley bands that were operating throughout the country. Cooley's popularity was at such a height during the 1940s that the real Spade Cooley Orchestra couldn't fill all its bookings, so Cooley's manager simply formed several more Western Swing bands and sent them on the road under the Spade Cooley brand.

After later stints as band leader, deejay, and club owner, Penny joined Cooley's wildly popular television program in 1948 as a comic backwoods type known as "That Plain Ol' Country Boy." A year later, Penny cut Hillbilly Bebop, an attempt to reclaim the audience Western Swing was losing to the new bop music, and the more successful hit of 1950, Bloodshot Eyes.

Penny later would become a co-owner of the legendary Palomino Club, hosted his own television series, The Hank Penny Show, which was canceled after only a few weeks, and have a much more successful seven-year run at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas. He'd later moved to Nashville, and audition for the hosting slot of Hee Haw, a job he'd lose to Roy Clark. He passed away in 1992.*

*Note: Hank's widow, Shari, was kind enough to contact me with the correct dates of Hank's birth and death and I've edited the post to reflect those dates  Shari notes that the Hank Penny official web site will be online within the month, and we'll link to it when it goes live.  Thank you, Shari!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Episode 39 - The Lost Theme Time iPod



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Theme Time Music That Never Was, That Might Have Been, And Could Still Be


[Bed music - Perry Mason Theme - Mundell Lowe]

Here's the story. Sometime in 2005, somewhere in Los Angeles, Bob Dylan is in a studio. He does whatever he came there to do, and then makes like a tree... and leaves.

But he forgets his iPod.

Imagine that for a second. There it is, sitting on a sound board right in front of you. Bob Dylan's iPod. Looking just like every other of the million of iPods out there. But it belongs to...
"...the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll. The voice of the promise of the '60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock. Who donned makeup in the '70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse. Who emerged to find Jesus. Who was written off as a has-been by the end of the '80s, and who suddenly shifted gears releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late '90s. Ladies and gentlemen - Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!"
That's his iPod. Wouldn't you be curious about what Bob Dylan listens to? What would you do? Would you turn it on? Would you skim through the playlists? Would you listen?

Maybe you'd copy the iPod's contents, especially since you have all the equipment to do it right there at hand. And later, so you'd have a clean conscience, you'd call Dylan's people to let them know that their Boss had forgotten it.

That's what somebody supposedly did sometime in early 2005 in the City of Los Angeles. Or at least that's how the story goes. Later that year a playlist appeared on the Web, purportedly listing the contents of the copied iPod... and than the story just kind of faded away into the aether, forgotten by most Dylan fans.

It's not that hard to understand. There's no music by Bob Dylan in that playlist. In fact, you've probably never heard of most of the 171 songs unless you're a hardcore fan of rockabilly, jump music, gospel, bebop, and honky tonk.

In fact, you'd probably need to have the tastes of a certain disk jockey who operates out of the Abernathy Building to know all these songs.

It'd be easy to dismiss the story as the work of an obsessive prankster fan who thought it might be entertaining to come up with a forgery of what you might expect Bob Dylan to listen to. But in 2005 - a year before the first episode of Theme Time Radio Hour ever aired - how many people would have expected Bob Dylan to be a fan of (Every Time I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone by Roy Montrell? Or of Buddy and Ella Johnson? Now, Hank Snow, The Staple Singers, even Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, sure. But Charlie Mingus and Eat that Chicken?

Here's what I think. I think the story about the iPod is true. And I think that in early 2005, maybe as early as January 2005, XM Radio and Dylan's organization and Eddie Gorodetsky had agreed in principle - as the politicians like to say - that Dylan would be doing a radio show for XM starting in 2006.

Now they had to figure out what that radio show was going to be, and what Mr. D. was going to play. And I think that from Dylan's direction and from a list of his likes and dislikes someone put together a playlist of eight hours worth of music, ripped that music to an iPod, and sent it on down Dylan's way to churn some thought and to spark ideas for the show.

