Friday, March 31, 2017

John Prine – "Dear Abby" (1973)

Dear Abby, dear Abby
Well, I never thought
That me and my girlfriend
Would ever get caught

(Think again, you big dope!)

The last 2 or 3 lines discussed advice columnist Carolyn Hax’s response to a letter from a woman whose husband had been checking out young, attractive women on LinkedIn.  The letter was signed “I Married an Arse.”  (The writer and her husband were British.)

Carolyn Hax
How did the writer of that letter become aware that her hubby had a wandering eye?  By regularly checking his browsing history.  He usually remembered to delete his history, but occasionally forgot . . . which allowed his wife to see what webpages he had been viewing.

*     *     *     *     *

If the letters that Carolyn Hax is getting are any indication, a lot of women are sticking their noses into their husbands’ and boyfriends’ beeswax.

For example, the following letter was featured in the Carolyn Hax column that ran a few days after the “I Married an Arse” letter and reply were published:

My girlfriend and I recently called off our engagement due to some flirtatious messages she found on my phone.  I can say honestly that it was an isolated incident, but her anger was compounded by my other messages with platonic girlfriends, which I feel were taken completely out of context.  This was not the first time she had looked through my phone.

OF COURSE it wasn’t the first time she looked at his phone.

OF COURSE she took his messages to his platonic [sic] girlfriends out of context.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, it doesn’t make a sound. You could say the same of mildly flirtatious texts to platonic girlfriends that aren't seen by one's fiancée.

They say ignorance is bliss.  That may not always be true, but it probably was true in this case.  Unless you believe that the ex-fiancée is better off because she  opened Pandora’s box . . . or Pandora's iPhone.

*     *     *     *     *

Of course, sending a few flirtatious e-mails and getting a woman who is not your wife pregnant are two very, very different things.

Here’s one more letter to Carolyn Hax:  

I’m ashamed to admit I made the classic mistake of having a brief, midlife-crisis affair.  I love my wife and family and quickly realized I couldn’t risk it all for a fling. Before I could end it, though, the woman I was seeing got pregnant and the result has been nothing but pain.

My wife and I have stayed together and are in counseling, but the woman is keeping the baby.  I know I have to agree to partial custody and that my affair will have to become public.  Soon everyone — my older children, friends, neighbors — will know I cheated on my wonderful wife. When I think of the pain and humiliation it will cause my family, especially my wife, I’m not sure how we will bear it.

My wife says she is ready to welcome the baby into our home, but her burden is about to become so much heavier.  How can we prepare ourselves for, and most important, do right by, a child who is (if I’m being brutally honest) going to ruin our lives?

You’ve got another think coming if you think I’m going to make a joke about that letter.  If you ask me, there’s nothing funny about it.  

*     *     *     *     *

Carolyn Hax’s advice column appears in about 200 newspapers.  (If your local paper doesn’t carry Hax’s column – or if you’re like me and you get your news from your friends’ fake news posts to Facebook instead of a newspaper – just click here to read her columns online.)

“Dear Abby,” the most famous of all American newspaper advice columns, ran in over 1200 newspapers at the height of its popularity.

“Dear Abby” and “Ann Landers”
“Dear Abby” was written by Pauline Phillips from 1956 until 2000, when her daughter Jeanne Phillips took over.  A similar column, “Ask Ann Landers,” was written from 1955 to 2002 by Esther “Eppie” Lederer, who was Pauline Phillips’s twin sister.

Phillips was named Pauline Esther Friedman by her parents, while Lederer was named Esther Pauline Friedman.  (Maybe the parents thought it cost extra to give twins different names.)

*     *     *     *     *

Today’s featured song, “Dear Abby,” was released in 1973 on John Prine’s third album, Sweet Revenge.

Here’s “Dear Abby”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lady Gaga – "Born This Way" (2011)

Don't hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you're set
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way 

Carolyn Hax writes an advice column for the Washington Post and other newspapers.  Think of her as a latter-day “Dear Abby.”

