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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Prom Night at Brookland-Cayce High School with The Swinging Medallions

"I've been listening to my legally obtained copy of the Friends & Neighbors Show and in the "Garage Rock" email the guy mentions The Swinging Medallions played his prom instead of Billy Stewart. I tried to do a little research of my own, cause this sounds like a real email to me, but came up cold.

"What do you think?" ~ from a comment posted by "Dreamtime Fan"

Y'know, "Dreamtime Fan," what I think is that you should definitely keep writing to me with your suggestions, as you sent me on a hunt that proved - to me at least - that at least some of the emails Our Host read on Theme Time Radio Hour were real, including this one....

"So, we got more emails than we know what to do with. So, this week we're gonna double-dip. This one comes from Guy Hornsby. He writes..."

"'Bob, I'm afraid your crack research team has let you down. On your show devoted to the songs of summer, you told listeners that Billy Stewart died June 17, 19 and 70. I know he died in January of that year, because my high school senior class in Brookland-Cayce, South Carolina had booked him to perform at our prom. Remember when high school proms had live music instead of deejays? -'"

"Matter of fact, I do. That was better! Guy continues to write..."

"'We had to scramble to come up with a local band. We were fortunate enough to get The Swinging Medallions. Their big hit was Double-Shot of My Baby's Love. To make a long story short...'"

"Too late, Guy..."

'I would like a Theme Time Radio Hour devoted to garage bands..."

"Garage bands? Well, first off, Guy, thank you for your note. I'd like to point out that there is already a program that focuses on garage music. I think that guy from The Sopranos does it. Not the Big Soprano, but one of the little Sopranos. But you know what, I enjoyed your letter so much, I think I got something for ya.

"By the way, Guy, what is a garage band? I've recorded songs in my garage. Am I a garage band?" ~ Bob Dylan, reading a second "listener email" on the "Friends and Neighbors" episode

I had first thought this email was the usual Theme Time Radio Hour mix of fact, fiction and in-jokes, but the more I dug into it, the more surprised I became.

Guy Hornsby

Was "Guy" a friend or acquaintance of the TTRH team who they were giving the wink and nod to in a fake email? A Google Search turned up as the first result a link to this "Guy Hornsby." Was the email a shout-out to a contemporary London-based deejay and producer of house music?

A little unlikely.

With some more digging I found this "Guy Hornsby," whose bio notes that he was a one-time BBC radio producer of "The Tony Blackburn Show," "[a] combination of soul and dance music, together [with a] risqué style of presentation..."

That Guy seemed to have more of a probable TTRH connection. Maybe Eddie G. or even Mr. D. was a fan of "The Tony Blackburn Show"? In any case, I was satisfied I had found the right guy, or Guy.

Turns out I was completely wrong. To paraphrase Occam's Razor, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. But it would take me some more fact-checking to realize that.

"...my high school senior class in Brookland-Cayce, South Carolina..."

There ain't nothing like a good ol' challenge for the crack Dreamtime research team, although this one almost brought us to our knees as we tried variations of "Brooklyn," "Brooklin," and "Case" without success.

After too many repeat listenings and way too much research in the South Carolina groves of acadame, I finally produced a list of every goddamned high school in South Carolina, and discovered Mr. D. was saying "Brookland-Cayce." There is no town of that name, but there sure is a Brookland-Cayce High School, home of the Bearcats, in Cayce, South Carolina.

"Hmm," crack researcher Fred thought to himself. "Self, it'd be mighty interesting to see the 1970 yearbook for Brookland-Cayce."

Now, what I was thinking was that edition of the Brookland-Cayce yearbook might have the picture and name of one of the TTRH research team. Still wrong, as it turned out, but I was getting warmer. I decided to see what I could find out about the graduating class of Brookland-Cayce High School for 19 and 70. And guess who I found. That's right: one "Guy Hornsby, Class of 1970."

The email was real.

"...you told listeners that Billy Stewart died June 17, 19 and 70."

And indeed, Our Host did say that in the "Summer" episode, which first aired the day after the 4th of July in 2006, after playing Stewart's unique interpretation of "Summertime." It was more likely that Mr. D. let the crack research team down through a slip of the tongue, as he got everything else right except the month.

Billy Stewart did in fact die January 17th of that year when the car he was driving went off the road and plunged into the Neuse River in North Carolina, killing him and three members of his band. Stewart was two months shy of his 33rd birthday. Here's Billy Stewart with "Summertime," which should be worth the price of admission to Dreamtime alone.




"We had to scramble to come up with a local band. We were fortunate enough to get The Swinging Medallions."

As Guy and Our Host note, it wasn't all that unusual for high school prom committees to book semi-famous regional bands. All it took was money. Even though I had first greeted this email with a healthy dose of skepticism,  Guy was real. Occam's Razor would say it was then also highly probable that Guy's senior class had originally booked Billy Stewart and after his death recruited The Swinging Medallions to play at the senior prom at Brookland-Cayce in 19 and 70. The Medallions home base was Greenwood, SC, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Cayce, certainly putting them into the "local band" category.

The Swinging Medallions second single, "Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)", originally recorded by Dick Holler & the Holidays, reached #17 in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 19 and 66. The Swingers would have a couple of other Top 40 hits in the late `60s, but "Double Shot" was the apex of their career, and they were working mostly frat houses, colleges, beach joints, armories - and maybe the occasional high school prom - by the `70s. In fact, "The Party Band of the South" still does shows today, still chuggin' away with the quintessential garage band song, "Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)."



Thanks, Dreamtime Fan!

.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Combinations: Good Clean Fun with a Garage Band


"I've recorded songs in my garage. Am I a 'garage band'?" - Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour Friends & Neighbors

I get asked what I'm going to do now that Theme Time Radio Hour has wound up with Season 3. I'm not worried. There are 8 million stories in the Big City still to tell before I'm done. Here's another one of them...

Last Friday the pop culture site, BoingBoing, posted an article about a weird find on a San Francisco street, a "Bump Ball," in its original packaging. Released in 19 and 68, the Milton-Bradley Bump Ball was kind of a sexier variation on the Twister game.

"Once upon a time in the way out kingdom of contemporary America," the liner notes of the Official Bump Ball L.P. tells us, "a ball was invented. No ordinary ball this one. A big, soft, spongy ball with crazy bumps all over it. The cats at Milton Bradley threw the Bump Ball into the teen scene - and a whole new bag was born."

According to its instructions, the idea of the whole new bag was to take the Bump Ball and "squeeze it between you and a partner," going on to provide a three-part example where you...

