Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Lyle Lovett & Toots Thielmans : Smile

Exploring the genius of Charlie Chaplin featuring :

Chaplin himself, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante, Lyle Lovett & Toots Thielmans.

Genius is an extremely overworked term when applied to popular artists of the twentieth century.

Nevertheless, without any hesitation I can assert that Charlie Chaplin was a genius.

Embed from Getty Images

*

He was a master of every aspect of film making – writing, acting, producing and directing.

And, he did something only the very rarest artists do – he created an iconic character (the Tramp) who has become part of the very fabric of popular consciousness.

He was a Poet of  the Cinema with a deep tragi-comic vision.

A vision whose beauty and truth was recognised and welcomed whatever the age, language and culture of those who encountered his films.

The best definition of genius I know comes from Arthur Schopenhauer :

‘The genius … lights on his age like a comet into the paths of the planets, to whose well-regulated and comprehensible arrangement its wholly eccentric course is foreign.

Accordingly, he cannot go hand in hand with the regular course of the culture of the times as found; on the contrary, he casts his works far out on to the path in front …

Talent is like the marksman who hits a target which others cannot reach; genius is like the marksman who hits a target … which others cannot even see.’

Charlie Chaplin fully meets that definition.

Oh, and in addition to the honour board of talents listed above he was also a talented composer who wrote the music for one of the most affecting songs of his and any other era – ‘Smile’.

Chaplin, of course, thought in cinematic terms so let’s kick off this tribute to his genius with ‘Smile’ in its first incarnation as part of his score to his masterpiece from 1936, ‘Modern Times’.

Every element of this scene reflects the enormous pains Chaplin took to achieve the exact effects he was seeking.

Chaplin knew all about the Fear and Sorrow that beset so many lives.

He knew that a smile was often your best disguise and perhaps your only defence against the sadness that might otherwise overwhelm you.

The Tramp always keeps alive a spark of Hope, of determination to survive – to be present for what, who knows, may, just may, turn out to be a better tomorrow.

Chaplin’s whole cinematic persona – in the delicacy of his facial gestures and the gamut of his physical pantomime amounts in a sense to an alertness to the promise of Life – no matter how dire the circumstances.

With his mastery of mime and the balletic grace of his movement he was able to convey more nuances of emotion than a hundred lines of dialogue could convey.

His genius was both to acknowledge the Fear and Sorrow but not to surrender to it – to grandly and magnificently literally laugh in the face of it.

And, if Charlie can survive so might we.

As cinema goers, a spring anew in their step, left a Chaplin film they were reassured that light and laughter could outshine the darkness.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you ….

The lyric and a title for Chaplin’s melody came from John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons in 1954.

The Premier recording was by a peerless balladeer of Golden Age American Song – Nat King Cole.

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just Smile.

There is no grandiloquence in Nat’s performance.

Knowing that he had a rare treasure here he simply presents the song allowing the beauty of the melody and the poignancy of the words to travel into the hearts and minds of the audience.

‘Simple’ for Nat King Cole because of the burnished gold of his voice which makes us all gladly share any emotion he is evoking.

If I imagine an exhausted couple slow dancing to Nat’s version in the sanctuary of their home I can only imagine the next take as a solo dance underneath a waning Moon.

Judy Garland.

If ever an artist was born to sing a song it was Judy to sing, ‘Smile’.

Fear and Sorrow and Heartbreak surrounded her all her days.

And, those circumstances were fully incarnated in her voice when she sang – especially when she sang, ‘Smile’.

Her Version is filled with tears and sadness – the gladness and the smile is in the going on, the going on.

I am going to repeat something I wrote about Garland before because I don’t think I can say what I mean to say any better.

Her singing on this song seems to me to be almost miraculous.

It’s as if her singing really came from secret chambers of the heart all the rest of us keep under guard.

No wonder she has such a deep impact on us – we know she is expressing a profound truth about the human condition – our need to love and know we are loved.

Judy Garland paid a high price in terms of personal happiness for living her life and art with such an exposed heart and soul but she fulfilled a vocation given to very few and left an indelible mark on her age and will surely do for aeons to come.

There are hundreds and hundreds of versions of Smile but not a single one sounds anything like the depths that Judy Garland does.

And now for something completely different!

Jimmy Durante brought his own very real magic to Smile.

A straight from the shoulder, Hey Bud, have one on me, growl that’s surprisingly affecting.

Lyle Lovett knows songs having written many fine ones himself.

There is always consideration and deliberation involved in the way he approaches a song.

So, his Smile is ruminative, baffled and melancholic.

 

To conclude here’s something really special.

The great Jazz Harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielmans, at 90, bringing a lifetime of craft and experience to bear on Chaplin’s insights into the changeable weather of the human heart.

In a previous feature on, ‘The Third Man’ I noted that it had one of the great endings in the Film Canon.

Well, Charlie Chaplin was a supreme master of ending a Film in a highly memorable and emotionally satisfying way.

The melody plays, the camera rolls and our hearts are uplifted.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just Smile

If you just Smile.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Richard Thompson &The Move (never forgetting Cowboy Jack Clement) : It’ll Be Me!

In the mid 1950s Rock ‘n’ Roll smashed apart the ice bound cultural climate of America and Britain.