The headline for one of her recent columns caught my eye:

What should you do about a spouse’s wandering eye?

I don't know who the headline writer thought he or she was fooling by using “spouse” instead of “husband.”  If you asked a hundred people to guess whether the spouse with the wandering eye was a husband or a wife, I'm guessing that one hundred of them would guess it was a husband . . . and they would be right.

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax
Here’s the letter to Ms. Hax:

Hello, Carolyn: 

I’m from the U.K.  I’m married to a man who is a self-professed arrogant liar.  He’s proud of it.  I  am not.

We have been together for 20 years.

He has joined a professional networking site and sometimes he deletes his computer history, but now and again I guess he forgets.  I’ve always had my suspicions.  He has checked out so many young, attractive women on these sites.  He says that it’s purely professional and that they have requested him.

I’m not stupid.  All of the women are incredibly attractive.  I turn heads, but I’m certainly not as beautiful as these women.  I feel like such a mug.  We have two children.  I just need to know: Is it normal that men do this, or have I married an arse?

I Married an Arse

And here’s Ms. Hax’s reply:

I Married an Arse: 

You didn’t include a signature, so I provided one for you.

Anyone who describes her husband as “a self-professed arrogant liar” knows exactly who she married.

So the real question is, what are you looking to get from writing to me? Validation for your distrust? Done.  Sympathy?  Done.  Permission to go (or stay)?  You’re your own permission.

I suspect what you really want is “why” — why he does this, why you’ve stayed, why you’ve mistaken this for a beauty contest — and the overarching “what” they compel: What now?

Please get out of his history, and seek answers in your own emotional health.  Find a therapist, some supportive friends, some healthy outlets.  Find you.  Your confidence will speak for itself.

Advice columns are generally written by female columnists – the British call them “agony aunts” – and are aimed at female readers.  Ms. Hax’s column is no exception: it is written by a woman for other women to read, and most of the letters she responds to are from women.  

But I think she would be well-served to consult with a man before dispensing advice like her answer to “I Married an Arse.”  After all . . . when it comes to men, men are the experts. 

To wit . . . let’s consider the question at the end of the letter from “I Married an Arse” to Ms. Hax: “Is it normal that men do this, or have I married an arse?”

[Note:  Keep in mind that the issue here is the husband's practice of checking out attractive young women on LinkedIn.  There is no suggestion whatsoever in the letter that he had sex with these women, or did anything beyond looking at their LinkedIn profiles.]

Obviously, Ms. Hax believes that the writer married an arse.

But what about the first part of the question: “Is it normal that men do this?”

Carolyn Hax seems to believe that most husbands do not engage in the kind of behavior that this husband engaged in.  Her answer to “Is it normal that men do this?” seems to be “No.”

Let me disabuse you of that notion, Ms. Hax.

While not all husbands and boyfriends are checking out hot female lawyers and accountants and marketing professionals on LinkedIn, you can best believe they are checking out the women they see at work, on the bus or subway on their way to work, at the bars and restaurants they go to after work, at the grocery store, at the mall, at church, at sporting events or concerts, at the playgrounds and soccer fields and swimming pools where they take their kids . . . you get the picture.

Carolyn Hax and the British woman may not like that men are checking out women all the time.  But it's what men do.

In the words of Lady Gaga, we were born this way.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah famously asked, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?”

Would Carolyn Hax say that an Ethiopian is an arse on account of his skin color, or call a leopard an arse because he has spots?  Of course not.

So why did she choose to sign the letter from her British correspondent “I Married an Arse”?

She should have signed it “I Married a Man.”

*     *     *     *     *

Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” went all the way to the top of the Billboard “Hot 100” when it was released in February 2011.  It was the 19th single to debut at #1, and the 1000th #1 single in the history of the “Hot 100.”

“Born This Way” (which Gaga says she wrote in only ten minutes) says it doesn’t matter whether you are gay, lesbian, bi, or transgendered because “God makes no mistakes.”

I’m sure Gaga wasn’t thinking of straight males who behave like arses when she penned the lyrics to “Born This Way,” but if the shoe fits . . .

