People

Don’t let the music catch you crying

I lived in Germany, arriving in March, 1964 and leaving in June, 1966. My father would travel around Europe and often would use his own car. Before one such trip he took the car to the nearby Heidelberg Post Exchange (PX) for routine maintenance such as having the oil changed. They drained the oil. They changed the oil filter. They forgot to put new oil in. Needles to say, the engine did not take too kindly to that. The PX garage in Heidelberg did not have the facilities to change the engine so the car was taken to Stuttgart.

Our 1961 Pontiac Tempest, presumably with oil in the crankcase

We lived near the city of Heidelberg. Our radio entertainment came from AFN Frankfurt which had a relay station near Heidelberg. The programming on AFN had to satisfy a number of different interests especially since there was no Armed Forces television in the area yet. There were other AFN stations in Germany. When it came to music, it seemed that different AFN stations would pick their own music. Friends brought us to Stuttgart to pick up our car after the engine had been replaced. When we were in the Stuttgart area we listened to AFN Stuttgart. They played Doo Wah Diddy by Manfred Mann. That was the only time I heard the song when it was a hit.

Played in Stuttgart but not in Frankfurt

The reason I mention that is because I did not hear of Gerry and the Pacemakers until 1968 or 1969 even though they had seven top 40 hits on the U.S. charts released from May, 1964 through September, 1966 with five of them reaching the top 20. Maybe Stuttgart played those, too — but I don’t remember hearing them on Frankfurt.

In October, 1964, the group appeared in the film The T.A.M.I. Show. While I had heard of the film for years, I did not see it until about ten years ago. I was not expecting much, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The film opens with Chuck Berry doing a couple of his songs. As Berry performs Maybelline, Gerry and his crew enter the stage. When Berry is done, the Pacemakers pick up with their own version. They play a couple songs then Berry plays a song. They go back and forth.

Best part of the movie.

I never would have thought that going back and forth between Chuck Berry and Gerry and the Pacemakers would have worked, but it does. Is their music profound? No. While Marsden and company may not have made the same impact on music as did Berry, you cannot help but notice that they are having an absolutely great time. Their smiles are infectious. Gerry is often waving or pointing at the audience, obviously enjoying the crowd’s reaction and presence. What really wins me over is the big smile on bass player Les Chadwick’s face and the fact that, even though he is not heard and does not have a microphone, he often sings along. A good time was had by all.

Gerry Marsden was no slouch as a musician, either. Someone I follow on YouTube is an English musician named Fil from Wings of Pegasus. He analyses videos of live performances. He did the following video of Gerry and the Pacemakers in a Swedish TV performance from 1963. Fil spends 25 minutes talking about a two-minute performance. If you enjoy learning about music and performance this video is great and you may find it interesting.

What makes a performance tick.

While the girls in the audience are not screaming at the top of their lungs, if you look closely you can see that many of them are singing along. People who are not enjoying themselves do not do that.

Maybe much of the popular music of the 1960’s it short on profundity, but it is not short of fun. To me, music is emotion, be it is the moving beauty of a great classical piece or the magic of rock and roll that makes you dance and sing along. Gerry Marsden certainly represented the enjoyment that can come from people who are enjoying themselves.

Gerry Marsden passed away on January 3, 2021. Rest in peace, Mr. Marsden.

There is still music being made

Back in the 1980’s, the company I worked for had a warehouse for the products we sold. The people working in the warehouse listened to the music of the time. One day the warehouse manager, who was about a year younger than I, said, “I swore I’d never say this, but that’s not music.”

You can go back at almost any point last century and find that the music of young people was considered garbage by older generations.

In 1980 I had an Oldies Hour on my daily late-night shift. Sometimes the chief engineer would stop by. Ken was forty years older than I and we were pretty good friends. I would love it when he would tell me stories about working in radio in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. Among other things during his career, Ken had emceed big band radio broadcasts over the Mutual Radio Network.

One time he stopped by and I was playing Topsy, Part II, a 1958 hit by Cab Calloway’s former drummer, Cozy Cole. Ken liked that. He would have been in his early 40’s when it was a hit.

Big Band holdout from 1958.

Another time he came in and I was playing Lies, a 1966 hit by the Knickerbockers. To say that Ken was not a fan was an understatement. He would have been about 50 when that came out.

I still don’t know why he has a sax. (Yes, there is a video there.)