  1. Start by holding the ball between you and your partner's foreheads.

  2. Using NO HANDS - Drop the Bump Ball and catch it between your TUMMIES.

  3. Using NO HANDS - Twirl all the way around keeping the Bump Ball between you and partner.

Good clean fun in `60s America. Included with every Bump Ball was the "Bump Ball" record - an RCA Victor 45, label number 47-9482.

And that's where I come in. I came across the BoingBoing article on a sleepy Sunday Memorial Day afternoon, and having nothing to do for a couple of hours, decided to see if I could track down the Bump Ball music.

I found a lot more than just a novelty song.


The Combinations were formed around 19 and 65 by two cousins from Easton, Pennsylvania, Sammy Losagio and Frank Gaulano. The early line-up changed a few times, but by late 1966 the band had crystallized around Sammy Losagio on drums, Bobby Scammell on bass, Marty Freifeld on guitar, Neil Wellen on the Mighty Hammond organ, and George Ross on vocals.

George Ross was black, while the other Combinations were white, making them an unusual teen-age group for the early `60s, and giving them an eclectic sound. Bobby Scammell remembered a typical Combinations set-list included the title theme from the movie "Exodus," Karen Chandler's pop standard, "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" followed by The Animals "It's My Life," followed by Otis Redding's "I've Been Lovin' You Too Long," followed by anything from "Satin Doll" to"Ebb Tide".

A garage band that could play just about anything had no problems finding places to play: junior high school dances, college campuses, teen clubs and nightclubs, and lots and lots of frat house parties, maybe as many as 200 during the band's short career, where The Combinations usually closed - shades of "Animal House" - with the crowd-pleasing "Shout." The Combinations also played a few private parties, including one in 19 and 66 where they shared the bill with Sonny & Cher.

In August of 19 and 67, The Combinations took 2nd place in a Battle of the Bands, winning a set of Ampeg amplifiers, guitars, and a PA system. More importantly, the group came to the attention of the Milton-Bradley Company, whose P.R. people were looking to recruit a band to promote a new dance game toy they had under development... the Bump Ball.

"Bump Ball" would be the second single The Combinations would record. Band members Marty Freifeld and Bobby Scammell wrote the tune and the band laid down the track at the RCA Studios in New York City. Even though he was the co-author of "Bump Ball," Scammell remembered the B-side session more fondly, the band recording Teddy Randazzo's "I'm On the Outside (Looking In)".

"If you want to hear the five of us as close to live as possible then that's the cut to play," bassist Bobby Scammell said of this song. Here's The Combinations with the Little Anthony and The Imperials classic and the B-side of "Bump Ball," "I'm On the Outside (Looking In)."



While no Hula-Hoop, the $2.99 Bump Ball package - complete with 45 record featuring The Combinations "Bump Ball" song - would become a minor craze in the Summer of 19 and 68, especially on the Florida beaches, where thousands of Bump Balls were given away to college Spring Breakers. "Killer Joe" Piro, the New York dance instructor who had popularized The Frug, came up with a Bump Ball dance step, which was featured on The Mike Douglas Show.

The Combinations participated in some of the Bump Ball promotions but were more interested in using the publicity to push their straight music. The B-side of "Bump Ball," "I'm On the Outside (Looking In)," was turning into an audience favorite during their live shows, and the song was beginning to pick up some local radio airplay. It looked like they had a shot at jumping out of the regional market and into the Big Show. All they needed was one more break

But then George Ross was drafted in 19 and 68, and that was the end of the unique sound of The Combinations. In an interview published in 2006, Bobby Scammell noted, "...In the years after returning from Viet Nam George ran into some trouble with the law. He did his time but came out and made the same mistake again. His release date is 2021." A short 2007 interview with George Ross simply notes he is "retired from music."

"... in that rehearsal garage…over on the south side of Easton…there was no manager. We pushed ourselves to learn and improve. It was just the five of us - and the neighborhood kids that gathered and danced in the alley." ~ Bobby Scammell on The Combinations

Sources

The Combinations - An Interview with Bobby Scammell

Wayback Warp: The Combinations

BoingBoing on The Bump Ball

An mp3 of "Bump Ball" by The Combinations can be heard/downloaded at/from Amazon, a song whose funkiness ultimately overwhelms its silliness. The song was re-released on the 2005 compilation CD "Absolutely Allentown." Two early cuts by The Combinations, when they were using their alternate name of "Combenashuns" for legal reasons, can be found on a sister compilation, "Absolutely Another Allentown Anglophile Again"

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hank Snow and Bob Dylan Revisited - "The Drunkard's Son"

To wind up yesterday's one-day wonder, Christie's issued a statement acknowledging that "Little Buddy" was written by country-western great, Hank Snow, not by the 16-year-old Bob Zimmerman, and have corrected the description on their site to read: "Handwritten lyrics to the Hank Snow song Little Buddy by the teenage Bob Dylan as a camper at Herzl Camp in Northwestern Wisconsin during the mid-1950s for publication in the camp newspaper The Herzl Herald."

It's good to see that the auction goes on, as the proceeds from the transcript's sale will go to Herzl Camp.  And as the Christie's statement to the press maintains- albeit disingenously - it is one of the earliest known transcriptions in Bob Dylan's hand, if not actually a "Bob Dylan lyric."

Whatever name you want to call this rose, it's more than just an interesting document for those of us fascinated by Dylan's roots, as "Little Buddy" appears to be the second known transcription he made of a Hank Snow song as a young man.  The first was "The Drunkard's Son," a lugubrious tune with a sentiment closer to Victorian times than 19 and 47, which is when Snow originally released it on the Bluebird  label.  As many of Snow's songs were, "The Drunkard's Son"  was re-released in April 1950 on the RCA Victor label, and is very probably another 78 that Bobby Zimmerman owned.

In an old dusty attic of a tenement house
I happened to wander one day
And there on the rafters 'neath shavings and chips
A drunkard's poor little boy lay..."The Drunkard's Son" ~ Hank Snow
Dylan's transcription of of "The Drunkard's Son" appeared in the August-September, 1992 edition of ISIS, which dated the manuscript circa 1952-'55, making the young Bob Zimmerman somewhere between 11 and 14.  Although I don't have a copy of that magazine at hand, commentary on the Web suggests that the transcription was first thought - just like "Little Buddy" - to be a very early example of a Dylan attempt at songwriting, or more accurately poetry, apparently used by the young Bobby Zimmerman to woo a girl he was sweet on.
In an old dusty attic
In a little house, I happened to wander one day
And there in the rafters, mid shavings and chips
A drunkard's poor little boy lay... "The Drunkard's Son" ~ Bobby Zimmerman
After the manuscript was published, someone eventually pointed out that the young Zimmerman's "Drunkard's Son," was actually Hank Snow's "Drunkard's Son," almost exactly paralleling  the "Little Buddy" story.