Here’s the official music video for “Born This Way,” which is really something.  (200,000,000 views and counting.)  Gaga spends half of it giving birth to alien creatures and the other half strutting around in a very small bikini.  (There’s no sign of the roll of belly fat that was so apparent in her recent SuperBowl performance.)

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Brian Hyland – “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini” (1960)

Two, three, four
Tell the people what she wore

Did you know that if you use multiple adjectives to modify a noun, there is a rule about the order in which those adjectives must appear?  

Well, there is.  Adjectives that express a general opinion about a noun (“beautiful” or “nice”) should appear before adjectives that express a specific opinion (“wet” or “rough”). 

Adjectives relating to size, age, shape, color, origin, material, and purpose follow – in that order.

You probably have never been taught that rule.  But I’m guessing you never violate it.

*     *     *     *     *

The artist formerly known as Prince followed the rule: his 1983 hit is titled “Little Red Corvette”– not “Red Little Corvette.” 

I wonder if that song inspired the recent senior thesis of a certain linguistics student, who searched something called the Corpus of Contemporary American English – which contains 450 million words published over the last 25 years – and found 382 examples of  “big red [noun]” but zero examples of “red big [noun].”

*     *     *     *     *

Here’s an acronym that might help you remember the proper order of different types of adjectives: GSSSACPM (General opinion, Specific opinion, Size, Shape, Age, Color, Provenance, Material).  

Then again, it might not.

It turns out that the adjectival sequence that English speakers follow is the same sequence followed by speakers of other languages.  For some reason, humans need “big” to precede “red,” and not vice versa.

*     *     *     *     *

So why is it “big bad wolf,” and not “bad big wolf”?  After all, the GSSSACPM rule dictates that general-opinion adjectives (like “bad”) precede size-related adjectives (like “big”).

It turns out there is another rule you’ve never heard of – the rule of ablaut reduplication.  (That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?)

If a word or syllable is repeated exactly (“bye-bye,” “choo-choo,” “pee-pee”), it’s called an exact reduplication.

Examples of rhyming reduplications include “super-duper,” “razzle-dazzle,” and “hoity-toity.”

The two parts of ablaut reduplications are identical except for the vowels: “chit-chat,” “flip-flop,” and “zig-zag” are examples.  (“Ablaut” means “change of vowel.”)

The first vowel in an ablaut reduplication is a high vowel (where the tongue is held near the roof of the mouth), while the second vowel is a low vowel (where the tongue is held near the bottom of the mouth).

That’s why it’s “flip-flop” – not “flop-flip” . . . and “ding-dong” – not “dong-ding.”  (Just try to say “flop-flip” and “dong-ding” . . . it’s not easy, is it?)

So it’s “big bad wolf” – not “bad big wolf.”

*     *     *     *     *

I considered a lot of songs to feature in this post.

I could have chosen a song title that included an exact reduplication, like Louis Jordan’s “Choo-Choo Ch’Boogie.”

And there are plenty of rhyming reduplication songs – like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” by the Andrews Sisters, or the famous children’s song, “The Hokey Pokey.” 

I could have done an ablaut reduplication song like Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash, or “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” from The Wizard of Oz.

But I chose a song that illustrates the GSSSACPM rule (which says that an adjective relating to size should precede an adjective relating to color), and also includes a couple of rhyming reduplications.

Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini” hit #1 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in August 1960.  

Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss co-wrote the song, which Vance said was inspired by his daughter’s refusal to wear a bikini in public.  Vance described the song as a “money machine,” and said it had earned him several million dollars in royalties.  

Vance and Pockriss also co-wrote “Catch a Falling Star” and “Leader of the Laundromat.”

Here’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini”:

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, March 24, 2017

Chuck Berry – "Johnny B. Goode" (1958)

Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans,
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode
Who never ever learned to read or write so well
But he could play a guitar just like a ringing a bell

(Yes, I'm aware that's more than two or three lines, but this verse is so good that it deserves to be quoted in its entirety.)