A new generation born in the 1940s had epiphanies in the 50s listening to the icebreakers in chief : Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

In Minnesota, Bob Dylan.

In Liverpool, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

And, their ecstatic immersion into a new world was repeated in hamlets and villages and towns and cities all over the world.

Later, when those Baby Boomers became artists and legends in their own right they always carried within treasured memories of the sparks that had lit their own flames.

That’s why, time after time, when it comes to encores you’ll find the titans of the 60s and 70s returning to the original source to pay homage and rock out for all they are worth!

Now, if you want a mentor, an exemplar, for barn burning, earth shattering, Rock ‘n’ Roll you can’t possibly beat The Killer – Ferriday Louisiana’s very own Jerry Lee Lewis!

Image result for jerry lee lewis images 1950s

If there was ever a man/myth you might chance upon a-peeping from a crawdad hole or grinnin’ down on you from the top of a telephone pole it would have to be Jerry Lee!

In February 1957 Jerry was in Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios for his second session as a recording artist with Cowboy Jack Clement at the desk.

Everyone with a pulse from Mercury to Pluto knows the second track they recorded that day, ‘Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On’ as it became one of the defining records of the Rock ‘n’ Roll era (which is of course still extant).

But, today The Jukebox is celebrating the B Side of that epochal 45, ‘It’ll Be Me’ a masterpiece in its own right and, as we shall see, an inspiration for decades to come.

Well, you can climb to the top of Everest or descend in a diving bell to the deepest darkest depths of the oceans but you still wouldn’t be able to find a truer Rock ‘n’ Roller than Jerry Lee.

I love the leer that’s always in his voice tempered by a sly wink to the audience :

Come on you’ve got to admit it you just can’t get enough of Jerry Lee can you’.

And, there’s always that slippin’ and a slidin’ perpetually pumpin’ Piano to keep your heart rate up and out a broad smile on your face.

‘It’ll Be Me’ was written by a popular music renaissance man – Cowboy Jack Clement.

Image result for cowboy jack clement images

Among the roles Jack assumed were : songwriter, singer, producer, studio owner, talent spotter and world class raconteur!

Of course, as The Jukebox never tires of saying you only have to make one great record to be sure of immortality and with, ‘It’ll Be Me’ Jack most assuredly did that.

Janis Martin was a contemporary of Jerry Lee’s and a rip roaring rocker.

She took a long spell away from the music business yet when lured back by the estimable Rosie Flores for the album, ‘The Blanco Sessions’ in 1995 she showed that she could still set those sparks flying upward.

The Move were one of the least classifiable outfits in the firmament of British Beat Groups of the 1960s.

They were Rock ‘n’ Roll, they were Pop, they were Psychedelic, they were progressive and Retro all at the same time.

In Roy Wood they had a songwriter/performer who overflowed with talent turbo charging the efforts of Bev Bevan (Drums), Carl Wayne (Vocals & Guitar), Trevor Burton (Guitar & Vocals) and Ace Kefford (Bass & Vocals).

Live, they brewed up quite a storm.

Here they are giving, ‘It’ll Be Me’ a no holds barred, eyeballs out, performance for the good old BBC.

Now we turn to a regular on The Jukebox, Richard Thompson, here performing live with his then wife Linda.

Richard Thompson, in contrast to almost all the stellar guitarists of his time, was not a devotee of B. B King, Elmore James or Chuck Berry.

Rather he had a unique set of influences which included traditional Pipers and Fiddle Players alongside Guitarists like Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian and Les Paul.

Which is why he sounds only ever like himself.

And, he can play in almost any emotional register.

He can play with the still tenderness of a mother singing a lullaby to her sick child in the dead of night.

He can play with the ferocity of William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops as they slashed and burned their was from Atlanta to Savannah.

You want someone who can make the line :

‘If you see a rocket ship on its way to Mars’ come alive well look no further than Richard Thompson when he’s in the mood!

Better fasten your seat belt real tight! – you’ll be pulling some serious Gs!

Remember what I said about Encores?

Well, here’s a short, sharp and satisfying one from a Group, Lindisfarne, whom I often saw in their 70s heyday.

Lindisfarne, as their name suggests, were from England’s North East.

Their take on ‘It’ll Be Me’ suggests they may have been tuned in to Chuck Berry rather more closely than they were to Bede!

Pretty sure Bede never played the Harmonica like that!

Look who’s knocking on our door now!

None other than Tom Jones, happily never recovered from his first ecstatic exposure to Jerry Lee.

Sometimes you want music to be pure Fun and that’s exactly what Tom serves up here aided and ably abetted by Jools Holland.

What’s that line about funny faces and comic books?

Let’s conclude with Cowboy Jack himself bringing it all back home.

Well, if you see a new face on your totem pole or if you find a new lump in your sugar bowl, Baby, I have to tell you It’ll Be Me …….

 

Manu Chao, Mongo Santamaria & Bongo Joe : Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

A Bongo Bonanza featuring :

Preston Epps, Manu Chao, Mongo Santamaria, Jack Constanzo & Bongo Joe with a bonus of a Disney bear who’s not Ballou and 2 Nobel Prize Winners (and a tip of the hat to a third for my really savvy readers).

Sometimes you just feel unsettled.

Windows shakin’ all night in your dreams.

