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Thursday, September 24, 2009

The "Tarantula" Photo Session

Some edits made in 2014 with new info from a Dreamtime correspondent.

A thread over at the Expecting Rain forums had me searching out the history of the photo to the left, one of a series taken in March 1965 by Daniel Kramer at a cabin located on Albert Grossman's Bearsville estate. The location is a storage shack on Peter Yarrow's mother's (Vera Yarrow) property in Woodstock, according to a conversation between Kramer and Bob Egan, of the fabulous PopSpots site.  According to Kramer, most of the "weird ephemera" were books, magazines and family memorabilia from the Yarrow family -- including the photo of the man on the left.

Bob Dylan is in the foreground with Sara Lowndes - soon to be Sara Dylan - standing in the doorway.

This is one in a group of five or six shots taken by Kramer and intended (as Kramer relates in his 1967 book of photos, Bob Dylan) for the cover of Tarantula. Kramer and Dylan intentionally tried to replicate the look-and-feel of Kramer's iconic cover for Bringing It All Back Home, a little too successfully, as the photos were ultimately rejected as being too similar.

As with the Bringing It All Back Home photo, Dylan is surrounded by a variety of weird ephemera, and as with the better-known photo, there's a tendency to read more into their significance than they probably deserve. Both Kramer and Sally Grossman have said in various interviews that most of the props used in the Bringing It All Back Home shoot happened to be at hand and Kramer used because he thought they fit. The same can probably be said of the props for the unused "Tarantula" photos.

I've only be able to identify a few of the props. From the bottom center and moving clockwise:

Playing Cards: Ace of Spades, Facedown card, Queen of Spades, Jack of Spades, Joker

Woman's Day Book of American Needlework by Rose Wilder Lane (1963)

Unidentified box. The word "Religious" can be read at the upper right corner.

Cardboard cut-out of Beagle.

Unidentified magazine. The magazine is the Sunday, March 14th, 1965 edition of the New York Times Magazine, and the person portrayed is indeed Senator Everett Dirksen, a politician probably best-remembered today for the phrase, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money." (in fact, Dirksen probably didn't say that, but the quote is usually ascribed to him).

Paper with Handwritten ALWAYS!!! A faint sketch of a face can be seen below the words.

Unidentified photo.

Unidentified record cover. Label is Verve. The cover is likely DVORAK: Slavonic Dances. JEAN MARTINON conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. RCA VICTROLA STEREO Record Album (VICS 1054).

Unidentified record cover (not seen in all photos in the series): "The (unreadable) Jug Band."  As also noted in the comments, The album is a 1962 compilation on the OJL label, titled "The Great Jug Bands."

Needlepoint reading "Be True To Me. Let Me Be True to Myself."

Dylan is holding a copy of The Bhavans Journal in his right hand, probably belonging to Sara, a magazine focused on Indian culture, life, and literature, established in 1954 and still being published. His cloth "sailor's cap" is in his left hand.

The full series of photos can be found at Dylanstubs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

From The Hank Williams Project: Lucinda Williams - I'm Happy I Found You



Sometimes you write an article so you can write the article. I was hoping that if I tossed some bread out on the water it might get returned threefold, and lo and behold, Dreamtime correspondent "Joe," wrote to tell us,

"...I was in Minnesota Friday (September 18, 2009) for Lucinda's show and her on-stage wedding. Before the ceremony she sang her Hank Williams collaboration..."
With a little luck and judicious searching, I found this well-shot video of Lucinda Williams performing for the first time live her song from The Hank Williams Project, "I'm Happy I Found You." Her introduction to "I'm Happy I Found You" begins at 4:52 seconds into the clip.
"...this was written by Hank and me. The reason I say that, it's interesting, because some lyrics were found of Hank Williams without the music. So I was asked to choose a song and write the music... for an album that Bob Dylan was putting together... it's still not out yet, I don't what's going on with it...but anyway... it's a very unusual set of lyrics for Hank.  The other, special reason I'm doing a Hank Williams song is because Hank Williams was married on stage. And I figured... if it's good enough for Hank,  it's good enough for us.  This is called, 'I'm Happy I Found You'."
After the song Williams married her manager and sweetie, Tom Overby, in an on-stage ceremony, borrowing the idea from Hank Williams' wedding to Billie Jean Jones Eshlimar on October 19, 1952.  Williams actually had married Eshlimar a day earlier in a private ceremony, but staged two public ceremonies on the 19th at the New Orleans Civic Auditorium where 14,000 seats were sold for each ceremony.  Apropos for Williams' complicated life, a judge ruled after his death that none of the weddings were legal due to Billie Jean’s divorce not being finalized until eleven days after she had married Williams.  A quarter of a century after the marriage, a federal court finally ruled it valid.