While I suspect that if we had looked through Bobby Zimmerman's record collection in the late `50s and early `60s, we would have found a wealth of Hank Snow, we know for certain he owned at least one other Hank Snow record.  Clinton Heylin, in Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades  (reissued in 2003 as Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited), quotes Dylan as remarking that he had owned the 1960 LP "Hank Snow Sings Jimmie Rodgers' Songs," as a boy, an album that impressed him so much that he was still calling it "different from the norm" in 1997.

The normally reliable Heylin also mentions the Bobby Zimmerman "The Drunkard's Son" manuscript in the next paragraph, but confuses it with a Jimmie Rodgers song, "The Drunkard's Child," claiming that Dylan's version is modeled after that piece, which it isn't, and shares similar opening lines, which it doesn't.
My father is a drunkard my mother she is dead
And I am just an orphan child no place to lay my head
All through this world I wander they drive me from their door
Someday I'll find a welcome on heaven's golden shore... "The Drunkard's Child," ~ Jimmie Rodgers 
Adding to the confusion, Heylin then goes on to paraphrase the closing lines "I'm hiding with Jesus, who I'll always be by / And my mother, who I love so well," which are indeed from Dylan's (and Snow's) "The Drunkard's Son," but don't appear in Rodgers' 1930 song, "The Drunkard's Child."

Apparently still unaware into 2003 that "The Drunkard's Son" was nearly a word-for-word transcription of Hank Snow's song, Heylin may have conflated it with Rodgers' "The Drunkard's Child" because of the similarities in the titles. In another weird coincidence, Snow actually did cover " The Drunkard's Child" in 19 and 59, putting it on his "theme" L.P. When Tragedy Struck, an album which also included "Little Buddy," just to bring us full circle, and probably yet another Hank Snow record that could be found in Bobby Zimmerman's collection.

All art begins with imitation, Aristotle states in his Poetics, and all artists model themselves on the artists who come before them as they learn their craft.  It's interesting that the two Dylan Hank Snow transcriptions that have come to light are both story songs... one on the death of a beloved dog at the hands of a drunk, the other of a miserable child left to die in an attic by a drunken father. Look back into the past, to Minnesota in the mid-`50s, and maybe you'd find a boy in his room laboriously copying out the lyrics to one of those Hank Snow songs as it played on his turntable.  Looking down at the words, trying to figure out why they moved him, why they would move other listeners...

Figuring out how he could do it himself.

Special thanks to "Johanna Moore" and "The Great Wandu" over at the Expecting Rain forums, and sometime Dreamtime commenters, whose posts put me onto "The Drunkard's Son"

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Little Buddy"... by Hank Snow



Saying more about the state of reportage than anything else, various media outlets are announcing that Christie's will be auctioning off a poem titled "Little Buddy" submitted to his camp newspaper in 19 and 57 by a 16-year-old Bob Zimmerman.

"Bob Dylan's social consciousness and artistry were evident in a poem he penned about a little dog who met a tragic end" gushes the lead for The Washington Post. "It's a very early example of his brilliance," the article  quotes a Christie's "pop culture specialist," who goes on to say, "It comes from the mind of a teenager (with) some very interesting thoughts kind of percolating in his brain."

Actually, it came from the mind of a teenager whose brain was percolatin' with the music of Hank Snow, the Yodellng Ranger, who released "Little Buddy" as a single in the late  `50s  '40s (See the "Addendums" below on the recording history of "Little Buddy").


Broken hearted and so sad
Big blue eyes all covered with tears
Was a picture of sorrow to see
Kneeling close to the side
Of his pal and only pride
A little lad, these words he told me..." ~ "Little Buddy" by Bob Zimmerman

Broken hearted and so sad, golden curls all wet with tears,
'twas a picture of sorrow to see.
Kneeling close to the side of his pal and only pride,
A little lad these words he told me... ~ "Little Buddy" by Hank Snow

The editor of the camp newspaper apparently kept the handwritten transcription of "Little Buddy" for some 52 years. "Do what you want with it," Dylan reportedly told camp officials, possibly with tongue firmly in cheek, when contacted about it.

Hank Snow made some 840 commercial recordings between 1936 and 1985, according to his bio  on the County Music Hall of Fame web site. Eighty-five of his singles hit the Billboard charts from 1949 to 1980, although apparently not "Little Buddy."

Known variously as the "Singing" and "Yodeling" Ranger, Snow seldom used his last name in his early career. During the mid-'40s Snow incorporated a trick riding display into his traveling road show, featuring "Shawnee the Wonder Horse." In a typical show, Snow would ride in on Shawnee, play a couple of tunes on horseback, and then perform some rodeo stunts, including the crowd-pleasing "death drag," and a comedy routine where Shawnee would steal a blanket from a sleeping Snow.

By 1948, Snow was in Dallas, Texas, working in a club owned by Jack Ruby, later infamous for becoming the assassin of John F. Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

In early 1950, Snow made it to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and was introduced onstage by Hank Williams, Sr., who joked that they should refer to each other as "short and tall" Hank to avoid confusion. Snow's first hit was on RCA, the monster "I’m Moving On" a piece that Snow’s producer had not even wanted him to cut.  The song stayed the charts for forty-four weeks through 1950 and 1951.

Hank Snow averaged two or three Top Ten hits a year during the `50s and `60s, including "A Fool Such as I” (1952), and “I’ve Been Everywhere” (1962).  He was also one of the originators of the country "theme" (you knew we were going to get that in somewhere) concept LP, and one of the earliest champions of Elvis Presley.  Snow's 19 and 85 duet album with Willie Nelson was his last recording.

It'd be interesting to know how Dylan came across "Little Buddy."  Did he have the single (Possibly. See the "addendums" below)?  Did he hear Snow perform it on WSM from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry?  However he first heard it, it impressed him enough to memorize "Little Buddy." Although not an original Dylan, "Little Buddy" is in his handwriting, and probably still worth something even if not as an example of the young Bob Zimmerman being "way before his time" as one of the articles has it.

Maybe what it does show is what Bob Zimmerman was up to that summer in 19 and 57, banging on the piano in the rec. room of Herzl Camp in Webster, Wisconsin, head filled with Hank Snow, on his way to becoming Bob Dylan.

A late addendum... The single pictured above was apparently only for radio use. As far as I can determine, "Little Buddy" was only commercially released on one of Hank Snow's first "theme" LPs, "When Tragedy Struck."  The album was issued on the RCA label in January of 19 and 59, according to the LP Discography site.  and the song was recorded for the album on Apr 17, 1958 at RCA Victor Studio, Nashville in the great state of Tennessee.  It's copyrighted "1958" according to the album liner notes. (I'm wrong.  See the "Yet Another Addendum" below).