You can feel like you are a prisoner in a world of mystery.

No one can push that ticking clock back.

You start from here.

Maybe time to take a walk and clear the cobwebs from your head.

Far from the Towns in the rolling South Downs.

The hounds are out for their morning exercise.

The air’s so fresh you feel your heart expand.

Twang of the arrow and the snap of the bow.

What’s the thing that will snap you out of lethargy?

Maybe a trip to Tibet?

Maybe a full-length leather coat?

Or, Or, maybe those tunes rattlin’ the windows these last few nights weren’t dark forces tryin’ to get in but drums, Bongos indeed!

Bongos telling you to get up and dance.

Dance, dance, dance!

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Now you think of it there’s a particular tune that always starts the windows shakin’.

What was the guy’s name?

Sharp dressed dude with a hat.

Image result for preston epps images

Preston Epps – how could I forget a name like that!

And, how could I ever forget, ‘Bongo Rock’!

Take it away Preston.

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

That’ll flat get it!

Preston, who died in May this year, appeared on many fine records as a side man but his immortality as a musician was guaranteed once he recorded Bongo Rock in 1959.

Some things you can get tired of but Bongo Rock – Never!

OK, as Ballou the Bear from The Jungle Book would say :

‘I’m gone man, solid gone!’

So, we are going to keep those Bongos going.

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Now your mama might not have been queen of the mambo and your papa may not have been monarch of the Congo but as soon as Manu Chao hits his stride here you and your monkey will most assuredly know that you are the King of Bongo, baby!

The King of Bongo.

Embed from Getty Images

*

Bongo, Bongo! Bongo!

Manu Chao.

He gets Rhythm.

He gets the Bongos.

And, his style crosses all linguistic and stylistic boundaries.

Don’t matter where you come from or where you’re goin’ everybody is partial to the Bongos.

C’mon let’s all bang on the Bongos.

Let’s go crazy bangin’ on the Bongos.

And, who better to blast us straight into outer and inner space than supreme Bongo master – Mongo Santamaria.

Embed from Getty Images

*

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Jazz classic Afro Blue given a magisterial reading on a Bongotastic night at New York’s Village in 1967.

Hubert Laws on Flute, Trumpet and Alto Sax by Ray Maldinado and Bobby Porcelli.

10 minutes of Bongo Heaven which never lets up.

Once Mongo gets his groove we are all gone, solid Gone!

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Our next Bongo King, Jack Costanzo was dubbed, ‘Mr Bongo’ by the esteemed Jazz critic Leonard Feather.

Embed from Getty Images

*

Jack played with almost everyone in the Who’s Who of 20th century Jazz and Showbiz – from Frank Sinatra to Charlie Parker to The Supremes!

Have Bongos – ready to Party was Jack’s mantra.

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

There must be something in those Bongos because Jack almost made it to 99 before he went to play Bongos in the afterlife.

Going to finish up here with Bongo Joe.

Now, strictly speaking he doesn’t play the Bongos per se.

He actually plays the 55 Gallon Oil Drum.

But, I have to say there was no way I was going to write a post titled Bongo! Bongo! Bongo! and leave out my man Bongo Joe.

Joe started out as a ‘regular’ musician even playing piano for Sammy Davis Jr but he found his true calling when he found the sounds he could conjure from 55 gallon Oil Drums.

His birth name was George Coleman but he became and will always be remembered as Bongo Joe.

Image result for bongo joe images

As Bongo Joe he became a legendary figure on the streets of Galveston and San Antonio over three decades.

In 1968 the ever perspicacious Chris Strachwitz at Arhoolie Records captured Joe in scorching form on his only recording, ‘George Coleman : Bongo Joe’.

Just before I moved down to the South Downs nearly three years ago I gave almost all my Vinyl to Oxfam but I kept my copy of Bongo Joe – some things are too precious to give away!

Now tell me that didn’t dispel any residual cobwebs!

Dig that whistling!

Ain’t nothin’ like the Bongos to cheer a body up.

I am just about to apply for a new Passport.

I was going to put ‘Writer’ for my Occupation but maybe in some countries that may not grant you so warm a welcome.

So, I am now resolved to write, ‘Bongocero’.

Everybody, everywhere, when you get right down to it loves the Bongos.

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

More Bongo Lore :

My favourite Disney character is Bongo the Bear from the excellent, ‘Fun and Fancy Free’ from 1947.

I never tire of Dinah Shore telling the story of how escaped circus bear Bongo wins the heart of Lulubelle and defeats the dangerous wild bear Lockjaw.

The story comes from Sinclair Lewis ‘book, ‘Little Bear Bongo’.

Image result for bongo the bear

Sinclair Lewis was a Nobel Prize winner as was a very enthusiastic Bongo Player – Maverick Physicist Richard Fenyman.

Image result for richard feynman playing bongos images

Maybe getting his Bongo groove on agitated the grey cells and released those genius insights!

In 1959 then teen heartthrob Cliff Richard appeared as a character called Bongo Herbert in a, ‘Satire’ called, ‘Expresso Bongo’.

I was never a fan of Cliff’s and when I see him on TV I usually mutter  – oh look there’s Bongo Herbert!

Look out for Bongo Blues on the soundtrack performed by Hank Marvin and The Shadows.