"I'm Happy I Found You." is another pretty piece, equal to Norah Jones "How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart?" and as Lucinda says, has an unusual sentiment for a Hank Williams song. Here's hoping we get to hear the remainder of the songs from The Hank Williams Project before the end of 2009.  If any of our readers have any news to add, let us know at dreamtimepodcast@gmail.com.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Howard Stern on 'The Family Hour', With His Usual Sense of Class



Howard Stern: ...bringing up Dylan. So Gary's driving in his car the other night aaaah, listening to Sirius XM. And y'know, it's really kinda funny, 'cause when Sirius and XM were two separate companies, I used to be somewhat envious of the fact that XM had Bob Dylan doing a show. Like I had only heard about it. I never actually heard the show. But I was envious saying, 'Wow, it's really cool that they had Bob Dylan.' They probably had to pay him some decent money to get him to do it, because he's such a recluse. That's a cool move, being such a recluse than when you do anything it's a big deal. So I said, 'Wow, if there's any programming I'm envious of on XM it's because they've got the Bob Dylan... it's like called 'The Family Hour,' and he would spin records and he would talk about his life.

But I never actually heard the show. And Gary called me over vacation and he goes, 'Did you ever actually hear the Bob Dylan show?' And I go, 'Uh, no. Is it awesome?' And he goes, 'I don't know a fuckin' thing he said.'
It's a cool thing to say you have Bob Dylan, but if you actually listen to the show, he's unintelli-- it's like his music, when he performs [does stock bad Dylan imitation] - he sounds like a rabbi or something. When he's talking, I defy you to figure out what he's talking about. And the music he plays is kinda out there. It's nothing, y'know it's nothing you'd really want to hear...
It's been a depressing week for Theme Time Radio Hour news - the anniversary passing of when we could look forward to the start of a new season; the unofficial cancellation - apparently - of the TTRH Compendium book. I debated with myself on whether to bother to post the clip above, nine minutes of Howard Stern and crew insulting Bob Dylan and Theme Time Radio Hour. But Self pointed out that Dreamtime's mission statement is to be the premiere source of TTRH news and commentary on the Web, good or bad.

So here it is. I should point out that some of the audio and accompanying visuals could be considered NSFW, so be forewarned. As I said, the clip is nine minutes plus, with Stern playing what sounds like deliberately distorted clips from TTRH to bolster his "unintelligble" argument.. I say "deliberately distorted" since I have better-quality copies of the show, so you would think someone with the resources of Howard Stern could find them too. I'm not sure when this clip originally aired. It was posted on YouTube about a month ago.

Stern goes on to make predictable fun of the various Dylan commentaries and ends on the usual Howard Sternesque whiny note, reading glowing excerpts about Theme Time from an old Washington Post article while complaining about how his show is treated by the Post.

I wonder why.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Theme Time Radio Hour Compendium, ah, Update?

The little book that wasn't there, the Theme Time Radio Hour Compendium, recently had a title change on its Amazon page to: "Bob Dylan Untitled Christmas Book" (Hardcover).  The book, which has been listed on Amazon since 2008, also had a publication date change, now advanced to November 1, 2011.

You'll note if you go to the Amazon page that it still uses the TTRH Compendium cover mock-up, pictured to your left.

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd guess that this is simply a placeholder by Amazon for a book that may or may not get published and probably won't have anything to do with TTRH if/when it does get published.  It's worth noting that the book, under any title, no longer appears in the Simon & Schuster catalog.

I know something of the background of the planned Compendium, as I was in discussions at one point with the TTRH team to do some work on the project.  But eventually they decided they couldn't do the book they wanted to do within the delivery time that Simon and Schuster wanted, which was for a Christmas `08 release.