This brings up the obvious question about how did Bob Zimmerman provide "Little Buddy" to his camp newspaper in the summer of 19 and 57.  Possibly after all these years, memories fade and the players got the date wrong about when Dylan attended the camp.  Maybe the LP's liner notes have both the recording and copyright dates wrong, although that's unlikely.

But it's more likely that the young Bob Dylan, sponge that he was, heard Snow perform it on the radio, scribbled down the lyrics, and during the summer of 19 and 57 was figuring out how the song was put together.  What worked.  What didn't.  Why one song would tug at your heart and another make you shudder at the saccharine.

On his way, as I said, to becoming Bob Dylan.

Yet Another Addendum:  Thanks to the efforts of "The Chief," (see Comments section) we now know how the young Bob Zimmerman could have transcribed "Little Buddy" in 19 and 57 . Even though Hank Snow apparently copyrighted the song in 1958, he first recorded it at least a decade earlier, once on the Canadian "Bluebird" label in 1948, and later that year as a U.S. re-issue on RCA.  As "The Chief" notes, was Hank Snow's "Little Buddy"/"You Played Love" part of the teenage Bob Zimmerman's record collection in the early `50s?
.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"They don't put that kind of thing in movies anymore..."

"...Veronica Lake all of a sudden singing in a nightclub...



... Diahann Carroll is singing in a cafe...



the Sons of the Pioneers are playing on a truck...




"They don't put that kind of thing in movies anymore..." ~ Bob Dylan, 2009


.

Tico-Tico - Ethel Smith

"Let's go below the border for some South American jive."



via the "Official Bob Dylan Twitter Page" whose taste is occasionally as eclectic as Dreamtime's.

Ethel Smith, Empress of the Mighty Hammond B-3, for your edification. The clip above is from Bathing Beauty, a 19 and 44 vehicle for "America's Mermaid," Esther Williams, and which also starred Red Skelton.  Smith played an "Assistant Music Professor," whose all-girl students take a little time off from academia and demand some jive from South of the Border. Smith obliges with her big hit number, Tico-Tico, which reached No. 14 on the U.S. pop charts in November 1944 and sold over one million copies worldwide.

As Mr. D. said in his recent Rolling Stone interview, "...Veronica Lake all of a sudden singing in a nightclub... Diahann Carroll is singing in a cafe... the Sons of the Pioneers are playing on a truck... They don't put that kind of thing in movies anymore..."

Tico-Tico was written in 1917 by Zequinha de Abreu, originally under the title Tico Tico no Farelo. It became better-known in the 1940s as Tico Tico no Fuba. and eventually simply, Tico-Tico. The song was introduced into the United States by, believe it or not, Donald Duck, in the 1942 Disney Studios animated film, Saludos Amigos.

Tico-Tico wouldn't be Ethel Smith's sole Disney connection. In 1948, she made an appearance in the Disney live action/animated feature Melody Time, where she starred with Mr Duck, José Carioca, and the so-called Aracuan Bird . Dressed like Carmen Miranda, who had also had a hit with Tico-Tico, Miss Smith appears at the Hammond pumping out Blame it on the Samba, breaks into dance, pounds on the bongos, and survives having her Hammond destroyed by her feathered co-stars.

Ethel Smith returned to the big screen one more time to play a small role in 19 and 67's go-go movie, C'mon, Let's Live a Little, starring Bobby Vee and Jackie DeShannon. Smith play's Bobby Vee's Aunt Ethel, a go-go boot-wearing hillbilly matron who entertains with the country-western song, Way Back Home.

Watch the clip while you can, as Bathing Beauty is owned by TCM, which is notorious for demanding that its content - be it trailers or clips - is displayed on its site only. I'm still pissed about Hootenanny Hoot. In any case, if the clip is gone from YouTube, you may be able to find it here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Mouse" Strauss in the House

Journeyman ~ a technically competent, but undistinguished, boxer. 

It's all in the eye of the beholder.

"Mouse could walk on his hands across a football field," Bob Dylan says of Bruce "The Mouse" Strauss in a recent Rolling Stone interview. "He taught me the pugilistic rudiments back a while ago, maybe 20 or 30 years."

Probably sometime in the late `70s or `80s, then. The Mouse fought his last professional match in 19 and 89 at age 37, winning a unanimous decision over Terry Jesmer in the sixth round.  It was Mouse's 136th battle in a pro career stretching over 13 years.  During that time he stood up for 736 rounds, won 77 fights (55 by knockouts), lost 53 (28 where Mouse was KO'd himself), and fought six opponents to a draw.

Those are the numbers.  Numbers don't tell you much.  But maybe I can.

Think about it. 136 fights over 13 years. Probably doesn't sound like a lot. It only averages out to around 10 bouts a year, a fight a month or so. But in contrast, as David Letterman remarks in the video clip at the end of this article,  Muhammad Ali fought just a total 61 times in his 21-year professional career. Mike Tyson retired after 58 fights,  Smokin' Joe Frazier stepped into the ring only 37 times as a pro.

And we've only produced the record for one Bruce "The Mouse" Strauss, stats that may be suspect anyway, as another on-line authority claims says Strauss had 145 fights and a 79-60-6 record. But, we still haven't counted in the fights of  "Pretty Boy" Floyd Bernstein, "Machine Gun" Kelly Jones, and the boxer with the very Dylanesque moniker of "Reuben Bardot."  All Bruce Strauss under a variety of  pseudonyms.

By his own count, Mouse guesses he had somewhere around 250 fights, and was in the ring an average of two to three times a week.  Even if that's an exaggeration, we're still talking about a fight nearly every week every month for 13 years.

Picture getting clearer?

The kinder name is "Opponent." The term used in the gym and in the back rooms where the deals are signed is a lot cruder:  "Tomato Can." The name reportedly comes out of the `20s, with a manager telling his fighter, "Listen kid, you got nothing to worry about. That guy is as easy to knock over as an empty tomato can."  Maybe it comes from the fact that most tomato cans are bleeders, squirting out that ol' tomato juice, losing many of their fights on a decision because they cut too easily.

Bleeder or not, a tomato can is a boxer who can take a lickin' and keep on tickin' until knocked out or the fight is stopped.  He's the one who can be relied on to put up a good fight and put on a good show... no complaints about tanking. Back before the AIDs scare your classic tomato can would be a crowd-pleasing bleeder, squirting out that tomato juice into the seats back to the third row.. Chuck Wepner, the Bayonne Bleeder who almost upset Muhammad Ali, was the epitome of tomato cans, fighting Ali into the 15th with a broken nose and cuts over both eyes masking his face with blood.  Rocky Balboa, who was based on Chuck Wepner, is the movie idealization of a tomato can.