Expresso Bongo FilmPoster.jpeg

Bongoland in Tanzania means a place where people have to be smart and savvy to get ahead.

There are two fine films called Bongoland and Bongo is apparently a generic term for the Tanzanian film industry.

Image result for bongoland film poster

A favourite childhood memory of mine is watching Magicians on TV.

My particular favourite was Ali Bongo who was something of a magician’s magician twice being granted the accolade of the presidency of The Magic Circle.

Image result for ali bongo magician images

Bongo! Bongo! Bongo!

 

Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia, The Drifters & Aaron Neville : Money Honey

Featuring :

Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia, The Drifters, Clyde McPhatter, Wanda Jackson, Aaron Neville & a Mystery Guest.

I spend a lot of time in Book Shops.

And it’s clear from the groaning shelves that Recipe Books are very popular indeed.

So, here’s my pitch for a new title :

The Record Company Recipe Book : 4 Ingredients for guaranteed success!’ 

1. Perspective :

Most people can’t see and hear the significance and potential of what’s right in front of them.

That’s because they’ve accepted, usually unconsciously, the assumptions and prejudices of the culture they grew up in.

So it’s a great boon if you encounter a native culture through the perspective of a stranger.

Someone who can see the veins of gold where others see only bare stones.

2. Intellectual and Emotional Intelligence : 

It’s one thing to see potential it’s another to imagine how that potential could be realised in the form of artistic achievement and monetary reward.

So, you’re going to need a sharp and innovative mind and honed emotional antennae because you’re in a business where you have to consistently please and win the loyalty of both loose cannon creatives and the great record buying public.

3. Build a Team of All the Talents :

OK. You’ve found some artists who have real talent but that represents only the above the water part of the Iceberg whole.

You won’t get Hits regularly and generate tons of greenbacks unless you have a talented and committed team driving every aspect of the process that results in the bonanza of a big fat Hit.

So – find songwriters who know music, who know artists and who can write songs that play to the strengths of those artists and the tastes of the men and women gathered around the Jukebox and the Record Shop counter.

So – find a group of flexible musicians who will definitely turn up for the session and who can play brilliantly in a wide variety of styles so that whoever’s in front of them sounds like the leader of a superb band.

Add in a Whiz Kid Engineer/Producer who makes the resulting record sound fantastic on tne radio, in the bars and juke joints and on the home Hi-Fi (even it’s actually very Low-Fi).

So – find business managers and marketing staff who are hard headed professionals completely wedded to the cause.

4. Keep the Recipe to yourself and add a magic ingredient :

So, Keep the team motivated and loyal.

You’re a band of brothers not a corporate clique!

And, you know that when it comes to Singers in particular there’s a deep mystery as to why some voices turn on all the coloured lights and have people begging for more.

So, if you find one of those Singers – move heaven and earth to sign them up and get that whole team on the case so that those coloured lights burn bright all over the nation.

I know this Recipe works because it’s exactly the one followed by Ahmet Ertegun the founder and presiding power behind the enormous success story that was and is Atlantic Records.

Image result for ahmet ertegun getty embed images

He had the Perspective as the teenage son of the first Turkish Ambassador to the US who fell instantly head over heels in love with Black Music – Rhythm and Blues and Jazz on first encountering them.

With brother Nesuhi he found deep veins of gold in Milt Gabler’s Commodore Music Shop to the extent that they amassed a collection of over 15,000 78s and became acquainted with musicians such as Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton.

They promoted concerts and traveled to the sacred music sites in New Orleans and Harlem to listen first hand to the music and so develop a keen awareness of contemporary musical tastes.

There’s no doubt he had the intellectual and emotional intelligence.

When his father was recalled Ahmet knew his future lay in the US and that he could found a record company that would prospect for and discover black singers and musicians who could reach way beyond the, ‘Race Records Market’ if their work was professionally recorded and marketed.

Surely, that cat Ray Charles should stop trying to imitate Charles Brown and cut loose in the studio like he does at his shows?

The man’s a genius and I’m going to tell him so and together we’re going to revolutionise the music world!

People are going to know a Rhythm and Blues (so glad I brought Jerry Wexler who coined that term into the fold) record on Atlantic is guaranteed to get your heart thumping and your hips loosening and once they do they’ll be queueing up for each new release.

Team of Talents?

Well how about songwriters like Jesse Stone and Leiber & Stoller.

Musicians like ace Guitarist MIckey Baker and Sax Sensation Sam The Man Taylor.

How about that Kid Tom Dowd who Is an absolute wizard in the Studio! He keeps asking for new equipment and I keep saying yes because he makes our discs just sound better and better.

How about Miriam Abramson and Francine Wakschal in publishing and accounts. They know how every dime is spent and nobody gets to rip them or us off!

Magic Ingredient you say?

Well how about the time I want to see Billy Ward & The Dominos at Birdlland (mainly to hear Clyde McPhatter) and found Billy had just fired Clyde!

Now, though Clyde was the reason those Dominos’ records sold so well he didn’t get the credit as most people assumed Billy himself was the lead vocalist.

Not me!

Clyde has captured true Gospel fervour and combined it with down and dirty R&B so that you gotta say, ‘OOOH – WEEE’ right along with him.

Lets sign him up and get him in the studio as fast as possible with some great singers behind him.