The late Chuck Berry was the first person inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which is fine with me.

Here’s the first sentence from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s biography of Chuck Berry, who was 90 years old when he died on March 18:

After Elvis Presley, only Chuck Berry had more influence on the formation and development of rock & roll.

Chuck Berry in 1964
Writing on, Jack Hamilton (an American studies professor at the University of Virginia) begged to differ:  

“Who invented rock and roll?” is a truly unanswerable question, but Chuck Berry’s claim is as solid as any.  Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88,” the 1951 song most frequently cited as the music’s Big Bang, predates Berry’s emergence by four years, and Lloyd Price, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Carl Perkins, and even Elvis Presley had all made records before Berry broke through with “Maybellene” in 1955, at the shockingly advanced age of 28.  But Berry . . . was rock and roll’s first great auteur, blessed with an effortless ability to render the specific into the universal, and vice versa. He wrote songs infused with play, humor, ennui, pain, rage, swagger, and sex. They spoke to a generation who assumed they were about them, which was always only partially true.

Hamilton goes on to identify exactly what it was about Berry’s early hits that was revolutionary:

Musical revolutions tend to happen more gradually and subtly than pop mythology would like . . . [T]here are precious few moments on record that you can point to as a precise, tectonic shift in music itself.  But Berry’s early hits provide just this.  If you listen closely to “Roll Over Beethoven, “School Days,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Johnny B. Goode,” or any number of other Berry sides from the period, you’ll hear a rhythm section playing a standard shuffle, the swung eighth-note rhythm that was the most common backdrop of 1940s and 1950s Chicago blues and R&B.  Berry and pianist Johnnie Johnson, on the other hand, are playing the arrow-straight eighth notes that would soon become the defining rhythmic currency of rock and roll.  It’s a startling clash, the sound of the old world colliding with the new, and once it’s pointed out, the drums and bass on these recordings sound instantly out-of-date, a relic of an earlier era. 

*     *     *     *     *

I think that Berry was a better performer than Elvis Presley.  And I know he was a better songwriter.

Elvis was credited as the co-writer of a number of his songs, but he contributed significantly to only a very few.  By contrast, Berry wrote not only “Johnny B. Goode” but also “Roll Over, Beethoven,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Back in the U.S.A.,” “Memphis, Tennessee,” and many others.  

But I can’t argue that Elvis Presley was a bigger star than Berry.

Was that only because Elvis was white?  I don’t think so.  It didn’t hurt that Elvis was only 21 in 1956, when he had five #1 hits.  Berry turned 30 in 1956, plus he was a bit of a skeeze.  (I wouldn’t describe Elvis as exactly clean-cut, but he was a helluva lot more appealing to teenaged girls than Chuck Berry.)

Berry was still in high school when he was arrested for armed robbery after robbing three stores and stealing a car at gunpoint.  (Berry later wrote that the gun he used to flag down the motorist driving the car he stole wasn’t functional.)

In 1959, he was prosecuted and convicted under the Mann Act, a federal law that forbade the transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes.  (Berry was found guilty of having sex with a 14-year-old girl he had transported across state lines to work as a hatcheck girl in a St. Louis nightclub that he owned, and spent 18 months in prison.)

A few months after going to the White House in 1979 to play for President Jimmy Carter, Berry pled guilty to tax evasion charges.

And in 1990, he was sued by a number of women who found out that he had installed a videocamera in the women’s bathroom at a restaurant he owned.  Berry paid the plaintiffs an estimated $1.2 million to settle the case.  He also pled guilty to misdemeanor drug possession when police who were searching his house for his bathroom videotapes found 62 grams of marijuana.

Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, baby!

*     *     *     *     *

Today’s featured song is ranked number 7 on Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” – just behind “Good Vibrations” and just ahead of “Hey Jude.”  It’s the only song from the fifties in Rolling Stone’s top ten.

And it’s also the only rock ’n’ roll song included on the golden record that was placed in the Voyager spacecraft that was launched in 1977 and is currently travelling through interstellar space.