What a tomato can can best be counted on is for losing if the other fighter is any good. He's the one you get when your boy is on the way up and needs a shot of confidence.  The one you look for when you need a tune-up fight or good workout. The one you pick when your champ doesn't want to work too hard - one of Ali's string of unknowns during the `70s, or Joe Louis' "bum of the month."  He's the one the promoter signs for the undercard, usually a local who you've never heard of unless you follow club fighters.  Lost in the smoke and lights, noisy crowd ignoring him until he goes down or starts bleeding, making a few hundred for the night.

Although he didn't squirt out the tomato juice (and indeed retained his good looks to the end of his career), Bruce "The Mouse" Strauss was the very model of a tomato can, a sobriquet he cheerfully applied to himself. "I've been knocked out on every continent except Antarctica," the Mouse claimed in several interviews, noting that he had missed out on the South Pole only because he didn't like the cold. "I have been knocked out more than any other fighter. And I am the losing participant in the world's shortest fight - 11 seconds, counting the 10-count."  The Mouse is so comfortable with the tag as one of the biggest tomato cans in history that he staged his Kayo boxing card to reflect his usual ring position - knocked down, eyes blacked, gamely grabbing the rope as he stares into the camera and prepares to get back on his feet and back to work.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 19 and 52, the Mouses' boxing career began at age 24, when he went backstage to visit a friend who was on that night's boxing card. The promoter needed a replacement for a pug who had a last-minute case of an ailment known in boxing circles as frigis pedis, and recruited Strauss. Even though his entire experience with fighting up to that point was as a college wrestler, the soon-to-be Mouse stepped into the ring and defeated his opponent in a four-round decision. Strauss liked the squared circle so much that he signed on for a fight the very next night in Topeka, Kansas. He knocked his opponent out in the third round.

It was the brilliant start to what could charitably be called an uneven pro boxing career.  The Mouse guesstimates that he lost roughly half of his estimated 250 fights, once losing two fights in the same night, which has to be some sort of record. After getting knocked out in an earlier fight, Strauss regained consciousness to find the promoter arguing with another boxer who had come down with a severe case of  frigis pedis and refused to get into the ring.  The Mouse convinced the promoter that with a change of trunks he could go on as a replacement with no one the wiser.  "Wait a second," a ringsider yelled as Strauss headed into battle a second time.  "Didn't I just see that bum get knocked out?"

"That was my twin brother," the Mouse calmly replied. "I'm 'Moose' Strauss."

"Moose" retained the family honor, getting knocked out too.  But he collected two paychecks for his efforts.  The Mouse also wasn't shy about changing divisions if the price was right, simply dropping a few weights into his trunks to move from light- to middle- to heavyweight before getting on the scales.

By the mid-'80s, the tomato can lifestyle was getting hard to maintain, with tighter health and safety regulations and computerized records making it close to impossible for a fighter to endure two or three beatings a week or mysteriously changing weight divisions from fight to fight.  The Mouse retired in `89,  having taking on future world champions Marlon Starling (welterweight), Mike McCallum (middleweight), and Bobby Czyz (light-heavyweight and cruiserweight) over the course of his career.  Typically, he lost all three fights.

About a decade late Strauss' life story was made into a movie titled with his nickname, The Mouse; starring John Savage in the title role, Burt Young (Paulie in Rocky), Randall "Tex" Cobb, another tomato can and close friend of the Mouse, Dominic Chianese (Junior Soprano), and Rip Torn.

How, when, and where The Mouse hooked up with Bob Dylan is unknown.  As the Rolling Stone article implies, Mouse was a regular for many a year in The Bob Dylan Show touring cadre. He was probably also a fixture at the gym Dylan is rumored to own somewhere in Santa Monica where' he's knocked and been knocked about by luminaries such as Quentin Tarantino (Dylan reportedly dropped him on his ass), Gina Gershon (she reportedly dropped Dylan on his ass), and Sean Penn (outcome unknown). "Tex" Cobb's wife noted that Mouse was a close friend of Dylan's, and introduced her and Tex to him in the early `80s.  Dylan himself gave a shout-out to the Mouse in an April 2000 Omaha concert, saying from the stage with tongue firmly-in-cheek, "I want to say hello to my good friend World Champion Boxer Mouse Strauss. Mouse if you're out there, stand up and take a bow."

But as chatty and full of stories as Bruce "the Mouse" Strauss could be, he was - and is - consistently mum on one subject.  If you write about the man long enough, you find that's not unusual.  The people closest to Bob Dylan don't talk about Bob Dylan.

It's kind of like the first rule of Fight Club.

Below, Bruce "The Mouse" Strauss on David Letterman.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Better Drug Song Than "Heroin"


One of Dreamtime's regular correspondents, who goes by the complimentary title of "Dreamtime Fan" recently asked in the "comments" section:
"Maybe your investigative reporting could dig up the truth behind a song that I've wondered about for a while? In regards to the Classic Rock Show, there is a lot of confusion as to who really wrote Chinese Rocks. ... I would love to know the truth behind it."
I'm not sure I'm going to be telling DF anything more than s/he already knows about Chinese Rocks but here goes. I once had a friend who was connected to the movie biz who always forced me to sit through the closing credits of every movie we went to. This was before the common use of gag reels or the sort of bonus material you get these days in the credits of the theatrical release of movies like Cloverfield or Iron Man. After the second or third time of watching names scroll down a screen until the final copyright warning, I asked her, "Why are we were doing this?"

"I like to see which of my friends are making money," she answered.

A good way of knowing who's getting paid for their creative efforts is to see whether their names are on the credits. Now, that doesn't always hold true: Rum and Coca-Cola is a perfect example. However, if you go to the ASCAP and/or BMI databases, you'll see Chinese Rocks is credited to "Douglas Colvin" and "Richard Meyers," better known onstage as "Dee Dee" Ramone and Richard Hell. Chinese Rocks is the song's "official" name, although it's also known as Chinese Rock - part of the cause of controversy over its authorship, as there are several versions of Chinese Rock, while only one real Chinese Rocks.

While not a resource I normally point to as a font of accuracy, Wikipedia seems to have the facts straight on the song's creation as far as my other research indicates. Richard Hell has acknowledged that Dee Dee Ramone had the original idea, sparked by Hell boasting that he was going to write a better drug song than Lou Reed's Heroin. Wanting to one-up Hell, Dee Dee started writing Chinese Rocks. He had finished the music, one verse, and the chorus when his band, The Ramones, rejected the song. Dee Dee quoted Joey Ramone as saying Chinese Rocks was too obviously drug-related. Apparently I Wanna Be Sedated was okay in Joey's estimation, but I wasn't there to debate the topic with him.