Jesse says he’s got a sure fire hit with a song called, ‘Money Honey’ (great title Jesse).

Sex and Money – top of pretty near everybody in the world’s wish list!

Can’t wait to hear Clyde light that one up.

Image result for clyde mcphatter images

Going to call the group, ‘The Drifters’.

Clyde knows the singers whose talents will perfectly frame his own.

Bill Pinkney has a smooth baritone, Gerhart and Andrew Thrasher have such sweet tenor voices while Willie Ferbie holds down the bottom end.

Got a feeling this ain’t gonna be no one off Hit.

Landlord ain’t gonna be ringing our Bell.

Image result for clyde mcphatter drifters images

Lord, but this is going to sound great.

I’ll bet we sell a million and that years from now people will still be recording Money Honey – one thing I can tell you nobody will ever out sing Clyde!

No Siree.

No one ever topped Clyde for roller coaster, thrill a minute, I may just have to scream I’m so excited vocal drama!

There’s a wonderful confidence and certainty oozing from every second of the song as if everyone knows they’ve sure hit pay dirt this time.

Money Honey was recorded on 8 August 1953 as The Drifters debut 45.

Straight to the top of the R&B charts and taking up residence on the list for almost 6 Months.

And, straight into the affections of generations of singers and musicians.

Here’s Jukebox Hero Ry Cooder really getting into a groove before a live audience.

Ain’t no doubt about it Ry can really make that Guitar talk!

It’s the mark of a great musician to put their own stamp on a well known song and make you listen to it with a new sense of its depths and joys.

Ry is always welcome here and soon he will feature in an extended Post solely dedicated to his storied career.

Remember I talked about Clyde McPhatter’s roller coaster, thrill a minute, I may just have to scream I’m so excited vocal brilliance?

Well here’s the stupendous fireball Wanda Jackson proving that she can set your heart ablaze just as thrillingly with her own vocal pyrotechnics!

How can you not fall deeply in Love with Wanda!

And, Now, The Jukebox introduces the promised Mystery Guest.

Duffy Power is something of a secret hero of the 1960s British Blues and Rock’n’Roll scene.

He had plenty of talent but somehow the alignment of the fates and his own troubles meant he became a marginal cult figure whose sales never matched his achievements.

Listen to his take here and see if you agree.

Jerry Garcia was a true music afficianado.

With The Dead and with his various side projects he payed loving homage to the music that had inspired him in his youth.

He obviously got a great buzz out of playing Money Honey – returning to it decade after decade.

Well wasn’t that a Kick!

Now to conclude, sadly in the week that brother Art Neville died, a glorious version from the one and only Aaron Neville.

I think Clyde will be singing along with this one on the celestial choir.

Old school relaxed brilliance.

Owing more than a little to the presence of Keith Richards on Guitar.

Got to admit that one had me resurrecting my cartwheeling skills!

The sun may shine and the wind may blow.

Lovers come and Lovers will surely Go.

But today’s lesson is that a song like Money Honey is here to stay.

Charlie Watts & The Jukebox agree : Earl Bostic is Boss – Flamingo!

 

A 7 year old gets introduced to Jazz (and is never the same again).

’Before I wanted to play the drums I wanted to play the Alto Sax. Earl Bostic’s Flamingo was the record that turned me on to Jazz’ (Charlie Watts)

 

Up until the age of 7 I lived in Church Street, Paddington, just over a mile from Marble Arch the landmark that stands as the official centre of London.

Also a mile or so away was Abbey Road Studios where just before my 7th Birthday The Beatles began their epochal recording career.

Nearby was St Johns Wood Library.

Less than half a mile away from home was my parish church and the school where I began my academic studies.

Such were the coordinates of my early life.

Right at the centre, of course, was the home I shared with my parents and my younger brother.

Three rooms above a Betting Shop –  a bedroom partitioned in two, a small living room and a tiny kitchen.

Outside torrents of sound from Church Street Market where you could buy anything from a hair piece to a hula hoop to a handsaw (and I dare say if you knew the right man to ask you could buy a Hawk too).

Photo:Church Street Market

Now, I can’t swear the boy in the picture below is me (though his look and aura matches mine) but I do remember standing in some awe listening to the Salvation Army Sisters preach and sing uplifting hymns with the aim of saving souls.

Photo:A Gathering

Remember what those clever Jesuits said :

Give me a child for his first 7 years and I will give you the man.’ 

In my case almost certainly true.

The 7 year old Tom was;  an obsessive reader, a hundred mile an hour talker and questioner and someone who always wanted to know the who, what, when, where and why about every topic that flashed across the mind.

Both my parents worked long hours in demanding jobs – looking back I must have exhausted them with my relentless enquiries yet they rarely showed any impatience with their effervescent son.

One, nigh infallible, way to staunch my chatter was to play music on the radio or even better to let me cue up a 45 on our Ferguson Radiogram (the pride of our Living Room).

You’ll know some of these as I’ve written about them here :

Runaround Sue’ by Dion,

Walking Back to Happiness’ by Helen Shapiro, 

‘Right Said Fred’ by Bernard Cribbins and, 

’Stranger on The Shore’ by Acker Bilk.

Where did we buy our records?

Why, where else but from a stall just yards from our door – in Church Street Market.