Chuck Berry wrote a lot of iconic songs, and “Johnny B. Goode” is probably the iconic-est of all of them.

If you read the lyrics to that song on the printed page, they aren’t anything special.  But they are perfect lyrics for a rock ’n’ roll song.

“Johnny B. Goode” peaked at #8 on the Billboard “Hot 100.”  (The songs that reached #1 while “Johnny B. Goode” was on the “Hot 100” included “Witch Doctor,” “Yakety Yak,” and “The Purple People Eater.”)

I always assumed that Johnny B. Goode was a white boy from the boonies, but Berry’s original lyrics were “where lived a colored boy named Johnny B. Goode.”  

Berry was born and reared in St. Louis – not the piney woods of Louisiana – but the song is based on his life.

Here’s “Johnny B. Goode”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Fever Tree – "San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native)" (1968)

Out there it's summertime
Milk and honey days
San Francisco girls with
San Francisco ways

If you were a teenager in the sixties, the place you wanted to be was San Francisco.

In particular, you wanted to be in Haight-Ashbury, where some 100,000 flower children gathered in the summer of 1967.

The “Summer of Love” inspired many songs, the best known of which were Scott MacKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” and “San Franciscan Nights” by Eric Burdon and the Animals.  But the best “Summer of Love” song of them all may have been Fever Tree’s “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native).”

Fever Tree was formed in Houston, Texas, which was a long way from San Francisco.  It was one of a number of memorable Texas psychedelic bands of that era, including the 13th Floor Elevators, Bubble Puppy, the Moving Sidewalks, Red Krayola, and the Golden Dawn.  

Rob Landes
Rob Landes, a classically-trained pianist and organist, replaced Fever Tree’s original keyboard player shortly after the band formed in 1966.  2 or 3 lines recently caught up with Rob, who still lives in Houston, where his jazz trio plays dozens of gigs yearly and where he’s the organist and artist-in-residence at a large Methodist church.

2 or 3 lines:  Rob, I understand you started playing the piano at a very young age.  What sparked your interest in music?  

Rob Landes:  My dad was a cellist and played the piano.  My mom also was a pianist and sang professionally on television in the early days of TV in Houston, so I was raised with amazing music in our home.  So playing came very naturally for me.  I started playing at two years old and when I was three, my parents put me with an outside teacher.  As a very young kid, I remember my parents playing 78s by Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, and some of the other great musicians of their generation.

Fever Tree's eponymous debut album
2 or 3 lines: I assume you studied the classical piano repertoire as a student.  What were some of your favorite piano composers and pieces?  What was the most challenging classical composition you ever performed?

Rob Landes: I studied many of the classics and was a piano major in college.  Ravel and Debussy were at the top of my list.  I guess the most difficult piano piece I ever played was “Jeux d’eau” by Maurice Ravel.  It is a very splashy impressionistic piece that is supposed to be representative of a huge fountain.

2 or 3 lines: When did you first start to listen to pop/rock music?  Who were your favorite groups when you were a teenager?

Rob Landes: I have an older brother, and he listened to rock music when I was very young – Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Johnny Mathis . . . I loved them all.  I still have a lot of the 45s that he bought back then.

2 or 3 lines: You weren't an original member of Fever Tree.  I understand you were playing the organ at a church when you were asked to join them.  Did you transition from studying piano to studying organ at some point, or were you more a pianist who just played the organ on the side? 

Rob Landes: I got interested in the organ when I was around ten years old.  I took pop organ lessons from the choir director at our church, who was an excellent pop organist.  I studied on the Hammond B-3 organ at our church.  When I was 13, I began taking classical organ lessons on a pipe organ.

2 or 3 lines: Who were your favorite B-3 organists from that era?  Who influenced your organ style?

Rob Landes: I think about the only influence on my B-3 organ playing was Mark Stein of Vanilla Fudge.  I really don’t remember listening to any others besides him.  When I started playing with Fever Tree, I played on a Vox Beatle model organ.  It wasn’t until later that I got a Hammond with Leslie speakers.  