It's not exactly Theme Time Radio Hour, but you can sure hear the roots of the show, and sometimes you'll find music on the playlist that just seems just perfectly perfect Theme Time material: Kip Anderson's R&B number Knife and Fork for the Food episode for example, or maybe this cut from Dr. Humphrey Bate And His Possum Hunters...

[How Many Biscuits Can You Eat? - Dr. Humphrey Bate And His Possum Hunters]

Dr. Humphrey was really a doctor, as well as a graduate of Nashville's Vanderbilt University. His group was originally known as the Augmented Orchestra, but when the group played on the first ever Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast, promoter and host George Hay saddled them with "the Possum Hunters" moniker, figuring it'd be more of a draw with the listening audience.

There's some very strange references on that iPod playlist, too. There's three Hank Williams cuts, all supposedly from an album titled Codfish Pie. Except, as far as I can tell, there never was a Hank Williams collection with that title. The Davis Sisters Everlovin' is supposedly pulled from something called The Sacred Frowns. Except the only Sacred Frowns I could find a reference to is a group that ex-members of NRBQ formed. Weirdly, NRBQ has covered Everlovin', but why the association in the playlist on Dylan's iPod?

[The Davis Sisters - Everlovin']

Everlovin' was recorded in 19 and 55 by Skeeter Davis and Georgie Davis, who were not sisters. Skeeter was born Mary Frances Penick, and took on the more easily remembered name when she teamed up with the original Davis sister, Betty Jack.

The two would record a #1 hit - later covered by Bob Dylan - I Forgot More Than You'll Even Know in 19 and 53. But Betty Jack would die that year in a car accident that would also badly injure Skeeter. Skeeter would later team with Betty Jack's real sister, Georgie, and the two would release several records still using the The Davis Sisters name until Skeeter went solo in 1956.

Here's another cut from an album that doesn't exist as far as I can tell, Fay Simmons singing that nuclear blast from the past, 19 and 54's You Hit Me Baby Like An Atomic Bomb.

[Fay Simmons - You Hit Me Baby Like An Atomic Bomb]

Like Fay Simmons herself, Atomic Bomb is one Big Unknown. Simmons recorded it on August 23, 1954 in Philadelphia with an unknown band. The composer is unknown, and for reasons unknown the song was never picked up by a label.

Not much more is known about Fay Simmons. She appeared on at least 20 singles in a career that spanned about a decade, but she never grabbed more than East Coast airplay, and never had that breakout song. By 1965 she had disappeared from sight.

A fan of old record labels has the best information about Simmons on the Web at the Color Radio and Doo Wop site which includes two other tracks worth a listen: the closest thing Simmons ever had to a hit: And the Angels Sing, and an up-tempo version of the Doris Day classic, Secret Love.

The iPod's playlist has Atomic Bomb coming from something titled One-Offs, which may have been a private compilation put together by Eddie Gorodetsky. The song doesn't appear to have been commercially released until the `90s from the very obscure Flyright label on a CD called Talk to Me Daddy. You can also find it on that comprehensive collection of Cold War madness, Atomic Platters, which came out in '05. If Theme Time ever does a show on the Bomb, I'll guarantee you that more than one song will come from Atomic Platters.
You're listening to the Dreamtime podcast and Theme Time music that never was, might have been, and could still be.
Like Fay Simmons, The Zion Travelers never got the fame that they deserved, but they were one of the best of the gospel quartets of the `40s and `50s. This cut from the iPod playlist stopped me in my tracks when I first heard it, because it's a near-perfect reworking of The Orioles hit from 19 and 53, Crying in the Chapel, with completely different lyrics.

[A Soldier of the Cross - Zion Travelers]

Was someone on the Theme Time team playing with the idea of at least one show dedicated to wildly different versions of songs? Maybe, because as well as A Soldier of the Cross, the iPod playlist includes the original This May Be the Last Time, recorded by the Staple Singers and later a revised hit for The Rolling Stones, and Loretta Lynn doing two completely different takes on I'm a Honky Tonk Girl.

Speaking of honky-tonkin', my own honky-tonk girl, Jailbait Jones, pointed out that the iPod playlist has over a dozen honky-tonk songs, ranging from Joe Maphis and Rose Lee doing Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music) to Kitty Wells 1952 classic, It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels. Throw in some dee jay chatter, a couple of email readings, and Mr. D. reading the the following poem, and by God you have a a Theme Time episode in the bag...

It's a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes.

The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts.

The banjo tickles and titters too awful.

The chippies talk about the funnies in the papers.

The cartoonists weep in their beer.

Ship riveters talk with their feet

To the feet of floozies under the tables.

A quartet of white hopes mourn with interspersed snickers:

"I got the blues.

I got the blues.

I got the blues."

And . . . as we said earlier:

The cartoonists weep in their beer.

- Carl Sandburg, Windy City poet
We're closing up the honky tonk with a song that would have worked on the Eyes or Drinking episodes, and may still show up on a Theme Time Radio Hour at some point.

A comedian, deejay, singer, club owner, and band leader at various points in career, here's Hank Penny with his hit from 19 and 50, Bloodshot Eyes

[Bloodshot Eyes - Hank Penny]

In the mid-50s, Hank moved his act to Las Vegas where he started a seven-year run at the Golden Nugget casino, fronting a band which at one time included Roy Clark. They'd run into each at least one more time, when Clark beat out Hank for the job hosting Hee Haw.

That's just five of the 171 songs on the iPod's playlist, from Al Urban to the Zion Travelers, from A Cottage for Sale to Your Wild Life's Going to Get You Down. Was it the lost iPod of Theme Time Radio Hour?

We may never know for sure.

***

The playlist has appeared on the Web at various times and places, occasionally with some songs added or missing. This seems to be the zero source from 2005.

I spent some time researching the songs, and found what I think are most - if not all - of the source albums. As I noted above and in the podcast, a few of the albums in the full playlist don't appear to exist - at least as commercial releases. In a few cases, the album was out of print or otherwise unavailable. When possible I substituted another source. Note that I get a small fee from Amazon for every item I sell through these links.

The Lost Theme Time iPod - Vol. 1

The Lost Theme Time iPod - Vol. 2

The Lost Theme Time iPod - Vol. 3

***

You've been listening to the Dreamtime podcast – occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour.

Dreamtime is researched and written by Fred Bals and is a Not Associated With production. As the name says, we're not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else.

Some of the music on Dreamtime is provided via the Podsafe Music Network. Check it out at music.podshow.com.

Remember that the Dreamtime team loves to get email. You can write us at dreamtimepodcast@gmail.com

The Dreamtime top cats are Curly Lasagna and Shaggy Bear. Our announcers are the notorious honky-tonkin' sisters, Jailbait and Joyride.

Until next time, dream well.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen - On the Road




via the Paper Cuts blog at the NY Times

TTRH
and Dreamtime favorite Jack Kerouac reading a selection from On the Road, backed by Steve Allen on piano.

More Kerouac and Allen can be heard in Episode 17 - October in the Railroad Earth.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Anita O'Day - Let Me Off Uptown



Ms. Anita O'Day, a three-time favorite of TTRH, she of the "Dance" (Ten Cents a Dance); "Tears" (And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine); and "New York" (Let Me Off Uptown) episodes. Here's Anita with the Gene Krupa Orchestra doing that last song. I add my recommendation to that of Our Host that you pick up her gritty, noirish biography, High Times, Hard Times.

There's also a new documentary out on Anita O'Day - The Life of a Jazz Singer - that is getting good reviews and probably well worth hunting down if you're lucky enough to live somewhere slightly less rural than New Hampshire. The last documentary that played in Dreamtime's home town was Our Friend, the Beaver at the Grange Hall.

Bryant Gumbel: "Your personal experiences include rape, abortion, jail, heroin addiction..."

Anita O'Day: "That's just the way it went down, Bryant."


Here's the trailer for Anita O'Day - The Life of a Jazz Singer