Listening to the stall holders was my introduction to spiel and patter and the art of the dramatic soliloquy :

Now, listen here, gather round, I’ve got juicy tomatoes and melons as big as Sophia Loren’s’

’If you want your whites whiter than white you’ve got no right to go anywhere but John White’s right here!’

’I got cockles and I’ve got mussels, I’ve got eels all the way from the Sargasso Sea – have these every day and your brain will grow as big as Einstein’s’

And, my favourite clarion call :

’If its in the top 10 I’ve got it. If Elvis sang it, I’ve got it.

If its been on the bloomin’ BBC or Luxembourg I’ve got it.

If you can’t remember the name but you can hum it I’ll bet i’ve got it!’

That last peroration from Sid (Symphony Sid of course) who became my favourite stall holder and my most important teacher.

I took to hanging around Sid’s stall when he was closing up for the evening (don’t bother me when I’ve got customers queueing up boy!).

When he was packing up the vinyl treasure it was my chance to ask questions :

‘ I love Twisting The Night Away – tell me about Sam Cooke?

’well boy there ain’t no one alive or dead who sings as naturally as Sam. ‘Course you oughta know that his very best singing, his very best ain’t any of the pop stuff. No! If you want that you’ve got to listen to his gospel stuff with The Soul Stirrers – those records would make a believer out of the deepest atheist I’m telling you!’

’Some people say Elvis is no good since he went in the army but I think, ‘His Latest Flame’ is fantastic – how about you?

’Now Boy, you don’t want to be giving the time of day to those kind of people. I’m telling you 50 years from now the people who really know (and you might be one of ‘em) will tell you that (Marie’s the name) His Latest Flame backed with Little Sister might just be the greatest 45 that anyone, anyone, ever recorded!’

Weeks later he would test me to see if I’d been listening (if you don’t listen close Boy you ain’t ever gonna learn nothin’) :

’What was the gospel group Sam Cooke started out with?’

‘That would be The Soul Stirrers Sid!’

’Good Boy – Look I’ve got a copy here of Del Shannon’s Runaway with just a tiny scratch, fantastic sound that’ll put a your head in a swirl .. take that home now and let me pack up the van in peace.’

’Boy, what was on the other side of ‘His Latest Flame’?

’Easy, Sid, easy that would be Little Sister’.

’Spot on Boy – now I’ve got something special for you here been untouched on the back of this stall for many a year now but I’m telling you this one will outlast all your pop palaver … Earl Bostic playing the Alto Sax on ‘Flamingo’ .. got this off the Jukebox in an American Base .. listen to this Boy, it’ll put hairs on your chest and give you a whole new kind of dreams!’

And, that was how at 7 I got introduced to Jazz, the Alto Saxophone, Earl Bostic and Flamingo!

Now, it took another 7 years before those hairs sprouted on my chest but he was absolutely right about the dreams.

From the moment I first heard Earl’s fruity tone on the Alto Sax I was gone, solid gone.

I had never heard music with such blood and guts life force.

And, dig those Vibes!

Listening to Flamingo I was transported to a shadowy, black and white world where knives flashed and dames smiled dangerously from the doorways of clubs no one like me should ever be allowed to imagine let alone enter.

But that’s the great thing about imagination – once it’s released it’s released and there ain’t t no going back.

Earl became my idol and I drove Sid three quarters mad asking him to find me more Bostic.

Over the next few months along more Bostic beauties : ‘Temptation’, ‘Cherokee’, ‘You Go to My Head’, ‘Sleep’ and, ‘UpThere in Orbit’.

Each new disc became a sacred object for me.

Compared to the full bodied vigour of Earl Bostic most everything else seemed parched and anaemic.

But, like they say, you never forget your first and Flamingo was my first foray into Jazz.

Since then of course I’ve found out that Earl was a legendary saxophone technician with complete mastery of his horn.

I discovered that stellar Jazzers like Benny Carter, Teddy Edwards, Tony Scott, Stanley Turrentine and the blessed John Coltrane himself all played with and were influenced by Earl.

I learned that Earl believed Jazz should never lose sight of The Blues.

Blues had a character that got under the skin and a canny musician could extemporise around that character and have people smile and dance and spend their hard earned money freely.

Earl was very successful because you knew an Earl Bostic Record was going to be an unalloyed pleasure and that you would never, ever, grow tired of listening to Earl’s imperious sound.

Many years later, he became even more of a favourite when I came across a record called, ‘Brooklyn Boogie’ featuring the great Louis Prima and members of my favourite Baseball outfit The Brooklyn Dodgers and reading the credits realised it was written by none other than Earl Bostic!

There’s a legendary figure on the British Jazz scene called Victor Schonfield and I take my hat off to him for this summation of Earl Bostic’s career :

’.. his greatest gift was the way he communicated through his horn a triumphant joy in playing and being, much like Louis Armstrong and only a few others have done’

Bravo Victor and Bravo Bostic!

I’ll leave you with a little more personal history.

One of the many discoveries of our series of house moves over the last few years was a clutch of faded yellow exercise books from my primary school days.