That begs the question of why the book wasn't moved to the Christmas `09 season, and for that question I don't have an answer. Timing may have had something to do with it. My impression was that Dylan's camp already had its attention turned towards other projects by late 2008 and from their perspective TTRH was a closed book (no pun intended).

I also don't know what the planned content for the Compendium was - I'm not sure the book even got to the planning stage.  But at its advertised 176 pages I suspect it would have been a piece of mostly visual ephemera similar to the Bob Dylan Scrapbook, probably a good Christmas present for the Dylan fan or TTRH listener in your family.  "The Bob Dylan Scrapbook" sold a very respectable 125,000+ copies in 2005 according to Publishers Weekly, and perhaps the Compendium would have done as well.  In any case, an opportunity missed for them - and for me - but maybe it will turn out to have been a Good Thing for me and my book in progress.

There was also some talk in the TTRH camp in late 2008/early 2009 about a series of "Theme" books, too, tying into and extending the TTRH franchise after the show's radio run.  Again, I don't know whether that idea has been back-burnered or abandoned, probably the latter would be my guess. But it's possible that the "untitled Christmas Book" might be the first of those theme books. It's just as possible that, still under contract to deliver a book, Dylan's people said, "Yep, yep. We'll have that book for you Real Soon Now - sometime between now and when the contract expires in 2011."

Monday, September 14, 2009

This Week in Theme Time Radio Hour History

A sad milestone this week.  Two years ago, on Wednesday, September 19, 2007, Season 2 of Theme Time Radio Hour began with the "Hello" show. As well as airing some notable shows, "Classic Rock," "Lock & Key," and "California" among them, Season 2 would hold several surprises for listeners:

While never completely phased out, email readings would gradually lose ground to a new segment - listener phone calls to Studio B.

TTRH finally aired the series' long-promised "Classic Rock" episode, with music featuring rocks of the mineral sort.

The first TTRH rerun aired on October 31st 2007, a repeat of Season 1's "Halloween" show.

TTRH would do a second "Countdown" show with all-new material, the series first theme to cross two seasons.

Season 2 would end without explanation with the "Cold" show on April 2, 2008 after only 25 episodes being aired, in contrast to Season 1's 50 shows.

I get email on a regular basis asking if I have any information - positive or negative - about a Season 4 of TTRH.  Season 3 of TTRH began on Wednesday October 3, 2008 with almost no fanfare...only mentioned in a press release from Sony and in some media articles a week or so earlier. Given that Dylan's Christmas album, Christmas in the Heart, is scheduled for release on October 13, there's a very slim possibility that October 14 would be the logical start date of a Season 4.  But, there's currently no evidence of that likelihood and, in truth, more evidence against the possibility.  Mr. D. made it clear in his May 2009 Rolling Stone interview that his work on TTRH was over, although he did offer up the slight hope that he "didn't know" whether he would continue, and that Sirius XM seemed eager for more episodes. While Sirius XM continues to mention Dylan and TTRH in its publicity materials, it has yet to make an official announcement on the show's future.  At present, the show has become the I Love Lucy of radio rebroadcasts, as one commenter pithily put it.

All good things come to an end, and my opinion is that the series has ended. But we have those 100 shows, and our memories. During an interview with one of the members of the TTRH team, I asked if there had been any resentment on their side about  the show being copied and distributed over the internet within days - sometimes within hours - of being broadcast on XM. 

"We were much more concerned about a show getting bootlegged before it 'officially' aired on the radio," he answered. "And we devoted most of our energies to making sure that didn't happen, rather than trying to stop what we knew we couldn't stop. Actually, we thought it was kind of cool that all the shows ended up on the web.  It means Theme Time Radio Hour will live forever."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Swingin' the Alphabet: The Three Stooges



"And no, I didn't wanna to play it, but I get requests for 'Swinging the Alphabet,' every show. Must be a lot of Larry, Moe, and Cheese fans out there." ~ Eddie Gorodetsky, Saturday Night Hi-Fi Party, 1978

Cheesy, yes, but catchy, too.  If you're one of the multitude who grew up watching the terrible trio on TV, "Swinging the Alphabet" is likely to be one of your clearest memories from a Three Stooges short. The novelty number was sung by the boys in their 19 and 38 film, Violent is the Word for Curly, a parody of the title of a popular film from a few years earlier, Valiant is the Word for Carrie. The version that Eddie G. played on his WERS radio show was probably taken from a 19 and 59 LP on the Coral label,  "The Nonsense Songbook," where it was retitled as "The Alphabet Song."