The reason I mention Ken’s age when those records come out is because the late 1990’s, when I was in my early 40’s, was the last time I enjoyed most of the new music on the radio. By 2006, when I was 50, there was little new music that interested me – just like Ken when he was 50.

It seems hard to find young people playing instruments and making “music” anymore, but there are some.

A while back I was surfing YouTube and saw a suggestion of a new version of the Hollies’ song Bus Stop by the MonaLisa Twins.

My introduction to the Twins.

Mona and Lisa Wagner are twin sister who were born in Austria, which explains their accents. They currently live in the Liverpool area. They have gotten attention from famous people such as John Sebastian.

The Twins getting well deserved attention.

They are clearly talented, but many of their videos seem to over-emphasize that many of their recordings are studio productions with multi-tracking and over dubbing. I know “everyone does it,” but I would like to hear music that is being made, not music that is being manufactured.

But did they sweep the floor afterwards?

That being said, they do write original material and can rock out with other musicians in live shows. They have appeared at numerous venues including the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool where they performed this original song, One More Time.

Where is Brian Epstein when you need him?

Another great group of young people making music comes from the Philippines. The REO brothers consists of the Otic brothers Reno, Ronjoseph, Raymart, Ralph, and Roy Mark. They started playing music with improvised instruments to help out the family finances. They were heard jamming with some friends and things went up from there. The name REO brothers come from their first initial (“R” for all of them), “E” from their mother’s maiden name (Evasco), and “O” from their last name (Otic).

Their videos look like they are recording in their basement. However, the acoustics are good and they are playing the music live as it is being recorded. They might make minimal use of multi-tracking to add another instrument, but most of what they do is performed as the video is being recorded. One of the reasons they have become successful is because they play their live shows with a polish usually found in more experienced musicians.

The first time they came to my attention was when YouTube suggested this video to me, again with the song Bus Stop.

Young people seem to like Bus Stop.

They like to play the Beatles, from early songs such as I Saw Her Standing There and Boys

Rocking out to the early Beatles.

…to later songs such as While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

The more mature sound of the later Beatles.

The brothers have played a relief concert at Madison Square Gardens with several other performers such as Jennifer Hudson and Plain White T’s. They also were the first performers from the Philippines to play at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

I am thrilled to hear young musicians playing music that is not dependent on sampling and computers.

A Song of the World

I think I have always been aware of the radio. My father always listened in the car. I remember hearing a baseball game with the Detroit Tigers while I was on a canal boat on the C&O Canal in Washington DC in 1963. About that time I remember being on a bus in Washington and hearing a radio from the back that was playing one of my all-time favorite songs.

That song was the only Japanese song to reach number 1 in the United States. I did my best to hear the tune over the noise of the crowded bus.

Some background:
It is well known that teenagers in the United Kingdom in the early sixties liked American music. Besides the R&B records of the 1950’s, there was another American music craze among English youth in the early 1960’s: Dixieland Jazz. This put the lines from Dire Straights’ Sultans of Swing into perspective (“They don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band. It ain’t what they call rock and roll”). The Sultans were not playing some obscure music from half a century before; they were an oldies band playing a style that was popular almost two decades before and the crowd of young boys in the corner really didn’t care.

Richard Lester, the American movie director who directed the Beatles’ films Hard Days Night and Help, took his first step into the English youth/music genre in 1962 with a film called It’s Trad, Dad about a teenage boy and girl trying to get support for a concert featuring Dixieland music.

One of the bands featured in the film was Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen. Ball is known as a one-hit wonder in the United States for the 1962 hit Midnight in Moscow. In January, 1963, he had an instrumental top 10 hit in the UK with a Japanese song, Ue o Muite Arukō. Inasmuch as Ball recorded the song as an instrumental and the UK audience would not understand or be able to pronounce ue o muite arukō, the record company thought they would give it a Japanese name they thought people could pronounce: Suki Yaki.

About that time, Rich Osborn, a disc jockey at radio station KORD in Pasco, Washington, was given a copy of a 1961 Toshiba album by a young singer named Kyu Sakamoto. Osborn played the original version of Ue o Muite Arukō. It was very popular with his listeners. Word of the song’s popularity grew. Pat O’Day started playing it on KJR, Seattle. O’Day told his friend, Canadian disk jockey Red Robinson, about the record and it became popular in Canada.

An early music video

Capital Records licensed the recording and released it as a single, keeping the name given by the UK label to the Ball record.