In any case, once the Gabba-Gabba-Hey! boys had bounced Chinese Rocks, Dee went to Hell (no pun intended... much), offering the song for his band The Heartbreakers if he cared to finish it. According to Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Hell added two more verses and Chinese Rocks was complete.

Things get a bit complicated after that. Stories differ about how Chinese Rocks got into the hands of The Heartbreakers, but it became a standard in their live shows, and the band eventually recorded it for release on their album of 19 and 77, L.A.M.F., better-known known by its acronym because of its unprintable title. The song was also released as a single, selling over 20,000 copies.

The single and the vinyl L.A.M.F. credit the song to all of The Heartbreakers - Johnny Thunders and Heartbreakers' drummer Jerry Nolan - as well as to Dee Dee Ramone and Richard Hell. However, the CD reissues of L.A.M.F. name all three Ramones, Joey and Johnny as well as Dee Dee, as the writers and leave out Richard Hell and the other Heartbreakers altogether. On their vinyl release of End of the Century, The Ramones credit Dee Dee and Richard Hell as the songwriters, but in the CD re-release, the song is again credited to The Ramones as a whole with no Hell in sight.

This is where the missing "S" comes in. Although it's obviously the same song with only slightly changed lyrics, The Ramones call their version on their albums - whether vinyl or CD - Chinese Rock.

Confused yet? Good. The question remains, "Why all the tsuris?" Money is the most obvious candidate, as it always is. With Dee Dee gone, Richard Hell is the only living person with a legitimate claim to royalty payments for Chinese Rocks/Rock, no matter who is claiming authorship on album credits. Whether he is seeing any money with all the machinations over credits and titles, I don't know. As far as the shift from Dee Dee as author to The Ramones as a whole as well as the missing "S", I suspect that both had something to do with the desire to keep the filthy lucre flowing to The Ramones rather than to any one Ramone.

Money or not, it probably also had had something to do with ego, arguments over things no one can remember now, slights - real and imagined - and pissed-off people leaving bands with other pissed-off people staying with the band and people in bands pissed-off at each other.

Johnny Thunders died in `91, with Heartbreakers drummer Jerry Nolan, the man whose lifestyle probably inspired Chinese Rocks, stepping out in 19 and 92. Dee Dee Ramone would make it to another decade, 2002, before overdosing. Thunders and Ramone would argue all the way to their respective graves about who wrote Chinese Rocks. Dee Dee had the final word, calling Thunders and the the other Heartbreakers "low-lifes" in his 2000 memoir, Lobotomy, notably without mention of Richard Hell's role in Chinese Rocks' creation.

Richard Hell, a.k.a. Richard Meyers, lives in New York City, and is the surviving co-author of Chinese Rocks, according to both BMI and ASCAP.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Pilgrimages

I've been reading Douglas Brinkley's interview of Bob Dylan in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, which I hadn't thought much of until Sean over at RightWingBob linked to "out-takes" from the interview that hadn't made it to publication.

Rolling Stone has since removed that additional material, unfortunate, as they helped to clarify what seems to me a very disjointed and superficial interview with Dylan. As just one example, Dylan's remark to Nicolas Sarkozy about "the whole global thing" being over, which reads in the print version as either an off-the-cuff joke or a Dylanesque non sequiter, was actually part of a larger conversation about globalization, which Dylan apparently takes very seriously (he's agi'n it).

In any case, I commend Sean's posts at the link above to your attention, as well as the clip he posted on YouTube of Brinkley being interviewed about the interview. If you sometimes weary of Bob Dylan's complaints that he's held to a different standard than the Average Bear, you might reflect on how many people there are in the world whose interviewer would command their own interview, simply on the strength of having interviewed you.

Brinkley mentions in that clip that Dylan likes pilgrimages and, in fact, encourages his fans to check out his old stomping grounds in Hibbing and Dinkytown. Brinkley's article touches on the various pilgrimages Dylan has taken himself, the famous one to see Carl Sandburg in `64, his recent trip to Neil Young's boyhood home ("I wanted to walk the steps that Neil walked every day"), and the less well-known pilgrimages to the homes or graves of Buddy Holly, Jack Kerouac, and Elvis.

Back in the late `80s, Dylan made a pilgrimage to the farm James Dean grew up on. I did a podcast about that trip way back when I was just starting Dreamtime. It was a story I felt a deep connection with because I had had made my own James Dean pilgrimage about a decade earlier. Here's I Ran at Bakersfield, a 9 1/2 minute audio dream, first broadcast on Dreamtime in September 2006, 51 years after the death of James Dean. It remains one of my favorite episodes.

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[Intro]



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[James Dean - Drive Safely]

Episode 15 – I ran at Bakersfield

This is the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show.

Sometimes you write the show, and sometimes the show decides to write you. This is one of those shows. This Saturday is September 30th, 2006. Fifty-one years ago, on September 30th, 1955, James Dean died.

I didn't remember that until a few days ago. The date – and the accident – used to be a lot more important to me some 30-odd years back. In the early '70s, I spent the good part of one Fall season driving back and forth between Northern and Southern California, down the Grapevine on Route 5 from Los Angeles, through the San Joaquin Valley and back to the college I was in the long, slow process of leaving.

There was a girl in Los Angeles. There's always a girl somewhere in every story. She was in the long, slow process of leaving me too, but I didn't know that then. So every Thursday I would take the Volkswagen, loaded with whatever passengers I could find who were willing to pony up $10 bucks for a roundtrip to LA and back and leave around 11 or so at night to go stay with my girl over the weekend. On Sundays, I'd make the reverse trip… 350 miles back.

On one trip back – by myself that time – I detoured off 5 after passing Bakersfield and headed west on Highway 46, pulling off at the intersection of 46 and 41. It was a little before six pm on September 30th, 19 and 71.

Sixteen years earlier, Dean's Porsche Spyder flew over the road I had just traveled, bearing down like a freight train on the downgrade to a bump-in-the-road town called Cholame. At the intersection of Highways 46 and 41, Dean would collide with a Ford Tudor, driven by a 23-year-old with the unlikely last name of Turnupseed. It was 5:45 in the early evening. The sun was just setting.

Turnupseed would survive the accident and live for another 40 years. He would never speak publicly about what had happened. Dean's one passenger also survived. Dean lived for a few moments after the crash, but was pronounced Dead On Arrival at Paso Robles Hospital.

