Beginnings

The Legacy of the Mitchell trio

Like many American families in the early 1960s my family enjoyed the folk music craze. We were weekly watchers of Hootenanny. One group that appeared on that show and several others was the Chad Mitchell Trio.

In their early days they were accompanied by a guitar and banjo virtuoso by the name of James Joseph McGuinn.

You may know him better as Roger McGuinn.

In the 1940s there was an Air Corp/Air Force pilot named Henry “Dutch” Deutschendorf. He and his wife had a son in 1943. That son became a musician. In or about 1965, the younger Deutschendorf replaced Chad Mitchell in what became the Mitchell Trio. Some of the group’s albums show the name Deutschendorf as composing some of the songs.

One of the albums had one of the best recordings I ever heard. The young Deutshendorf sang the song and played on it. That song was a Pete Seeger Composition called “Bells of Rhymney.”

By the way, young Deutschendorf had adopted the stage name of John Denver, which is how he was billed on the Mitchell Trio albums. I think you have heard of him. But have you ever heard him play like this? If you like good folk music, and you like a good song, and you like good guitar playing, then you will like this recording.

You can’t help but admire the musicianship of McGuinn and Denver.

The absolute first

Thomas Edison is well known for a number of inventions, one of them being how to record and playback sound in 1877. He used a foil cylinder and a stylus attached to a horn. Once the cylinder was recorded, Edison could then play it back.

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville 1817-1879

However, it would not be correct to say that Edison was the first person to record sound. That honor goes to Frenchman Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville whose earliest recording from 1860 was of someone singing Au Clair de la Lune. He used a soot covered paper in which he traced the audio wave. The problem, though, was that he did not have any means of playing back the audio. Unlike earlier attempts, some going back to 1857, this recording had a 250 hertz tuning fork as part of the recording which allowed modern scientists the ability to calibrate the speed to a certain extent, although the recording device was hand cranked.

It was not until 2008 that scientists were able to play back this recording from 1860. In this clip, the original recording is first, followed by attempts to “clean them up” to make them more intelligible.

Truly a voice from the past.

A career begun in war

World War II was a very hard time for the people of Britain. German air raids, destruction, food shortages, and many other factors went towards making life hard. British entertainers helped keep spirits up, with veteran performers such as Vera Lynn and George Formby becoming early favorites. Sometimes a star is born, almost out of necessity.

In the early 1870’s, a new hotel was built near what was to become Piccadilly Circus. There was to be a concert hall in the basement, but the managers of the hotel petitioned to change the proposed concert hall into a theatre. Permission was granted, and the underground Criterion Theatre was born.

Because of the theatre’s unique location, the BBC made use of it for many of its broadcasts during World War II. On October 17, 1942, The Beeb was preparing to broadcast one its programs, “It’s All Yours.” A man went to the program, hoping to record a message for an uncle who was stationed in North Africa. The man’s daughter accompanied her father to the theater, but before the program began, air raid sirens sounded and the audience became nervous. To ease the tension, the BBC producer asked if anyone in the audience would like to sing, or tell a joke or story, to help the audience calm down. The daughter, who had wanted to be an entertainer since a young age, volunteered. She sang a song from the turn of the century called “Mighty Lak a Rose.” The orchestra began to play behind her, and the audience was enchanted. When the song was over, the orchestra gave her a standing ovation. The girl was asked to sing on the program, and her performance drew hundreds of letters. Her singing career was born. Two years later she added film to her resume.

By the early 1960’s, the girl was a popular singer and actress across Europe, but she did not become known in the US until 1964 at the ripe old age of…32 with her hit, Downtown. I was not able to find a recording of her 1942 broadcast, but here is a video exploring the life of a young Petula Clark.