Digging out the book from Spring Term 1962 I see that in very careful script I had answered a series of questions posed by the saintly Sister Mildred as follows :

Favourite Colour – Purple

Favourite Food – Fish and Chips

Favourite Football Team – Spurs

Favourite Book – Treasure Island

Favourite Music – Earl Bostic Flamingo!

Fifty Seven years have rolled around since then but I have to say I’m not minded to change  a single answer.

Take it away Earl.

Blow, Mr Bostic, Blow!

Notes :

I unreservedly recommend, ‘The Earl Bostic Story’ on the Proper Label.

Four CDs, 106 tracks of sheer joy.

Bobby Darin : Tragedy, Trauma & Triumph – Dream Lover

It’s a one time shot, this life, and you don’t get any second chances’ 

‘Boy, I’m pressing my luck – but I’m going to double up!’

‘I’ll go to sleep and dream again, that’s the only thing to do, Till all my lover’s dreams come true’.

Embed from Getty Images

*

Tragedy :

How long have you got before the grim reaper swings his sharp scythe?

A lot longer, we all hope, whatever age we are now.

Not so for Bobby Darin who lived from childhood with the consciousness that because of heart problems it was no good planning for the long term.

Because, at any time, probably soon, his heart would give up the battle and beat no more.

This in the bones knowledge gave him a ferocious, ‘don’t tell me what I can or can’t do’, determination to extract the last full measure from his prodigious talents and have a hell of a time while doing so!

In the end all Bobby got was 450 months.

A little over 37 years before Death came a calling.

I think we might all agree there is a tragic element to such a life.

Trauma

In addition to spending a great deal of his childhood with the pain of rheumatic fever and the dread that death might creep up on him at any moment Bobby Darin discovered just after his marriage to Sandra Dee had ended that the bedrock of his life – his relationships with his Mother and Sister had been based on an elaborate lie.

Bobby had thought his Father was Saverio Antonio “Big Sam Curly” Cassotto, who had died in prison before his birth.

But, Big Sam was not Darin’s Father.

In fact Bobby would go to his grave never knowing the identity of his real Father.

He would die knowing the identity of his Mother and Grandmother but he would have to come to terms with the knowledge that the beloved Sister of his youth was in fact his Mother and the adored Mother who had brought him up was in fact his Grandmother!

I think we can properly say those were traumatic circumstances which would leave a deep brand on the psyche.

Triumph

450 Months.

37 Years.

How much can you achieve in the time?

Well, the statisticians will tell you that he had 22 Billboard Top 40 Hits with 2 of those hitting the Number One spot and three further discs lodging in the top 5 – success which was replicated all around the record buying world.

Rock ‘n’ Roll novelties like, ‘Splish, Splash’ and, ‘Queen of the Hop’ which immediately took up residence in your brain and had you singing your own karaoke version as you travelled to school.

Swingin’ Big Band belters like, ‘Mack The Knife’ (Sinatra, not given to extravagant compliments dubbed Bobby’s version definitive) and, ‘Beyond The Sea’ which won him kudos from professional musicians and several generations of fans senior to him.

Blues drenched workouts like his version of Ray Charles’ ‘What’d I Say’.

Folk Rock tender tones like his version of Tim Hardin’s, ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ and his own, ‘Simple Song of Freedom’.

Oh, and he acted in more than a dozen movies writing two full scores and five title songs.

And, he broke the house attendance records in a string of Las Vegas’ clubs outdrawing legends of show business with decades more experience and exposure.

He seemed to be permanently in the studio when he wasn’t on the road or on the TV or Film Set.

Top selling Album followed Album in every imaginable style – Pop, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Broadway Shows, Folk and Singer-Songwriter and storming finger clickin’, jive talkin’, audience rousin’ live shows.

Bobby Darin never limited his ambition and worked obsessively to meet and surpass those ambitions.

Researching this post I was taken aback at the depth and breadth of his talent and resolved that there will have to be many more Posts here about him if I am to do justice to the scale of his achievements.

Yet, when I think of Bobby Darin I always come back to one song – Dream Lover.

Dream Lover, written by Bobby, was the song that turned him from a here today/forgotten tomorrow teen sensation into a songwriter and performer for the ages.

If you can write a song which calls out to every yearning innocent heart (and we all once had and remember our innocent heart) you are certain of immortality.

Every night I hope and pray a dream lover will come my way.

I want a dream lover so I don’t have to dream alone.

Dream lover where are you?

Some day, I don’t know how.

And the hand that I can hold to feel you near as I grow old.

Until then I’ll go to sleep and dream again.

Till all my lover’s dreams come true.

Till all my lover’s dreams come true.

There’s nobody alive or dead who hasn’t hoped and prayed a dream lover would come their way.

Bobby Darin’s song writing career properly started out of a tiny office (more accurately a broom cupboard) he shared with Nick Venet in New York’s legendary Brill Building.

Riding in the lift or seated at the lunch counter you might find yourself next to Carole King, Burt Bacharach or Leiber & Stoller (love those Latin rhythms they use!).

Songs, Hits about to Hit, filed the corridors, who’s that pudgy kid on the piano – Neil Sedaka you say – OK let’s remember him if we ever get to make a record.

So, Bobby began to dream of a song, a yearning song. with a Latin rhythm, which incorporated the sweetness of Doo-Wop and the drive of Rock ‘n Roll.

That’s when he made the wonderful Demo below featuring the guitar of Fred Neil.