Rebel without a Cause would premiere about a month later.

We all make pilgrimages. In 1988, Dylan, with an entourage of 15 in tow, visited the farm that Dean grew up on, in Fairmount, Indiana. "It was 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning,” said Marcus Winslow, one of Dean’s cousins. “He'd had a concert in Indianapolis, and he came with a bus to Fairmount. He came out here for a few minutes. ..."

That was probably the morning of July 16th, 19 and 88, the morning after Dylan finished a show at the Indiana State Fairgrounds during what would become the first year of the Never Ending Tour. As an aside, Dylan mentions in the liner notes of World Gone Wrong that the Never Ending Tour actually ended three years later in 1991, to be followed by a succession of others, including The Money Never Runs Out, The Southern Sympathizer and the Why Do You Look at Me So Strangely tours.

No word on what the current one is called, although I’m holding out hope that its name is The Search for Rejection tour in honor of Modern Times.

In 1955, Bob Dylan was 14 years old. Like hundreds of other teenagers he would see Rebel multiple times, and bought Rebel's iconic red jacket… just like James Dean’s.

During the 1963 cover shoot for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Dylan reportedly wanted to create Roy Schatt's 1954 photo of James Dean walking down West 68th in New York City. The Freewheelin' photo that would eventually be the cover uses Jones Street in Greenwich Village, a one-block street connecting West 4th and Bleeker, as its backdrop.

At least one other Don Hunstein photo from the same session has surfaced. Used as the cover art on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan Outtakes bootleg, the picture also features Dylan's girlfriend at the time, Suze Rotolo, braced on his arm as he strikes an even more Dean-like pose.

We all emulate our heroes.

On the 50th anniversary of Dean's death, the state of California put up a sign at the intersection, naming it the James Dean Memorial Junction. If you travel about a quarter of a mile west, you'll find a memorial put up in 1977 by a Japanese Dean fan. It's engraved with Dean's name, date of birth and death, an infinity symbol, and what was reportedly Dean's favorite quote, "What is essential is invisible to the eye," from The Little Prince.

Back in the early `70s, none of that was there to see at the junctions of 41 and 46, just a lonely, dusty patch of California road. I sat on the hood of my car for awhile, watching the sun go down. And I got back in the VW, pulled onto the road, blinded then by the explosion of the sunset's glare, not able to see a thing.

And a car came out of the sunset light, engine screaming, horn blaring, swerving inches from my left bumper, and then gone.

I think it was a silver Porsche. It looked like a Porsche. But except for a lone, dark patch of rubber from its braking, there was nothing left to see.

I had stalled the VW in my fright. I started it up again and drove on. In a year I'd be in the Army, and on the road that would eventually lead me here, in my kitchen in New Hampshire, looking out the window at golden Fall light, writing this, in the year of our Lord, 2006.

[Rebel without a Cause theme]

This has been Fred Bals with the Dreamtime podcast, occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show and occasionally commentary on other dreams. I'll be at Podcast Expo in Ontario, California on September 30th. If you're in the neighborhood, come by and say hello.

I'll be the guy wearing the red jacket... just like James Dean.

The opening Gig Young interview with James Dean on automobile safety and the closing Rebel theme were both taken from the beautifully produced Rebel without a Cause 2-disc DVD set. If you haven't seen Rebel - or haven't seen it in awhile, go watch it. The background music - provided tonight from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network. Check it out at 'music.podshow.com. The artist is nezecus.

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For the New Theme Time Radio Hour Listener

As a fan of Theme Time Radio Hour, I sometimes forget that not everyone is familiar with the show. Many Bob Dylan fans have never heard an episode of TTRH, even if they know of it. With the success of Together Through Life (Now #1 with a bullet on both the U.S. and U.K. charts. Go, Mr. D!), Dreamtime is getting on the average of a half-dozen emails a day from people who picked up the deluxe package, heard the "Friends and Neighbors" show and now want more TTRH .

So here's the scoop, amended from our Theme Time Radio Hour "Frequently Asked Questions" document which you should check out if you have other questions about the show.

Theme Time Radio Hour Promotional CDs

A CD of the complete Baseball show was released in 2006 as part of an in-store promotion for Modern Times. The link above will take you to Amazon where various re-sellers offer the disc for prices currently ranging from the reasonable to the ridiculous. The disc can also be found on eBay, but note the following caveat for either Amazon or eBay: if packaging and "original condition" are important to you, you should make sure the disc is not a CD-R copy and is in its original cardboard sleeve (with the TTRH logo on the front and playlist on the back) before purchasing. If you liked "Friends and Neighbors" chances are you'll love "Baseball," which features among other things Your Host Bob Dylan performing Take Me Out to the Ball Game a capella.

Another promotional CD, featuring the "Friends and Neighbors" episode, is part of the "deluxe" Together Through Life package released in April 2009. I noted in another post that "Friends and Neighbors" wouldn't have been my first choice for a TTRH commercial release but after listening to the show again, I've decided I was wrong. The show has everything that makes TTRH special; quirky music, interesting facts and trivia; two emails, wife-swapping and swinging, and Our Host launching into a blistering attack on modern country music. Who could ask for more?

Theme Time Radio Hour Music Compilations

As of May 2009 there were five different commercial CD compilations featuring music only from TTRH. Note that these compilations do not include Dylan's commentary or other features that made the show unique, and that the tracks used on the compilations are not necessarily the ones used on the show. If you're interested in the folk, jazz, swing, rockabilly and country music played on TTRH, you might like these sets. If you're looking for TTRH shows, they're not for you.

There are three "unauthorized" (unauthorized in the sense that they were not produced with the involvement of the TTRH team) sets from the Chrome Dreams/ISIS label: The Best of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour Volume 1 and Volume 2 which cover the show's first season and The Best Of The Second Series which compiles music from the show's second season. All three compilations are 2-CD sets. Note that all three links will take you to the Amazon U.K. store, which is where I recommend you purchase the sets. Dreamtime has received emails complaining that the buyer was sent Alan Freed's A Stompin' Good Time instead of the Chrome Dream TTRH compilations when purchasing through the U.S. store.

Radio Radio , a 4-CD box set released in 2008 from Mischief Music - again "unauthorized" - also covers music from TTRH's first season.

The authorized Theme Time Radio Hour with Your Host Bob Dylan set was compiled by Ace Records U.K. under the supervision of TTRH producer Eddie Gordodetsky and Dylan business manager, Jeff Rosen. Of the five compilations, Theme Time Radio Hour with Your Host Bob Dylan probably best reflects the breadth of music played on TTRH as it contains both relatively modern music, such as The White Stripes Seven Nation Army and The Clash's Tommy Gun, as well as the type of vintage cuts you'll find on the other sets.

