overlooked musical genii

“Capitol Sings” appreciation post

Yesterday at a Goodwill here in central Kentucky I picked up “Over the Rainbow: Capitol Sings Harold Arlen” on cd and I’ve been over the moon, maybe the rainbow too, listening to it. 

As much as I love music from the Golden Age of Jazz/Pop, my knowledge of who came up with the songs is …. limited. I know myCole Porter, Hoagy. Gershwin. Rodgers and Hart–and after that it gets a little patchy. Harold Arlen, born Hyman Arluck in Buffalo at the dawn of the 20th century, wrote a whole bunch of standards I knew, but never knew it was one guy who wrote them all. Arlen was the lyricist for Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Stormy Weather, Get Happy, and It’s Only a Paper Moon, to name just a few. Oh, and Ac-Cent-Tcu-ate the Positive, which gets two version on this collection: the Johnny Mercer hit and a version sung by Arlen himself, which wasn’t bad!

Got to thinking about all the “Capitol Sings” cds in my possession. A lot of them, some of which survived our house burning down two years ago, some that didn’t, and more than a few I’ve bought since. Capitol Sings … Coast to Coast … Around the World … Kids Songs for Grownups, etc. as well as composer-specific titles. I’ve always treasured the Cole Porter collection. 

Which brought me back to the person who turned me on to them: Sujata Murthy, who in late 80s/early 90s was a mid-level publicity person at Capitol Records in Los Angeles. In those days, if you worked in book publicity or marketing, you could cold call someone at your level in music PR and start a “trading” relationship. Books for CDs. It was a golden age, truly. There were days when I found boxes of CDs, titles requested and not, at the mail drop, I did my best to return the favor with books.

Truth be told I did not cold call Sujata, I was able to drop Harper colleague and good friend Deborah Kwan’s name (thank you, Deb!!!) And once Sujata and I met for lunch at the Time Cafe, Lafayette and Great Jones. It was late afternoon, and the place was quiet except for Russell Simmons holding court  noisily in the back. And weirdly, in this near empty restaurant, a guy who looked like Dennis Leary (wasn’t him though),  was sitting right next to us, listening in on our conversation, and muttering nasty things to us, mostly (I think) to me. It was uncomfortable–not call the manager uncomfortable, but … weird.

That’s it. That’s the story. Sujata was great but we lost touch after I moved on from Harper. I think when I “went freelance” (voluntarily became unemployed) I wrote some artist bios for her. Was pretty proud of my Dean Martin effort, which lingered on a floppy disk for a while until that damn fire.  

Decided to google her and she reached a pretty high place in PR for Universal Music Group.

Anyway, a random (fond) memory of another life.

A moment to wallow in the glorious sounds of Dion DiMucci

Just in the past couple days I have stumbled on Dion’s “Born to Be With You,” the album he recorded in 1974 with production duties and boozy erratic behavior supplied by none other than Phil Spector.

Columbia execs at the time were horrified by the darkly introspective treatments, but Phil refused their pleas to revamp the material. So the massive and expensive 40-musician project was shelved, and didn’t appear until a UK-only release the following year.

As per allmusic:

“Dion, too, was unhappy — ‘I don’t think we ever really finished that,’ he complained in 2003. It shocked him mightily, then, to discover that names as far apart as Andrew Loog Oldham, Bobby Gillespie, Jason Pierce, and Pete Townshend have pronounced Born to Be With You one of the finest albums ever made. And they were correct.”

Have to wonder about the studio atmosphere, with Phil being Phil and Dion clinging to his then newly declared sobriety. Dion’s been clean for more than half a century, and Phil will die in jail, so I guess there’s your answer, in part at least.

Anyway, this is one of many absolutely glorious tracks.

PS This strikes me as a missed opportunity for Scorsese. The songs on this album would have been perfect for either Goodfellas or Casino soundtracks. Not that they were wanting in any way, just that Dion would have made them better, and would have been a nice tribute to Marty’s fellow Italian-American auteur genius. Just a thought.

Friday miscellany: Fecundity, Andre the Giant, and an epic photo

Sunday evening Buster Pike bike ride

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on

This is the time of year when I am overwhelmed by the fecundity of the world. Calves dropping, bees swarming, grass growing what seems like inches every day. Nothing to complain about, just that it’s a pretty intense time in the cycle of the farm.