(Note: You can click here to see an absolutely insane live performance of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by Mark Stein and Vanilla Fudge.)

Hohner Clavinet
2 or 3 lines: Did you use any other keyboard instruments when you were with Fever Tree?

Rob Landes: The instrument you hear at the very beginning of “San Francisco Girls” is a Hohner Clavinet, which I often played in our live performances.  It had actual strings in it and they were plucked like a harpsichord.  Each string was amplified.  I wish I still had that instrument!  I’m sure it is a collector’s item by now.

(Note: The Hohner Clavinet, which had a five-octave range, was manufactured in Germany from 1964 to about 1980.  That instrument produced its distinctive sound by electrically amplifying the vibrations that resulted from the forceful fretting of its 60 steel strings – similar to the guitar technique known as “hammer-on.”)

The Terrace Ballroom was in Salt Lake City
2 or 3 lines: You played not only organ and piano on Fever Tree's records, but also flute and harp and cello and recorder.  How did you learn to play all those instruments?

Rob Landes: I learned the cello because my dad played it, and I played the flute and piccolo in the marching band at Bellaire High School in Houston.  I was a harp minor in college.  I wanted to compose music for the harp and I figured the best way to approach writing for the harp was to learn how to play it.  I enjoyed it so much when a harp student showed me the basics that I bought a harp and took lessons from the harpist in the Houston Symphony.

2 or 3 lines: Fever Tree's most famous song is “San Francisco Nights (Return of the Native).”  It is an absolute classic, if you ask me – I'm not sure there's a better "Summer of Love" record out there.  Fever Tree was from Houston, which is a long way from California.  Had any of you ever been to San Francisco when you recorded it, or was your image of the city based on TV shows and movies?  

Rob Landes: I had been to San Francisco many times as a youngster.  We had relatives in Berkeley and made the trip across the Golden Gate Bridge many times in to San Francisco.  It was always exciting to go there and romp up and down the hills and of course, to ride the cable cars.  I think I was probably the only one in Fever Tree who had ever been there when we recorded “San Francisco Girls.”  I found it interesting that we never played there when we toured.

(Rob Landes is second from the right)
2 or 3 lines: Who were some of the other late-sixties groups whose music really impressed you?

Rob Landes: I was a huge fan of Spirit.  They had a song called “Fresh Garbage” that I really liked a lot.  We performed with them a couple of times and they were really nice guys.  I think the drummer was the father of one of the other band members. 

(Note: Spirit drummer Ed Cassidy was the stepfather of Spirit guitarist/vocalist Randy California.  Cassidy, who sported a distinctive shaved head, was 44 when the band formed – possibly the oldest rock musician of his era.)

2 or 3 lines:  Spirit is one of my favorites, too.  Who else did you like from that era?

Rob Landes: I was a fan of the Association.  I loved their amazing vocals.  Also the Beach Boys for the same reason.  I was enthralled with Laura Nyro and her playing as well as her writing, and of course, her amazing voice.  She died young, and was an incredible talent.

2 or 3 lines:  I’m glad you mentioned Laura Nyro, who you don’t hear much about any more – she was terrific, and had a very distinctive style.  Shifting gears, tell us about the Rob Landes Trio, your jazz group.  How long have you been interested in jazz?  Who are some of your favorite jazz pianists?

Rob Landes: I became interested in jazz at a very young age.  I listened to George Shearing, Oscar Peterson and Andre Previn as a youngster and loved listening to their improvisations.  I think it was a great influence on me to realize that you could play music that wasn’t actually written on the page.  I started the Rob Landes Trio in the early eighties.  We worked at venues like Houston’s Four Seasons Hotel for years, then started doing concerts and one-nighters at many different venues in the area. We appeared on the “Good Morning, Houston” television show for three years, and that exposure was invaluable for my group. 

1968 concert poster
2 or 3 lines: As someone who plays the piano, I have to ask what kind of piano you would choose if you could have any piano in the world?  