Although everyone from director Charley Chase to one or all of the Three Stooges was credited with composing "Swinging the Alphabet," it was actually adapted from a song written some 60-odd years earlier by one Septimus Winner under the title, "The Spelling Bee," a discovery not made until 2005 by film historian and Stooges buff, Richard Finegan.

Now let me see what you can do,
And spell for me, Bicki-bi-bo-bu.

CHORUS 1: B, A, Ba, B, E, Be,
B, I, Bicki-bi, B, O, Bo,
Bicki-bi-bo, B, U, Bu,
Bicki-bi-bo-bu. ~ "THE SPELLING BEE" (1875) Humorous Song and Chorus.

Interestingly Winner, a popular 19th century songwriter, also composed "Listen to the Mockingbird," which was used as the theme music for the early Three Stooges shorts, until eventually replaced by "Three Blind Mice." According to Finegan's article, director Charley Chase's maid was fond of singing "The Spelling Bee"'s chorus to his children, and he brought the tune into the studio for the Stooges when they needed a melody to break up the action in Violent is the Word for Curly.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Theme Time Radio Hour Season 2: New Compilation from Ace Records. U.K.

The good people over at Ace Records U.K. were kind enough to send Dreamtime an early review copy of their second compilation of Theme Time Radio Hour music, "Theme Time Radio Hour Season 2," available today (September 7, 2009) in the U.K. and tomorrow (September 8, 2009) in the U.S. at better retail outlets everywhere.  You can pick it up in the United Kingdom by following the Ace Records link above. Get it in the Amazon U.S. store through the image or title links above.

As its title implies, the new 2-CD set includes 50 cherries plucked from the 375 tracks played over Season 2 - opening with The Sherman Williams (not Sherwin Williams Our Host would remind us) Orchestra's "Hello," and closing with Rilo Kiley's "With Arms Outstretched."

Sandwiched between is music spanning eight decades, from The Georgia Crackers 1927 "Diamond Joe," to Jolie Holland's "Goodbye California," released in 2004. Jump, jive jazz. Nouveau wave and novelty. Captain Beefheart and Desmond Dekker. Parties, Pretty Girls, and Cadillacs. The Cold Hard Facts of Life, Gloomy Sundays and a Young Man's Blues. The package inludes a "fully illustrated 40-page book packed full of rare photographs and memorabilia including detailed notes on each track..." according to the Ace publicity blurb. That material wasn't ready when they sent me the review CDs, so I can't comment on it.

Unless you happen to be TTRH producer, Eddie Gorodetsky, who had a hand in putting this compilation together, or a very dedicated listener to the series, the chances are you'll hear several songs you've never heard before that will amuse and delight you.

However, there's an inherent flaw with Ace's TTRH: Season 2, as there is with the half-dozen other collections of music inspired by the radio show, and we might as well get that issue of the way now. TTRH: Season 2 is not TTRH: The Show. It does not include any of Bob Dylan's commentary on the songs, nor any of the other features that made Theme Time Radio Hour so memorable. No def poetry, no bad jokes. No jingles, no airchecks, no phone calls. No Ellen Barkin. No Top Cat behind the ending credits. Just the music, folks. I emphasize this because you wouldn't believe the bitter email I get from people who feel that they're being rooked out of their hard-earned shekels every time a new TTRH music compilation is released, no matter how much a label like Ace emphasizes that they're only offering the music.

Given that, do I still recommend TTRH: Season 2? Yes, with the qualification that you understand you're not getting the show itself. But as with the first Ace compilation covering Season 1, listening to TTRH: Season 2 is like listening to a mixtape put together by a very musically-knowledgable pal, maybe a sneak peek into Eddie Gorodetsky's fabled music collection, maybe a chance to hear some of the music on Bob Dylan's lost iPod, as a fortunate few were rumored to have done way back in 2005.