So far it looks like four cows have calved without major complications. Only fifteen (or more) to go.

There is always a dance involving me and the mama cows, who tend to hide their calves in the first week after birth. Our farm is 20-some acres of pasture surrounded by hundred of acres of crops farmed by renters. Right now, the winter wheat is two or three feet high, and offers a tempting place for a calf to crawl off to and sleep away the day. The problem is that the pasture and the crops are separated by a single electric wire. Sometimes the calves scoot under the wire, and the mamas are left on the other side.

Often the cows get agitated by this situation, but just as often they’re cool with it. There has only been one time when a cow has lost her calf, but I am always worrying that will happen. I try to keep track of the calves twice a day, and sometimes have to follow the cows I know have given birth. Sometimes I’ll get lucky when they stare in the direction of where the calf is hidden, but other cows are cool customers. What? A calf? There’s no calf around here! I have known cows that will look in another direction to throw ME off.

I don’t want to call my tracking wasted effort, but sometimes it is. By dusk, cows and calves are usually together, and the babies gambol gaily (never used that phrase before, but it’s apt) and the mamas call for them with their low moo, which quickly becomes a bellow if the calves aren’t paying heed.



Apparently, Andre the Giant was born 70 years ago yesterday.

Brush with fame anecdote #201542a323:

Of all the famous folks I waited on when I worked at L’Hotel Sofitel in Bloominton, Minnesota–and that includes the Stones, the Eagles, the Cars, Kenny Loggins, and televangelist Rex Humbard (lousy tipper)– Andre was by far the coolest. He sat by himself in the no smoking section, and ordered two main courses (saucisses de Toulouse aux pommes), three orders of Profiteroles, and four triple cognacs…. I still marvel at the size and beauty of his snakeskin cowboy boots …


Just need to share this incredible photo, which came up on the often terrific Facebook Old Minneapolis group:


The subject is Sherwin Linton, who has been performing folk, country, rockabilly cowboy and gospel music in the Upper Midwest (and for some time nationally, touring with Roy Acuff) for sixty years. His own annotation for the photo is priceless:

There is an amazing thing about this photo. t I did this routine frequently in 1958 at The Rail Inn Tavern on Central avenue in Minneapolis.. As you look at the photo the customers at the bar were like “Ho Hum. here he goes again. Some goofy guy with outlandish cowboy boots dancing up and down the bar playing a guitar upside down. He better not spill my pitcher of beer”.


This one’s for the workin’ man


Any god or demigod worth a damn comes in multiple manifestations. You got your young, sneering Elvis and your sequined jumpsuit and scarf Elvis; you got your baby Jesus and your bearded sandal-wearing Jesus–and even your t-shirt and tuxedo-wearing Jesus. So it is with any figure who exists in a space between man and myth. Jesus, Elvis, Merle. You could certainly come up with more names, but those three for sure.

I’ve been thinking and worrying a lot about the only one of that trinity still living, who has gone into the hospital and cancelled his March tour dates. The 78-year-old Merle Haggard, indefatigable musical genius and ornery old American treasure, ranks up there with the coolest human beings on the planet, but I also have a soft spot and fascination for the just-starting-out Merle. You can get a sense of what I mean in these two vintage shots, part of a series of weird outtakes from his Branded Man album that is reproduced in the excellent booklet accompanying the Bear Family Untamed Hawk box set.

untamedhawkYou might expect the handsome unlined face, intense gaze, and the full head of hair, but might find surprising the urban attire, the windbreaker and the pointy-toed Cuban-heeled boots. At the very onset of his career, Merle seemed to have kicked back hard against any sort of “country” image. “I’ve never been in the hills in my life. I’m a city boy. But I’m a real country singer,” quoth the notes from Untamed Hawk, unsourced alas.

On a recent drive to and from Nashville (a place Haggard notoriously hated fwiw) I became obsessed with “Today I Started Loving You Again,” spare and minimal but absolutely perfect: the simplicity of the loping guitar line; the echo accentuating the purity and ache of Hag’s voice (what a glorious instrument it was back then, before life and the road took away the higher part of his register); those accent harmonies, a genius musical idea that was apparently a gift from Buck Owens. Oh, and nailing those accent harmonies, none other than the former Mrs. Owens, then Mrs. Haggard, who was a bigger star than either of them when it all started, and somehow wound up “washin’ and ironin’ and pickin’ up” on the Haggard tour bus….