Rob Landes: If I could go out and buy any piano I wanted, it would be a Steinway D.  That’s the concert grand.  Of course, every one of them is totally different, with their own personality and sound.  If I was going to buy one, I’d want to play at least a dozen of them before I took the plunge and bought one.

(Note: The Steinway D-274 is the nine-foot-long flagship of the Steinway & Sons line of grand pianos.  The vast majority of grand pianos in concert halls around the world are Steinway D-274s, which retail for around $80,000.)

2 or 3 lines: I’ve never played a Bösendorfer piano, which is a legendary Austrian brand.  I’m sure you’ve played Bösendorfers – what do you think of them?

Rob Landes: I play occasionally at the home of a wealthy Houston couple who have an amazing Bösendorfer concert grand.  It’s an even longer piano than the Steinway D, and has several extra keys at the bottom of the keyboard.  When I play on that piano, I feel like I’m driving a Rolls Royce automobile.  It’s pure pleasure to play that instrument.

The Bösendorfer's extra bass keys
(By the way, the Bösendorfer concert grand piano lists for about $250,000 – almost as much as a new Rolls Royce costs.)   

Here’s “San Francisco Girls”:

The mix of this live recording of “San Francisco Girls” gives more prominence to Rob's organ playing:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Jimmy Dean – "Big Bad John" (1961)

At the bottom of this mine 
Lies a hell of a man
Big John

Brunswick is an old railroad town that’s located on the Potomac River in Frederick County, Maryland, near the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the C&O Canal in Frederick County, Maryland.  It’s about an hour northwest of my home.

Brunswick Heritage Museum
I discovered the Brunswick Heritage Museum with my kids many years ago.  The most interesting part of the museum is a HO-scale model railroad layout that depicts the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Metropolitan Subdivision, which ran from Brunswick through Montgomery County, Maryland (where I live) and on to Union Station in Washington, DC, a distance of roughly 42 miles.

The B&O's Metropolitan line
The museum’s model railroad is huge – 1700 square feet – and amazingly detailed.

Here's a photo of the part of the layout that depicts the Montgomery County fairgrounds:

Montgomery County fairgrounds depiction
The part of the setup that recreates the B&O’s Brunswick switching yard and roundhouse is particularly noteworthy:

Model of Brunswick switching yard
Here’s a video that shows the model train layout in detail:

The other Brunswick attraction that you need to know about is Smoketown Brewing Station, a microbrewery that opened for business less than a year ago.

Smoketown Brewing Station
Smoketown Brewing is located in the old Brunswick fire station.  Back in the day, the community hall located on the upper floor of the building hosted a number of prominent country and western musicians – including today’s featured artist, Jimmy Dean – and was also utilized as a movie theatre.

Jimmy Dean and Patsy Cline once appeared
on the same bill at the Brunswick fire station
The day I visited Smoketown, I ordered a flight with samples of four of the dozen-odd beers they were pouring and had a chat with the brewery’s owner, David Blackmon.  

A flight of four Smoketown beers
Since I was only a short drive away from Frederick, Maryland, I also stopped at Attaboy Beer, a brand-new brewery that’s adjacent to Carroll Creek Park.

Attaboy beers
Attaboy’s most unusual offering was its “Lunch Break” patersbier, a mild and relatively low-alcohol beer modeled after those brewed by Belgian monks for their own consumption.

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Jimmy Dean was a very successful country and western recording artist in the 1950s and 1960s.  His 1961 hit, “Big Bad John” which Dean and Roy Acuff co-wrote – held down the #1 spot on the Billboard “Hot 100” for five weeks and won the Grammy for Best Country & Western Recording.

Dean was also a popular radio and TV personality.  Patsy Cline and Roy Clark were two of the country stars who got their start on Dean’s “Town and Country Time” radio show, which aired on a Washington, DC station in the mid-1950s.  (Dean and Cline once performed on the same bill in the Brunswick building that now houses the Smoketown Brewing Station.)  After a year, the show moved to a local television station, and was eventually picked up by CBS and broadcast nationally.