Being the compleat collector that I am, I have every TTRH music compilation in existence, as well as a bunch of other weird ephemera associated with the show, including a half-eaten burrito stolen off of Tex Carbone's sound board. Of the half-dozen compilations, Ace's "Theme Time Radio Hour Season 2," and its Season 1 predecessor are easily the best collections of TTRH music currently available. That's not only because both have the imprimatur of the Theme Time team, but also because Ace went to the trouble of including contemporary music still under copyright, as well the older, royalty-free pieces used in the various other collections. Unlike other compilations of the show's music, with TTRH: Season 2 you get a taste of the full breadth and depth of the music played on Theme Time Radio Hour. At Dreamtime we say, "accept no substitutes."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

And Even More "Richards"

You never know what's going to inspire reader reaction, but yesterday's post on "Open the Door, Richard" generated a ton of email. The Dreamtime transcriptions are apparently popular, as several correspondents asked for a transcription of what Mr, D. had specifically said about the song, Dusty Fletcher, and Jack McVea. So here we go, with appropriate accompaniment...


Our Host: "This is Theme Time Radio Hour and we're talking about Locks and Keys. One guy who talked a lot about `em was a comedian named Dusty Fletcher. He played in vaudeville and traveled the chitlin' circuit. He had a live routine that became one of the most famous records of the `40s. He'd walk out on-stage with a ladder, lean against the curtain, and call up to his friend Richard. He had locked himself out of the house, and he needed Richard to come down and open the door. Richard wasn't much help as he was probably intoxicated. It's actually much more interesting when you hear Dusty Fletcher tell it. Let's listen to a little bit of Dusty."

("Open the Door Richard" - Part 1 Dusty Fletcher [excerpt], January 1947)



Our Host: "Dusty's record reached #2 in the R&B charts, but another performer named Jack McVea recorded a more rhythmic version, and it made the song a national phenomena. By 1947, there were at least 22 versions of it. Louis Jordan did it. Dick Haymes, The Pied Pipers. There was a group called The Yokels that sang it in Yiddish. Bob Hope and Fred Allen would just mention Richard and the studio audience would crack up. Everybody was quoting the song like they quote [? ] today. Here's Jack McVea, with 'Open the Door, Richard.'"

("Open the Door, Richard" Jack McVea & His All Stars January 1947)



Our Host: "And listen to this..."

("Open the Door" Clive and Naomi 1965 [excerpt])



Our Host: "Not only were there country, polka, pop, and Yiddish versions, almost 20 years later it was inspiring ska musicians. Listen to a tiny bit of this, by Clive and Naomi....

Our Host: "'Open the Door' by Clive and Naomi. You see, that song can be done any kinda way. 'Bout time for it to come back again. Maybe I'll even do it...".



("Open the Door, Homer" Bob Dylan and the Band 1967 [unreleased out-take])

And Some Notes

Even after repeated listening, I still can't make out what word Mr D. says in the line, "Everybody was quoting the song like they quote [ ? ] today," It sounds like "Bo-ad" or maybe "Bo-at." Maybe someone with a better ear can decipher it.

I received several emails on the controversy over who "wrote" "Open the Door, Richard," with one correspondent - who prefers to remain anonymous - feeling I had given Dusty Fletcher short shrift. Anon. noted, "Fletcher was actually filmed performing 'Open the Door Richard' two years earlier [than McVea's recording] in 19 and 45, so he has to be considered the undisputed 'Richard' champ."

Well, no. As I replied to anon., the film is of Fletcher's comedy routine, not of him performing the song. You can see the 1945 short "Open the Door Richard" at the internet archive, if you're interested. The "Richard" routine starts about three minutes into the 9 minute film. Was McVea's song based on Fletcher's routine? No dispute there. Did McVea create a separate, musical work? I say yes.

A few people questioned which came first, McVea's or Fletcher's recording of "Richard." It sounded to me that Our Host implied that Fletcher's recording was first, although his remarks can be taken either way. In any case, both recordings were released in January 1947. Labels tended to move fast when there was a hit - and money - in the air. This Time magazine article, which also appears to be one the sources for Mr. D.'s commentary, notes that eighteen cover versions of the song were either in print or in the chute within a month after the original's release. Interestingly, the reporter writes that John Mason was "hastily cut in for half the profits," after his lawyers contacted McVea, but makes no mention of Fletcher or his "Richard."

According to various sources, McVea's "Richard" was recorded in either September or October 1946, although not released until January 1947. All the evidence points to Fletcher going into the studio and recording his cover literally days after after McVea's release. The label of Fletcher's National single notes him as the "originator" of "Richard," evidence that there was another "Richard" already out there. And, of course, the melody is obviously from McVea's "Richard."