(That “washin’ and ironin'” line is from a wonderful Laura Cantrell song about Bonnie called “Queen of the Coast,” which I can’t recommend highly enough.)

Unbelievably, TISLYA was a b-side to “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” which was a #1 hit on the country charts, but not much thought of now. TISLYA is now one of his best-loved songs, and it nags me to think it might have been an afterthought. A b-side? I wonder if Haggard and the guys in the studio know they had something special, or did they just record TISLYA as another song to fill up an album. Haggard brought his band into the Capitol Tower for 21 sessions in 1968. The core band of Roy Nichols, Bonnie Owens, Jerry Ward, Roy Burris, George French, and Norman Hamlett, sometimes joined by Glen Campbell, Billy Mize, and James Burton. It was a period of ridiculous creativity, and it might have been hard for the musicians to separate the great from the ordinary. Making immortal music was just a day’s work.

I had a pain that went all the way around from my belly button all the way around to my back.” Haggard told Rolling Stone in February. “I asked the doctor, ‘What was that pain?’ He said, ‘It was death.'”

It’s the second time this year he’s had to check in to sort out his pneumonia. I can only hope, maybe even pray, Hag kicks death’s ass one more time.

a stick a stone


The past couple of days I’ve been playing “Águas de Março” over and over again.

Monday was the four-year anniversary of the passing of David Campbell, drummer, bon vivant, lover of life and good friend to so many.

“Listening to Elis & Tom today,” commented Erica, one of Dave’s many musical collaborators, on a Facebook post featuring an old photo of Dave. I liked that idea, and set aside some time to listen. I kept being drawn back to this absolutely amazing video of Elis Regina and Tom Jobim vocalizing and harmonizing in ways that seem impossible for mere mortals. It appears they did this in a single take! Remarkably, Elis keeps that cigarette going the whole time; understandably, Jobim collapses when it’s over.

“Águas de Marςo” was among the more memorable songs on a cd of brasilero music Dave burned for me not long before he died. He was passionate about that music, and let it inhabit his whole being.

I say “Águas de Marςo” was memorable, but I didn’t really give it a proper listen until yesterday. I googled around for translations and found the lyrical poetry jaw-droppingly great. I can’t really think of a poem or song, in any language, that gently cascades (literally, it cascades) from simple concrete images to profound, and profoundly melancholy, musings on life, loving life, decay, renewal.

É pau, é pedra,
é o fim do caminho

A stick, a stone,
The end of the road


And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It’s the promise of life
in your heart, in your heart

A stick, a stone,
The end of the road,
The rest of a stump,
A lonesome road

A sliver of glass,
A life, the sun,
A knife, a death,
The end of the run

For what it’s worth, the simple elegance of the lyrics called to mind two disparate works, both extraordinary in their own way–Margaret Wise Brown’s The Quiet Noisy Book and Ronnie Lane’s Stone. See if you agree. I’m pretty convinced of it.

quiet noisy book (1)

I was kind of taken by surprise to hear (in an out-of-the-blue Facebook message from an old friend), that it had been four years since Dave died.

That friend, Marie, now works as an architect in Paris. Paris! I almost shouted out when I  read that, at the same time fretting about my rather non-glamorous list of duties for the day, having to get outside and feed the chickens and prepare my sad cattle pen for another attempt to keep my cattle from escaping the trailer. (A week ago, two steers had literally leapt out of the pen with the stunning power and form of steeplechase horses).

I ventured that Paris must be an amazing place to live and work, and Marie didn’t disagree, but hastened to add:

But most of the time the weather here is horrible. Damp winters, grey, never cold enough to make it feel like winter

My reply:

have the same complaints about Kentucky winters, which are usually never quite cold enough to deserve the name. gorgeous here now though. Overwhelmed by fecundity.

I think she thought that was sort of funny. and closed our chat by riffing on my choice of words, “I will leisurely peruse your fecundity photos later … at work at the moment.”

