Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Because there aren't enough lawsuits in music!
Ghostbusters Lp Cover
Much of my favorite music never had enough commercial appeal to attract legal action. Here's a notable exception.
Ray Parker Junior
In the wake of the unforeseen success of the soundtrack album for the summer comedy "Ghostbusters," somebody dropped a lawsuit on Ray Parker Junior, whose tailor-made Ghostbusters Theme sounded a lot like Huey Lewis And The News's then-recent radio hit "I Want A New Drug."
New Drug 45 Cover
When the litigation story broke, the bitterness of my feeling for Huey and company colored everything. Huey's hit seemed to me to have been built substantially on Soul Finger by the Bar-Kays, a once cherished forty-five I'd subsequently lost in a move. The single had a sentimental value for me, a partial soundtrack to my first tentative boogaloos with the opposite sex (dancing school, I mean).
Huey Wink
As it turns out, the picture's producers had edited the title sequence to Huey's hit record, showing the result to Parker with the express wish that he replicate the effect with new music. The judge found for the plaintiffs, and the chunk of money Parker had received for his one hit was decimated, like the bison of the plains.
Soul Finger Single
Having recently picked up a record of Soul Finger, I am newly certain that it is the prototype for Huey's song.
Now that's handsome
I don't know how much of the damages made their way back to Huey and his mates, but I still like to imagine Huey hacking off a piece of that money and sending it to the Bar-Kays, all of whom, I do not doubt, would find good use for it.
Soul Finger Cover
Download these and compare:
I WANT A NEW DRUG - Huey Lewis And The News
Bar-Kays Pose
Hey! Watching an ad on Comedy Central last night I heard a few moments from Soul Finger by the Bar-Kays. It was set on a bus or a city commute train and I heard just the distinctive multi-tonguing of the trumpet fanfare from this record. Something dot com. Maybe these youngsters will get paid at last, now that they're approaching retirement age.
Thanks to Anonymous for notifying UKEBOX that these mp3 links were misattributed. Much obliged, Podna.

Penelope Houston As I Knew Her Sound

Penelope Houston was the wisest, fairest bandleader I ever worked for. I started about twenty years ago and I was cut about ten years ago. Playing in her band I saw a lot of Europe, where for the most part we traveled in comfort and had great shows, and the US, where for the most part (God bless Pittsburgh) we traveled like parasites and performed for annoyed and insulted teens.
I miss the music, and I miss the comraderie. Here are two lovely acoustic keepsakes from the last part of my tenure in Her Band, which was pushed ever louder, first by Warner's, and then by the chefin herself. I was comically slow to catch on, but both label and artist agreed they would have to replace the staff (even me!) if they were to make a new, more accessible sound.
Anyway, Water Wheel is from the Euro-only release, Karmal Apple, and doesn't use the actual Her Band line-up. Our drummer, Kevin Mummey, and I on string bass, play with the song's composer Pat Johnson on guitar, who chimes in as Penelope sings his erotic love song. (Not her typical subject matter.) I got to write the song a string chart, which my enduring associate Julian Smedley executed on violin and octave violin.
Penelope and Pat

Trouble Walks By, written by Virginia Dare's brilliant Mary O'Neil, is a song piggybacked on Karmal Apple's pre-release single, Ride. Present are Penelope Houston and Her Band for real: Kevin and me, Eliot Nemzer on fifths-tuned steel string guitar, and Mel Peppas on mandolin. This is all played and sung together in real time in our little practice space under what was then Penelope's house in Bernal Heights. This is how I remember our band sounding. I think I'll have that little drink about now.
Water Wheel - Penelope Houston
Trouble Walks By - Penelope Houston and Her Band


One Minute Vacations

Below I've placed a link to a page offering an archive of minute-long environmental recordings, called "one minute vacations." It's part of a web site oxymoronically, but all the more appealingly, called Quiet American. Avail yourself of dozens of stereophonic "you are there" recordings of sonically distinctive locations on this planet. This site really has taken me away from my everyday reality more than once, and sometimes that's the most desirable thing of all.

LINK: One Minute Vacations (The site administrator emphatically suggests listening on headphones to the recordings posted there.) The entire enterprise appears to be the vital expression of a soul awestruck and intoxicated with the beauty of sound, one to whom I am increasingly grateful for this offering of love.

Monday, February 12, 2007

UKEBOX Book Club: Jazz Masters of the 20s by Richard Hadlock

On the subject of musical evolution I can heartily recommend Richard Hadlock's illuminating book, "Jazz Masters Of The Twenties." (As of this writing there are thirty one used copies in paperback at Amazon dot com, from $3.49.) His chapter "The Chicagoans" describes in detail some congruent and overlapping spheres of musical influence in the world of Bix and Hoagy and George Wettling and Dave Tough. The book provides a perspective on creating music wholly unrelated to the usual "Sonny Rollins returned from exile with a mission burning within..." claptrap.
Like any language, music can only be understood to the extent that listener and player share points of reference. Music is created in community, and its sounds are made of the music its players remember. You'd be surprised how much jazz writing forgets that.

(From 01/20/06)

Friends Of Old Puppy: ERIC & SUZY THOMPSON

Eric and Suzy Thompson
Eric and Suzy Thompson have been two of the best friends a folkie can have. They've introduced me to some of the best musicians I've ever played with, and they themselves are in the front of that number. Each of them has graced my upcoming album of 'ukulele instrumentals with their unique and distinguished string manipulations, and I'm grateful for their gifts.