There’s a tender magic about this version which I find immensely affecting.

Bobby’s singing his heart out here.

Dream lover where are you?

 

This Demo convinced the powers that be at Atlantic Records (Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler) that there was a huge Hit here.

So ace Engineer Tom Dowd was at the board as Neil Sedaka played the piano and Bobby sang for all his worth.

Number 2 in the US. Number 1 for 4 weeks in the UK.

And, a song that’s had hundreds of covers though none can match Bobby (that said look out for Rick nelson’s take).

Dream Lover is one of those songs that’s always hovering somewhere in your heart.

As soon as it emerges from the ether you’ll find yourself, with a wry smile on your face, remembering that innocent heart, singing :

Every night I hope and pray a dream lover will come my way …….

 

 

In memory of Walden Robert Cassotto (Bobby Darin) May 1936 to December 1973.

Sleep well Bobby, sleep well.

 

David Bowie, Nina Simone : Wild Is The Wind

 

The wind bloweth where it listeth.

Where it listeth.

And we, we are nought but chaff in the wind.

Chaff in the wind.

When the wind is northerly ‘tis very cold.

And, when we are in Love reason is buffeted like wind-blown smoke.

Our lives are but feathers helplessly teased and tormented by the winds of Love.

All the winds sigh for sweet things dying, dying.

The wind from all points of the compass; north, east, south or west gathers and remembers our voices, the whispers of our hearts, and broadcasts them in the calls of the birds and the threshing of the leaves and fields.

The wind feeds the fires of Love and in the end is there to extinguish the flames too.

The east wind brought the locusts.

Two riders were approaching.

The wind began to Howl.

Howl.

Love me, love me, love me, love me.

Say you do.

My love is like the wind and wild is the wind.

Wild is the wind.

Wild is the wind.

Wild Is the WInd was written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington (previously featured here as composers of High Noon) for a 1957 romantic melodrama of the same name starring Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani.

Johnny Mathis gave the song a poised and polished performance gliding atop sweeping strings.

Yet, there is no sense in his reading of the desperation implicit in the lines :

’With your kiss my life begins .. you’re spring to me .. All things to  me …

Don’t you know you’re life itself’.

No, the song would have to wait until an artist of genius took possession of the song and through the alchemy of her art transformed a leaf trembling breeze into a heart shattering hurricane.

It’s the same song in tne way that someone returning home after the trauma of war is the same person who departed.

Nina Simone in 1959 at NYC Town Hall in her vocal and piano playing evokes layer after layer of bruised and battered feeling.

The euphoria of the sound of mandolins and the shocking abandonment and abasement of the wild wind of the obsessed Lover are made present in every breath and every note so that the listening audience must have felt emotionally wrung out as the last note subsided into exhausted silence.

Don’t you know you’re life itself!

Better to die than to live without this Love.

The leaf clinging to the tree.

We are like creatures, creatures, in the wind.

Cling to me. Cling to me. Cling to me.

Wild is the Wind.

Wild is the Wind.

Nina Simone would return over and over again to Wild Is the Wind.

In the tour de force version below, issued in 1966, the wind she evokes is a tornado that sweeps us into a tumult of a Love that is nothing less than Life and Death to the Lover.

An eternally entwined trinity.

Life and Love and Death.

Don’t you Know you’re Life Itself!

Creatures, creatures of the Wind.

The sound of Mandolins.

With your kiss my Life Begins.

Don’t you know you’re Life Itself.

Cling to me.

Life and Love and Death.

Wild is the Wind.

Wild Is the Wind.

David Bowie in free fall after the Ziggy Stardust years found in the artistic persona of Nina Simone an anchor and a ladder.

Especially in her performance of Wild is The Wind which must have attracted him as the quintesssntial demonstration of how a true artist could summon and surrender to a tsunami of emotion yet remain in control through craft and discipline so that it is the audience and not the artist who is overwhelmed.

Bowie recorded the song for his bravura 1976 album, ‘Station to Station’.

Being the very smart guy he was he knew not to attempt to sing the song to piano accompaniment for that could only cast him into Nina’s Olympian shadow.

Instead, with extraordinary care, he arranged a version that had oceanic sway as intertwined guitars (Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick) and percussion (Dennis Davis) urged his vocal to reach, reach, reach until we are bereft – leaves clinging to the tree , helpless.

For we are creatures, creatures, sweet things dying.

With your kiss My Life Begins.

Don’t you know you’re Live Itself.

Wild Is The Wind.

Wild is The Wind.

 

Tne wind bloweth where it Listeth.

Where it listeth.

And we are nought but chaff in the wind.

Chaff in the wind.

When David Bowie performed at Glastonbury in tne year 2000 he had been through many storms, many of his own making, and had survived them to emerge as a magus in complete command of his art.

The sound of Mandolins

Love me, love me, love me, love me.

Life Itself.

Cteatures In The Wind.

Creatures.

Life and Love and Death.

An eternally entwined trinity.

We are all helpless before the Wind.

Leaves clinging to the trees.

Wild Is The Wind.

Wild Is The Wind.

Wild Is the Wind.

Wild Is the Wind.

Thanks due to The King James Bible. Truman Capote, Christina Rossetti and William Shakespeare for inspiration.