And really, at this time of year in central Kentucky, well, that is a pretty good word, Fecundity. I’ve been catching a swarm of bees nearly every day for the past two weeks, can barely keep up with the mowing, and my cattle, well, they have been very frisky in the cold weather. While cutting out those steers last week, I had trouble coaxing the bull out of the pen. He was keenly interested (as were some of the mature calves) in an orange cow that miscarried last spring. He was so interested that he attempted the deed not once but twice right there in broad daylight. I was scandalized, and only just managed to get out of the way, but was glad to see he was capable of that sort of exertion (he is a rather passive bull most times). And had to make the mental note to haul that orange cow off to sell. Still in heat after being with a bull for nearly four months, she wasn’t going to be calving this season (or any)…. It’s the way of the barnyard.

And the way of the world.

I hope my readers don’t find this weird that I return to the topic of Dave once again. I am moving on and living my life, which is full and wonderful. I also hope it’s not weird to say that, like all the people who’ve gone and died on me, he comes back in dreams. Fairly regularly. We have a chat about where he has been and how long he’s been away. Sometimes it makes sense, but not always. There is often some sort of separation, but nothing really traumatic. I’ve never really had my dreams analyzed, but to me it seems like this is what they are for. I wake up, feeling the loss, but also feeling we’ve reconnected somehow.

Less and less do I think with absolute grief about the loss of a friend, or my dad, brother or mother. It’s more like, They’ve gone to a place where I’m going too, in no particular hurry.

A scratch, a lump,
It is nothing at all

É o mistério profundo,
é o queira ou não queira


“I’ve lived at the very end of what must have been a wonderful country”

I followed a link on tumblr first thing this morning and came to such a trove of Merle Haggard lore my first thought was, “Holy shit! The great man has died.” But no, it’s just a very good, passionate fan site.

It linked to an Esquire Q&A from 2007 I had never seen. It’s great. Here is an extremely large chunk of it.

I’ve lived at the very end of what must have been a wonderful country.

They’ve left the redwoods up alongside the highway so we’ll think they’re all there. But go up in an airplane and you’ll see that they’ve clear-cut everything behind.

The kids just don’t know how big the tear on the rip-off was. If they had any idea, I believe they could do something about it. But it may be too late. We’ll see. They’re smarter. They can talk to one another. I don’t look for a politician to bullshit his way in this time.

When I was nine years old, right after my dad died, my mother got me some violin lessons with this big heavyset lady. It took nine lessons before this lady said to my mother, “You’re wasting your money. He’s got too good an ear. He’s not going to fool with learning to read when he can play something that he hears on the radio.” When I heard her say that, I knew I had something.

We weren’t thieves by nature. Pranksters. Practical jokers. We were without a car one time, Dean Holloway and I. We just went out and started borrowing cars. Sometimes we’d bring ’em back. Put gas in ’em. Clean ’em up. Leave a little note: THANKS FOR THE CAR. Like the Phantom.

I’m in a very small percentage of people ever in the joint who beat it. It’s like 2 percent of 2 percent. If you’ve ever been to the joint, you’re going back.

[snip] …

Freedom is what prohibition ain’t.

I probably had as bad a sex urge as anybody when I was younger. I remember an old guitar player, Eldon Shamblin, told me, “When you get pussy off your mind, you can go ahead and learn something.” Isn’t that great?

Willie Nelson’s the one who told me the reason it costs so much to get divorced is because it’s worth it.

I remember going to a dance when I was a kid — my older brother took me in. Roy Nichols was playing. My brother said, “Hey, there’s a little guy in there playing guitar. He don’t have to pick cotton or go to school.” Roy Nichols became my idol on the guitar. Many years later, he went on to play for me for half price. But he and I could never look directly at each other. I never knew why. At first, I thought it was because I admired him too much. But it was Roy, too. Anyway, late in his life, Roy had a stroke. Paralyzed him on one side. Right down the middle. Half of his nose he could blow, the other half was dead. After his stroke, I went over to Roy’s house. He looked me right in the eye and said, “Look here: I love you.” I got chills. He said, “That old shit went down the hole with this stroke.”

They got laws for the white man and laws for the black man — we all know that.

There’s more. Here is the link to the original. And again, here is the link to 190 Proof.