While not marketed as TTRH material, the 2008 Starbucks compilation, Artist's Choice - Bob Dylan: Music That Matters To Him is also highly recommended. The CD set reflects Dylan's musical interests, "right now," as he relates in the liner notes, and the music in the compilation could easily have appeared on a TTRH playlist. The CD also has another connection to TTRH. Its liner notes state that it was produced by "Tim Ziegler," the name used by a fictitious caller during one of the Season 2 episodes who complained that Dylan had misidentified a record label. As with the "Baseball" show, if "original condition" is important to you, you'll want to ensure that you're getting the original disc including its original packaging before purchasing.

Non-commercial

Yes, they're out there. No, I'm not going to tell you how to find them.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Mister Announcer, Who Are You?

A tip of the hat to Dreamtime pal Scott Warmuth, he of the ever-intriguing sources of Dylan dispatches, who passed on the following tidbit...
"On one of the shows you'll remember Dylan using the "Mister announcer, who are you?...Tell me the station I'm listening to....How about telling the time to me?... And what's the weather gonna be?..." jingle."
The show Scott is referring to is "Radio" broadcast as the 17th show of Season 1 way back in August of Ought-Six. The full intro call and response between Dylan and a radio chorus is:

Chorus: Mister Announcer, who are you?

Our Host: Howdy everyone, this is Bob Dylan.

Chorus: Tell me the station I'm listening to?

OH: The XM network, satellite radio.

Chorus: How about telling a time to meet?

OH: It's time for Theme Time Radio Hour!

Chorus: And what's the weather going to be?

OH: It's cold and foggy and raining! It's going down to 30 degrees tonight. I don't know what it's it like where you are but that's what it's like here!

Scott goes on to write,
"That one floored me, because I used to play it on my show..." That jingle [comes from] an instructional album called You Be A Disc Jockey... One side of the album features a faux radio show with an announcer. The album is on Cameo, so all of the music is Chubby Checker, Dee Dee Sharp and other Cameo artists. The other side of the album has the same faux radio show, but without the announcer. It comes with a script, so the idea is that you read the script and practice sounding like the guy on Side One."
I can relate to the being floored, as that's the way I felt when TTRH played Frank Sinatra's commercial for Pete Epsteen Pontiac, an obscure cut I had first heard on a Dean Martin bootleg.

You can see the cover above of You Be a Disc Jockey, a title which makes me smile every time I think of it in relation to Theme Time Radio Hour and Our Host. The Philly deejay featured on the album is "Don Bruce," real name Bruce Fentesmacher, aka "Brother Brucie" who had a long and productive career in radio from the late `50s to the early `90s. He''s still with us, retired, and living in Pennsylvania, probably unaware that he has one weird connection with TTRH through an album he recorded in 19 and 62.

You Be a Disc Jockey seems to have been a favorite among teens in the early Sixties interested in a career spinning those licorice pizzas. I found several references on the Web by people who fondly remembered the album, at least one of whom became a jock himself and tracked down Don Bruce to acknowledge his influence.

As Scott mentions, UBADJ was a release from the Cameo label and featured Cameo artists, including Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, Tootie & the Bouquets (I'm not making this up), the Tymes, the Dovells, the Orlons (I'm really not making this up), and The Rays. Home to many weird recordings probably best forgotten these days, Cameo's biggest success was likely Chubby Checker's mega-hit The Twist, a song that had originally been recorded by Hank ("not Jimmy, Tennessee") Ballard back in 19 and 59 and didn't do much at the time. Chubby's cover, in contrast, started one of the biggest dance crazes of all times. "It's like crushing out a cigarette butt," one of my instructors used to tell me as she vainly tried to get the ycleptic 9-year-old Fred to rotate his hips with only indifferent success.

But I digress, as Mr. D. would say.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

"If indeed there ever was a door."

Not encouraging news for those hoping for a 4th season of Theme Time Radio Hour.

The current (cover date of May 14 2009) issue of Rolling Stone has a short blurb in their "In the News" section under the questioning lede "Dylan's Radio Show to End?" although the body copy makes it clear that TTRH has indeed ended, at least for the near-term.
After three years and 100 shows Bob Dylan's Sirius XM program may be leaving the airwaves. "I stopped doing those shows a while ago and then XM Radio was combined with another one," Dylan tells ROLLING STONE. "They want to renew. They'd like more shows. But I'm not so sure." On April 15th, Dylan aired the final episode of the third season with the theme of "goodbye" concluding with Woody Guthrie's "So Long, It's Been Good to Know Yuh." Siius XM declined to comment on the show.
Taking the report at face value, we have the interesting information that Mr. D. "stopped doing those shows a while ago," further evidence that the shows of "Season 3" were probably recorded during the same period that produced Season 2 and were split into the two seasons by Sirius XM. Dylan had probably fully wrapped up his part of TTRH in 2008, possibly early 2008, as he mentions the Sirius XM merger happening after the fact.

Given that from Mr. D.'s perspective he last did anything with TTRH over a year ago, it's probably why he sounds dismissive of the subject. Although published separately, it's evident that he was asked about the show during Doug Brinkley's interview published in the same issue. I'm pretty sure I can even pin-point when the question came up, towards the end of the published interview, when Brinkley mentions several "future projects" including "Brazil-inspired paintings"; a TV special; and some sort of orchestral release of Dylan's "timeless standards." If the probable end of TTRH is disappointing, as is no mention of The Hank Williams Project, the most heartening news is that Chronicles Volume 2 is in progress.

I'm of mixed emotions about Theme Time Radio Hour ending, if that door has closed forevermore. I'll miss it, but 100 shows is an accomplishment unto itself, and it's always better to go out with the audience wanting more. One of the things that struck me about the penultimate "Big Clearance Sale" episode was that it was refreshing to hear a show not constrained by a theme, or at least had a theme as loose as "Clarence." Maybe the "theme" theme has run out its string, and it's time to be driftin' along, as someone once said. Or maybe Our Host, mercurial personality that he is, will surprise us all and come up with a new variation of the show.

There's always the possibility that someone else with the chutzpah of Lee Abrams will pique Mr. D.'s interest, and then have the intelligence to stand aside and let him run with his ideas.

But whatever happens, it's been a good run. Thank you, Mr. D.

And Dreamtime? There are still a few TTRH articles left to write, maybe a podcast or two left to do. We're going through the 100 episodes of Theme Time Radio Hour, listening to them in order, finding gems that we missed the first time around. And we have a new project in the works that we hope to be telling you about real soon.

Stay tuned.

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