And finally, the appropriately named "Richard" wrote in with this nugget. "The identity of the mysterious "Don Howell" [who shared co-writing credits with Fletcher for the music after the lawsuit dust settled] was none other than Decca owner, Dave Kapp. Current releases of 'Richard' credit Kapp. I guess Jack McVea was right that he was screwed out of his just due."

Thanks to all for writing in.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Open the Door, Richard



Yesterday's (Tuesday, September 1, 2009) Expecting Rain news page had a couple of interesting links provided by über-correspondent, Scott Miller, pertaining to the novelty hit single of 19 and 47, "Open the Door, Richard." One of the links was to a detailed Wikipedia article on the history of the song, which I commend to your attention. The nature of Wikipedia is such that it's often hit and miss when it comes to either accuracy or quality. But you'll occasionally find well-written articles that carefully cite their sources, as does this one. I question some of the anonymous author's conclusions, but that's what makes horse races.

Although the article says "Open the Door, Richard" started out life as a vaudeville routine, it's more likely that it was first a song on the blackface circuit, written by the great Bob Russell, who was working in a troupe called "The Florida Blossoms" during the mid-1900s. According to Pigmeat Markham, he of "Here Come De Judge" fame and one of several performers who would popularize the "Open the Door, Richard" routine, Russell wrote the song for a skit called, "Oh, You Mr. Rareback," and it was performed and possibly expanded by "Spider Bruce" (John) Mason. According to the book This is Pop, Mason claimed to have been doing the song as early as 1919, and definitely was performing it in a Broadway show called Bamboola in the late `20s.

One of Mason's co-actors in the show was a young comedian named Dusty Fletcher, who would later make his version of "Open the Door, Richard" a hit at the Apollo. The history Showtime at the Apollo describes Fletcher appearing on stage, "... dressed in rags, drunkenly weaving, and with a ladder as his only prop." With ladder planted center stage, Fletcher would bang on an imaginary door (sound effects provided by the orchestra pit), while imploring roommate Richard to open up in drunken semi-song. "I know he's inside," Fletcher would mutter. "I'm wearing our only suit." With Richard uncooperative, unresponsive, and likely in the embrace of love's sweet arms, Fletcher would next use the ladder to try to get in, only to crash to the floor.

Repeat for as long as the jokes would hold out.

Some sources say saxophonist Jack McVea saw Pigmeat Markham, who had inherited the routine from the retired Fletcher, perform "Open the Door, Richard." Other sources say he learned it directly from Dusty Fletcher himself. In either case, McVea decided that "Open the Door, Richard" would make a great novelty tune, similar to the stuff that Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five were getting action with, and came up with what he called "that simple melody," performing it along the R&B circuit, and gradually building up the story until it was a full-fledged musical fable.

In late 19 and 46, Jack McVea and His All-Stars went into the studio, recorded "Richard," and it was released on the Black & White label in January 1947. It was an immediate jukebox hit, sales outstripping supply so quickly that Black & White was out-of-stock of the single by February, when its "Richard" hit #3 on the Billboard charts. 10,000 copies of the single were shipped to New York City alone to meet demand.

As usual, a hit attracted the other big "M" often associated with music, "Money." Dusty Fletcher and John Mason surfaced, both claiming authorship of "Open the Door, Richard." In fact, Dusty Fletcher, being no fool, came out of retirement and into the studio and recorded his cover of "Open the Door, Richard" just days after McVea's release. Interestingly, Fletcher would also claim that one of his original versions of the song had been called, "Open the Door, Homer," a title later used for a much different version by a certain musician living semi-retirement in Woodstock during the late `60s.

Eventually it was decided there was enough moola from "Richard" to go around for (almost) everyone, and the song would be credited in later releases as, "Words by Dusty Fletcher and John Mason" and "music by Dusty Fletcher and Don Howell." Notably missing from the credits was Jack McVea. Nobody knows who the hell "Don Howell" was, although McVea's contention that the name was a pseudonymous front chiefly designed to screw him out of his rightful royalties is probably accurate.