Todd, Rahm and hydrogen bombs made out of dumb

A new record from Todd Snider is always a cause for celebration, and Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables is currently streaming here. (Or was.) [Update 3/19–now on Spotify!]

But. BUT. Todd is friends with Rahm Emanuel? WTF?!! This little snippet pretty much blew my mind:

Yeah. He’s my friend. I love that guy. He first came to see me in Washington, D.C., and he was about to go to some big meeting. The next time I met him was in Chicago. I was telling him about this song I was making up about the military-industrial complex. I was telling him it’s a stoner fable. All the stoners in the world are convinced that the world is run by these people that Eisenhower warned us about. He said, “You’d be surprised how much power the banks have now by comparison.” He pointed out that there’s a song about “the military and the monetary” by Gil Scott Heron called “Work for Peace.” So it’s been tackled. He said, “What would Woody Guthrie do? He’d figure out a way to point out what the bankers are doing right now.”

Now if I were a marginally famous folksinger and the White House Chief of Staff came up to me after a show to tell me how awesome I was, I’d probably have a hard time bad-mouthing the dude, but … Rahm Emanuel. You know, the guy who made 18 million dollars in two and a half years as an “investment banker.” As per the Times, his rainmaking for Wasserstein Perella & Company involved “turning many of his contacts in his substantial political Rolodex into paying clients and directing his negotiating prowess and trademark intensity to mergers and acquisitions.”

For this guy to talk about exposing “what the bankers are doing right now” and to imply he’s down with Woody Guthrie and Gil Scott Heron–that takes some pretty spectacular compartmentalization. Or balls. Or both. I want to say it started with Clinton and his sax, the first hipster president, but I think the real precursor is this guy.

It continues to this day of course….. Yeah, Obama’s day job involves making up lists of people to assassinate without charge or warning … but did you hear that Al Green thing he did????


And slightly off the topic, here is a quotable quote from the Salon piece. Here’s hoping “Hydrogen bomb made out of dumb” becomes part of everyone’s vocabulary:

I grew up conservative Christian and all that, and now when someone tells me they’re conservative politically and also a Christian, I think, Why didn’t you just tell me that you’re a hydrogen bomb made out of dumb. Because those two ideas don’t gel. There’s one group that’s saying, Take everything you have and give it to the poor. And there’s another group that’s saying, Don’t tell me what to give to the poor. How can you join both groups? That’s like you’re joining Puppy Kickers Animal Rights of America. It just doesn’t gel, and that’s what I ran away from.

Whale: Favorite Band of All Time of the Day

Looking at that post below. Intense! Sorry! Sometimes you just want to recommend a Stephen Colbert video and you start typing and suddenly it’s like the world is going to shit.

Anyway, this week I have been stuck on Village Voice editor Maura Johnston’s terrific “remember the 90s (late)” playlist on Spotify. And I came upon these crazy Swedes. I don’t know a lot about them. Swedes. (Said that.) The 90s. By the look of it they did loads of drugs. There’s maybe a little Sleigh Bells thing there. The thrashy noise with the sweet girly voice floating over top. The singer Cia Berg was a television presenter of some sort. She had braces in one video, and not in another. They collaborated with Tricky on some things.

I think I might have seen the Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe video once, on MTV, and thought WOW! But then I forgot about them.

But … WOW! Or Holy shit! Or as Butthead says “this kinda like uh rocks”


And this!

If you’re as taken with them as I was/am, you’ll want to investigate their slim but kickin’ catalog.

Phil Ochs’ birthday: You know what they say, or you don’t

I’m strongly of the opinion that Phil Ochs’ “Love Me I’m a Liberal,” as timeless as it is, could use an update.

There is this one, from Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon, good as far as it goes, but a lot has happened since 2007. There’s Schumer, there’s Clooney, there’s Kerry on a surfboard, there’s Bill,there’s Hillary (lots of Hillary!), but it would be nice to have a verse or two about the current occupant of the White House, who probably wasn’t even on Jello Biafra’s radar in 2007.

Here also, for comparison, Phil’s version:


AND, Todd Snider doing a beautiful version of his great song “Thin Wild Mercury,” about the time Dylan kicked Phil out of his limo for “speakin’ his mind.” (It’s pretty stripped down: the studio take is much more uptempo.)

Happy Birthday, Phil.  We could have used you the past few years…..

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