In a long-forgotten and enchanted time, when September Eleven was Stacey Street's birthday, I got to participate in the recording of a modest gem of modern jug band performance. Fourth Street Messaround is a CD Eric and Suzy Thompson produced at home with the engineering talents of Brendan Doyle. The band, dubbed The Todalo Shakers, augments the essential Thompson kernel with the musical talents of W. B. Reid on six-string banjo and Frannie Leopold on guitar. All sing. I was brought in with the challenge of using a bow on my string bass to evoke the deep, slippery sound of a big stone jug.

The Todalo Shakers
I love the results. Below I've posted a link to the title track, which features a spooky ending that gives me a chill no matter how many times I hear it.

Under that I have a link to Eric and Suzy's home page, and a link to one of their Todalo Shakers pages. Five more Todalo Shakers tunes to listen to when you get there. Be a good sort, then. There you go.

Fourth Street Messaround - The Todalo Shakers

Web site of Eric and Suzy Thompson
Eric and Suzy's Todalo Shakers pages

(from 12/08/05)

Ukulele Inspiration: ART FOWLER

Art Fowler And His Ukulele
I thought it would be a good idea to share an exceptional recording, a rare example of a uke-strumming singer whose appeal is almost entirely musical. He's not pouring on the charm in the manner of the master entertainer, but he's really delivering an adroit and nuanced performnce. He makes it sound mighty easy.

No Wonder She's A Blushing Bride - Art Fowler And His Ukulele

(from 11/30/05)

Historic OLD PUPPY

Old Puppy
Old Puppy At SF Ferry Building

The guy standing, who looks like he's wearing his band uniform under duress, is Billy Wilson, and this is his band, Old Puppy. It's an outgrowth of our old duet, UKEBOX, which gives this web log its name. Making a unique supergroup are the added talents of Kurt Stevenson (more about whom in this log's November archive) and the singular Pete Devine on percussion. Pete played hatbox percussion on Billy's CD YUKETIDE: A Ukebox Christmas.

Old Puppy's Christmas list has one thing on it: a weekly regular for four, playing for brunch diners. What do you think, Santa?

(I'll be hawking YUKETIDE down at the busker's spot in front of Peet's on Fourth Street in Berkeley until Christmas is over, from eight to eleven am. The gendarmerie unplug amplifiers, but so far, not in the morning.)

Old Puppy Nabolom
Old Puppy At Nabolom Bakery Christmas Eve Morning
Left to right: Billy Wilson, Steven Strauss, Cynthia Wilson

Old Puppy - Where Or When
YUKETIDE - (Funky) Silent Night

(from 12/21/05)

Friends Of Old Puppy: BETH CUSTER

Beth Custer
Beth Custer, composer, clarinet goddess, called this morning while I was at a rehearsal at Max Ventura's. She wanted me to sign a letter she's sending to Kurt Weill's people, explaining that she can't send them the score for my setting of Song Of The Brown Islands (it's about Petroleum!) because I misplaced the pages. So we just met around the corner over mint tea; I signed the letter, and Beth gave me a copy of her clarinet quintet's new CD, "agony pipes and misery sticks." This is track nine of sixteen; on vinyl it would open side two.

Beth's web site inspired me to start this web log. When her home page comes up, you hear a subtly funky groove, then she starts singing to you as if from the next pillow, huskily urging you to wake up and piss a ring around yourself because the world is on fire. The subject of the song? OIL.

I didn't even ask her permission to post this track, but it's not as though anyone who personally knew and loved Kurt Weill is going to pay for their kid's tuition with the money they're charging her for playing his tune on her album.

Das Lied Von Den Braunen Inseln - Clarinet Thing

(from 11/29/05)

Friends Of Old Puppy: RADIM ZENKL

Enclosed please find an improvised (mostly) duet for mandolin and 'ukulele, recorded in Berkeley by Derek Bianchi. This comes from "Strings And Wings," Radim Zenkl's CD of improvised duets with players of every kind of stringed instrument Radim could get across from. At the bottom of this post I've placed a link to his home page, which will likely reward your visit.

Radim Zenkl
Don't hate the player: mandolin marvel Radim Zenkl

I'll edit this post soon and fill in some background. There's an angle. For now, though, just groove on the Stravinsky-inspired ancient Eurasia peasant vibe.

Tribal Callings - Radim Zenkl, mandolin, with Steven Strauss, 'ukulele

Radim Zenkl's home page

(from 11/29/05)

Friends Of Old Puppy: KURT STEVENSON

Kurteus Maximus
San Francisco's Kurt Stevenson is either the most trustworthy person playing beautiful guitar or the greatest guitar player you'd ever want with you in a tight spot. As far as I'm concerned, he is both. He backs up my electric 'ukulele playing so judiciously, you can't tell how hard I'm leaning on him. Recorded by the legendary Bruce Koball in the summer of two thousand four, we assay an obscure Chet Atkins take on a cajun two-step with our hat out in front of the Fourth Street Peet's Coffee in Berkeley (low notes from the 'cello of Mrs. Kerry Parker).

In my right sidebar there's a link to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a project Kurt recently graced with one of his more obviously unusual talents. The reporter barely scratches the surface.

Cajun Stripper - Archer String Band

(from 11/28/05)