There were dozens of covers of "Open the Door, Richard," including one by the Count Basie Orchestra, which hit the #1 slot just a month after the original's release. About every take on the song you can imagine was cut - bop versions, doo-wop versions, hillbilly versions, calypso versions, versions in French, Spanish, Swedish, Hungarian, Yiddish versions, white-guy versions by Jimmy Durante, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, and Burl Ives among others, and the slightly blue version by Walter Brown with the Tiny Grimes Sextet that we included above.

"Open the Door, Richard" would become a catch-phrase in both black and white communities for a decade, and may have sparked the first full-bore marketing craze of the post-war era, with everything from perfume to beer carrying the slogan. The song would lose its luster in the black community in the `60s, some feeling it was Uncle Tomish and on a par with "Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah." But its legacy lives on, bringing a smile to the faces of those of a certain age... just as long as they aren't named "Richard."


The original Royal Street Bachelors circa 1968.
From left: Jack McVea on clarinet, Herb Gordy on bass and Harold Grant on guitar.
Jack McVea only earned a few thousand dollars from his hit, calling it "just another song" from a money perspective. In his later career, he led a strolling group of Dixeland musicians at Disneyland for 27 years, from the `60s into the 1980s. My father was a gigantic Dixeland fan, always pausing our family on Disneyland's Main Street or in New Orleans Square when the band came by. It's likely I saw and listened to Jack McVea, not knowing who he was, while I impatiently waited to get to Adventureland.

McVea died in 2000. Eight years later, his "Open the Door, Richard" would be played during the "Lock and Key" episode of Theme Time Radio Hour, almost 60 years to the day after the song was first released. Our Host prefaced McVea's "Richard" with an excerpt from Dusty Fletcher's version, mistakenly crediting that one as the original.

Or maybe it was. Only Richard could tell us, and he ain't answering.

And for even more on the story, see "And Even More Richards"

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

That Ol' GPS Story


It's taken about a week, but most of the "professional" media outlets we cited as running the farcical Bob Dylan "Sat Nav GPS" story as fact have published retractions with varying degrees of embarrassment. One of the original sources of the story, The "Guardian.Co.UK" noted in its "Corrections and Clarifications" section....
"We reported Bob Dylan saying on his syndicated radio programme that a number of car companies wanted him to be the voice of their satellite navigation systems (No direction home, 26 August, page 8). We should have made clear this was a repeat of a programme broadcast by the BBC in February, though the satnav remark – whether truth or deadpan joke – went unreported at the time"
I've also seen corrections from NPR and The Washington Post, among others, although in most instances the retraction is separate from the original story, which is also usually still there. But since yesterday's digital stories have at least one thing in common with their analog brethren - they're only good for wrapping virtual fish - it probably doesn't matter much. The parade marches on.

I returned from vacay to find a few emails from people who felt that my original article was too ill-tempered (at least one of my correspondents writing I should have stayed focused on vacation). Most argued that the majority of the stories were written tongue-in-cheek and never meant as serious journalism. And that's a valid perspective. But my stock reply is that if you run something as fact, you're required to make at least some effort to check the fact. Otherwise you should bill yourself as an entertainer, not as a journalist.

I know enough about the business that I can pretty well describe the process of how any of the given articles came about. You have a deadline and you need to fill n amount of column inches. You see a story on-line. It features Bob Dylan, which you know is an automatic pass from most editors - see "the smelly Malibu toilet" or "Dylan arrested as vagrant" stories earlier this year. Dylan is always good copy. It's a quirky story, easy to make a couple of jokes about and to maybe get a few people to post comments about - which always looks good to editors too. So, you rewrite the original story, editing it enough so you won't get whacked with a plagiarism call and citing your source, just like you learned in journalism class. In the old days, the bigger outlets like The Washington Post or The New York Times would have had a copy editor or fact checker go over the story before releasing it, even a small story destined for the "Entertainment" section. But those days are gone, plus the media doesn't have the luxury of time anymore, just the pressure to be as close to first as possible.

These days they use unpaid "experts" like me or Expecting Rain to correct them after the fact, whether on when a Theme Time show originally aired or who wrote "Little Buddy." And, in most cases, no foul, no penalty. You print the small correction. Maybe it goes in the journalist's file to bring up at review time that s/he needs to be more careful about self-fact-checking. As I said, then the parade moves on.

As do we.