About thirty years ago, a DJ on a Seattle oldies station told the history of the record and mentioned how Osborn was credited with making the Japanese record a hit in the west. In the mid 1980’s I worked with a Rich Osborn at a station in Seattle. I called the oldies DJ and asked if the Rich Osborn I knew and the Rich Osborn at KORD in Pasco in 1963 could have been the same person. The DJ did not know.

I tried for many years to find an answer to that question but could not find any new information. A few years ago I tried again and found someone on Facebook who mentioned his friend Rich Osborn who was now retired. I messaged the person and asked. Yes, the Rich Osborn I knew and the Rich Osborn who was at KORD were the same person. While I had nothing to do with making the record a hit, I did feel a sentimental connection.

Kyu Sakamoto Photo: tv-tokyo.co.jp

On August 12, 1985, Sakamoto was flying from Tokyo to Osaka on Japan Airlines Flight 123. Shortly after takeoff, the 747 suffered severe decompression because of poorly repaired damage that failed. Despite the best efforts of the crew, the plane crashed into the terrain around Mount Takamagahara. Everyone, including Kyu-san, knew what was sure to happen. He used his last moments to write a love note to his wife.

A lovely final act from one, whom all accounts, was a lovely person.

Ah, Such Beautiful Music

I am old enough to remember when TV stations had hosts who showed cartoons. I used to watch such hosts as Sandy Becker in New York in the early 1960’s and Brakeman Bill in the Seattle/Tacoma area in the latter part of the decade. A mainstay of both of their programs was old Warner Brother’s cartoons.

Brakeman Bill, 1955 Photo: Tacoma Public Library

The Warner’s cartoons were my favorites, especially the ones from the 1940’s. Those were made before the artwork was “stylized” – meaning simplified artwork so the cartoons could be made quickly and less expensively. I would not quite say “cheaply” yet: those cartoons would come in the ‘60’s after the advent of the Hanna Barbera cookie-cutter cartoons that were made for TV.

There is another thing about those cartoons that make them first rate: the music. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies originally had two purposes. The first was to plug Warner Brother’s movies. Many cartoons from the 1930’s had names that were the same as or were a play on the names of Warner feature films. The other reason was to plug the Warner music catalogue. Getting people to hear the music was important. If people enjoyed the cartoons, great but it was a secondary concern. It was purely a business decision.

To handle the music Warner’s brought in someone who had worked for Walt Disney: Carl W. Stalling. As Chuck Jones, Warner’s animator, explains in this video, Stalling had been the organ player and orchestra conductor in Kansas City.

Chuck Jones, Warner’s director

Disney was a young animator also from Kansas City who heard Stalling at work and was greatly impressed. The two began to work together. They kept in touch once Disney moved to California, . Stalling would later go out to California as well. Stalling worked for Disney for two years, then freelanced for several years. He was hired by Leon Schlesinger, Warner’s animation producer, in 1936.

Skeleton Dance from 1929, animated by Disney with Music by Stalling

Stalling had a terrific memory for music and had the entire Warner’s music catalog to work with. He also had the full Warner’s orchestra as well. I saw Leonard Maltin speak in 1980 after the release of his book Of Mice and Magic. As Maltin explained, Max Steiner would finish a session recording the music for the latest big production, then Stalling would come in and record the music for the next Looney Tunes.

Leonard Matlin’s great book from 1980 about the history of cartoons Photo: Amazon.com

There was no editing of the music. The timing of the film had all been worked out. Stalling would work out the musical arrangement and it would be recorded straight through.

The orchestration was magnificent. Sometimes I will watch a cartoon just to hear the music. One of my favorites is the opening of the 1941 cartoon Wabbit Twouble (released two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor). Stalling’s opening rendition of Says Who, Says You, Says Me swings. I just wish it was longer. He returns to that theme later in the cartoon, but it is more sedate the second time.

Opening of Wabbit Twouble, 1941

Stalling often would uses just a few short bars of a song. Often, the song would have some tie-in to the action on the screen. If there is food, you can bet that the music is from A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich, and You. Another song that Stalling used often was Powerhouse, a bizarre 1937 tune that you almost would have thought was an original to be used in hectic scenes. (It was also licensed for use in Ren and Stimpy cartoons in the 1990’s)

This is from 1937?

The old Warner’s cartoons are under copyright and those copyrights are closely protected so I can’t give you much in the way of samples, but if you have a chance, go watch some of the old cartoons. Maybe you are old enough or know enough about history to know what such lines as “Turn out that light” and “Is this trip really necessary?” mean.