In 1963, Dean was tabbed to host a primetime variety show on the ABC television network.  The Jimmy Dean Show’s guests included the crème de la crème of the country music world (George Jones, Buck Owens, Roger Miller, and many others) but what I remember about it were the skits that featured Dean and Rowlf the Dog, the first of the Muppets to become a star.  

Jimmy Dean with Rowlf
In 1969, Dean and his brother founded the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company.  The business was so successful – thanks in part to Dean’s folksy TV commercials – that the Sara Lee Corporation paid $80 million for it in 1984.  

Dean died in 2010, when he was 81.  His final resting place is a nine-foot-tall piano-shaped mausoleum on the grounds of his Virginia estate, which overlooks the James River.  

His epitaph comes from the lyrics to “Big Bad John”: “Here lies a hell of a man.”

Here’s “Big Bad John”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, March 17, 2017

Billy Murray – "Low Bridge, Everybody Down" (1912)

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge, we're coming to a town

I’m almost 65, and I’ve decided that I’m going to retire from the practice of law sometime this year.  

Is it any surprise that I’m finding it harder and harder to haul my ass into the office five days a week?

I played hooky regularly last fall, taking a day off each week to go for a hike or a bike ride and then hitting a brewery or two . . . or three.  But winter eventually arrived, and skipping work to take a hike or go biking isn’t all that attractive a proposition when it’s freezing cold outside.

So when the weatherman said it was going to be unseasonably warm one Wednesday a couple of weeks ago, I made plans to spend the day in the great outdoors.

A CSX train goes through Brunswick
After accompanying my mother to her thrice-weekly 11:00 am exercise class, I hit the road for Brunswick, an old railroad town that’s near the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the C&O Canal in Frederick County, Maryland.

On the way there, I stopped at a new outlet mall that’s just off the highway.  I spent so much time trying on shoes at the Nike outlet that I didn’t have time to visit any of the other stores at the mall.

I walked out with four pairs of kicks – a personal best for me.  (I realize that buying four pairs of shoes at one time is all in a day’s work for you ladies out there, but I usually limit myself to a pair or two.)

One of my purchases was a replacement for the shoes I use to referee basketball games on weekends:

One was almost identical to a pair I already have.  (I figure if a particular pair of shoes fits just right, why not get a second pair?)

One pair was an incredible bargain – these bad boys only set me back $24.95:

The fourth pair was simply irresistible:

Half an hour after leaving the Nike store, I was in Brunswick, which sits on the Potomac River about an hour northwest of my home.  

Brunswick used to be called Berlin because many German immigrants settled there.  But then some spoilsport pointed out that there was another town named Berlin on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  (Apparently the Post Office wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to distinguish one Berlin, Maryland from the other when it came to delivering the mail.)

A MARC commuter train pulls into Brunswick
Around 1890, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad chose Brunswick to be the site of a six-mile long freight yard along the Potomac.  It was also the home to a B&O locomotive repair works and roundhouse.  For the next five or six decades, Brunswick was essentially a B&O company town.

Today, Brunswick is a little down at the heels, but it has its charms.  In the next 2 or 3 lines, we’ll visit two of the town’s most popular attractions.

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Do elementary-school kids still sing “Low Bridge, Everybody Down” in music class?  

The Erie Canal, which opened in 1825, ran between Albany and Buffalo, New York.  It was 363 miles long, and had 36 locks to handle the east-to-west elevation difference of 565 feet.

Erie Canal mules
The C&O Canal along the Potomac River is half as long as the Erie Canal, but has twice as many locks to overcome its 605-foot elevation change.  It took almost three times as long to complete the C&O as it took to build the Erie Canal (22 years compared to eight years).  

There are a lot of recordings of “Low Bridge, Everybody Down” – which is sometimes titled “Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal,” or simply “The Erie Canal Song.”  

Today we’re featuring a 1912 recording of the song by Billy “The Denver Nightingale” Murray, one of the most prolific recording artists of the early 1900s: