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Monday, September 29, 2008

Email, Top Cat and the Mysterious Mr. "McCowan"

Dreamtime reader/listener Bill recently sent an email with a couple of closing credit questions, reaching all the way back to the Rocktober Classic Rock episode of Season 2. Bill writes:

In your recent excellent piece on frequently asked questions, I was excited to learn that the background music for most of the credits portion of the program is "Top Hat (Underscore). " I am not certain who the musicians are for this acoustic version. Any idea?

Further, the background during the credits changes for the Classic Rock show and "Pierre Mancini" near the end of the "thanks to" portion gives "super thanks to" (sounds to me like) "Val McCowan (sp?)". Do you have any knowledge about who that might be or what the name is precisely? Or info on the music itself?
To date I haven't been able to find a source crediting the musicians playing that jazzy variant of "Top Cat." According to various interviews, Hoyt Curtin (the composer of "Top Cat," as well as literally hundreds of other cartoon scores) tried to use the same session musicians as much as possible, so the pianist on "Underscore" may be Curtin's long-time pianist, Jack Cookerly. Either Alvin Stoller or Frankie Capp may be playing drums. I can't find any info on who might have been on bass.

The answer to the question may be in the booklet included with the Hanna-Barbera's Pic-a-Nic Basket of Cartoon Classics collection, another out-of-print CD compilation that also includes "Top Cat (Underscore)". While I don't own that set, I've read reviews that indicate its liner notes have details on the musicians who played the pieces.

The closing credits for Season 2's Classic Rock episode are out of the TTRH norm in at least two respects. Instead of the usual jazz piano "Top Cat," we have a thumping fuzz guitar version of that piece. And during his acknowledgments, Pierre Mancini - who sounds as if he's phoning in through Skype - notes, "super-special thanks to Val 'McCowan.' That's him you hear groovin' in the background."

I had tried researching the mysterious Mr. "McCowan" and variants of his name, guessing that he was a musician friend of Eddie G.'s, if indeed that was him groovin' in the background. I was right about that, although wrong about the spelling of his name. Listen carefully and you'll hear that what our friend Pierre is actually saying is Val McCallum. McCallum is an L.A.-based guitarist who has worked with a variety of artists including Natalie Merchant, Peter Gabriel, Seal, Sheryl Crow, Joan Osborne and Tim McGraw. That info is from The Wallflowers web site - McCallum has provided guitar work on various Wallflower tracks - which gives us our connection to Mr. D. McCallum is also a regular player in Vonda Shepard's band (whose music was regularly featured on the Ally McBeal sitcom), which gives us yet another connection to Eddie G.

In 1999, McCallum joined up with Davey Faragher and former Attraction Pete Thomas to form the publicity-killing band, "Jack Shit". Just to digress for a moment, you have to kind of admire a trio that would take that name. You're not going to get too many reviews of either gigs or albums with a name like "Jack Shit." Nevertheless, the band has released two albums, the first self-titled, with the members no doubt giggling to themselves thinking of fans walking into a store and forced to ask, "Do you have Jack Shit"?

And Jack Shit also has a web site , which is here.

Thanks Bill, for an interesting set of questions!

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