music


9
Oct 19

Spanning the generations

Here are a few more student productions:

These are from last night. They’re starting to get the hang of this. They’d probably be even better if I didn’t manage to get in the way here or there.

I could show you other videos that other people have made, some truly stellar work is floating around. But, instead, I’m going to go back to the 1930s. I’m reading (still) Frederick Lewis Allen’s Since Yesterday. It’s a good book, but it is like that bit of steak that just won’t get chewed up to a size that’s safe to swallow. The 1930s, which is the focus of this story, just … keeps … going. Imagine how it must have felt to live through that decade.

But the Kindle says I’m 70-some percent through the book, and we’ve got to a happy subject for a change, the big boom of radio.

Allen cites a Depression-era Harper’s Magazine story which recorded there were 17 symphony orchestras in the United States in 1915. By 1939, Allen tells us, there were over 270. This surge was brought on because of the huge boom in radio. (In 2014, Wikipedia tells me, there were 1,224 symphony orchestras in the U.S. not including our many modern youth orchestras.) Music programming was a popular choice and radio helped contribute to a successful, nationwide musical education, that is, perhaps, peerless.

Part of that success is owed to a program called The NBC Music Appreciation Hour. This show, conducted by Walter Damrosch (a famed composer), was broadcast from 1928 to 1942. During the thirties, an estimated seven million children heard the show weekly, in some 70,000 schools nationwide.

The show also aired on Saturdays in Nashville. It was the lead in for WSM’s weekly barn dance. Once, in 1928, Damrosch said ‘there’s no room in the classics for realism.’ George Hay, who was on his way to becoming a legend in country music and the host of the barn dance, came on right after and said his show was full of realism.

“The program which just came to a close was devoted to the classics. Dr. Damrosch told us there is no place in the classics for realism. However, from here on out for the next three hours, we will present nothing but realism. It will be down to earth for the ‘earthy’.”

That’s how the Grand Ole Opry it’s name. DeFord Bailey, a Tennessee-native and the grandson of slaves, played the first song after Hay’s speech, a song that would soon become a classic, Pan American Blues:

Bailey was a multi-instrumentalist, and they say he was impressive on most everything he played. He was an Opry Star for about 13 years, and he toured the country. They fired him in 1941, ostensibly over some licensing issue, but if you read about it you get the sense there was a lot more, and a lot less, to the story, which wouldn’t surprise anyone. Bailey stayed in Tennessee, but didn’t play much publicly after that. He did come back much later for an Old Timer’s Special. Here’s a clip, two full generations after he kicked off the Opry:

Watch him. He doesn’t move. There’s no fanfare. There’s just that sound.

Sound defined everything.

Last week I reviewed a paper on the “Forgotten history of South Carolina radio.” It was about the 1920s and the stations that came and went, mostly in the low country. I loved the paper. I wanted it to do more, even as it did enough. It’s papers like that which sometimes make me wish I’d been a historian. But, then, I realize if there’s ever anything I want to learn about, I can just open someone else’s book and they’ve already uncovered the mysteries. Do you want to know about the first football game broadcast in South Carolina? This paper has it:

On October 7, 1923, the Charleston News and Courier reported that WSAC had carried live, play-by-play coverage of the September 29 Clemson-Auburn football game from Clemson’s Riggs Field. Since there is no record of any previous, live broadcast of a sporting event in South Carolina, the distinction of being the first plausibly belongs to WSAC. W.E. Godfrey termed the broadcast a success (the game’s final score was 0-0) and said that WSAC would provide play-by-play coverage of other Clemson home football games that season. The professor added that it was likely that WSAC would soon become a “popular station.”

The Clemson student paper, which at one point wrote about their team as “The Jungaleers” wrote about the game extensively. It’s a slow load, but if you’re into this sort of thing, you should give it a try.

Anyway, the mystery in this particularly scholarly paper that I was reviewing for a conference was how those early local Carolina stations later gave way to colonial programming from out of state. The answer, as ever, is economics. That station that started in a furniture store, or the one that was just a front to sell radios and a few other examples, are remembered as brief fly-by-night operations. None of them seemed to last more than two or three years. There were signal problems to contend with, as was the case in much of the country back then since the government wildly underestimated the booming growth of radio in every sense. And even the towns of South Carolina were rural enough that they didn’t get linked into the growing national networks until much later. By then the local stations were gone, the big signals were coming in from cities out of state and that’s your colonial broadcast. Without reading a complete history, I’m guessing it probably didn’t start stabilizing for local broadcasters until the early 1940s, or perhaps the 1950s. That’s just the story of broadcasting in the South.

But the 1930s in South Carolina radio would be intriguing too. A couple of quick searches showed me that some key names from some of those early 1920s stations wound up running other projects, creating and building stations that would ultimately become broadcasting staples in the palmetto state.

Maybe the 1920s and 1930s radio is an interesting tale in any state. Maybe I should look that up and pretend to be a historian.

Or I could make these connections:

Maybe in ninety years or so someone will look at podcasts the same way. Maybe someone midway through the 22nd century will figure out how to power up, convert and encode YouTube videos and start stumbling on some of these things we are doing today. Maybe they’ll think highly of us.


23
Aug 19

Rockin’ on

Today was a delightful and light day. We drove down to one of the family haunts yesterday for the weekend’s festivities. My sister-friend, my friend-sister Elisabeth — we need a term for someone you meet under the oddest of circumstances who decides to keep you for so many years, and who wants you to them around too — and her husband flew in the other day. People have come in from all over, really.

I had a phone call and a teleconference, which isn’t too bad for a day you take off from work, I guess. They happened at virtually the same time, so, really, you could call it multitasking, which is pretty great for an off day.

I did get to sleep in, which is excellent. And there was a late breakfast, a brunch, really, if we need to be specific. And we should be as specific as possible in as many places as possible. We had dinner at the local Mexican restaurant. I hear it is merely OK, but I enjoyed my fajita enchilada. Probably it was the cheese.

We went to listen to some music after dinner. Dueling pianos don’t get enough credit for their easy entertainment potential.

The personality and the enthusiasm was more important than the soaring solos. There were, I counted, six different performers, and they all just cycled through the full array of instruments they had on stage: two pianos, a handful of different guitar set ups, a small drum kit. And they were a pretty talented bunch. It was nice because two or three of them would play, and the others went … elsewhere … and then they would one at a time rotate off. They didn’t take any set breaks. There wasn’t a lot of inane chatter. They just played covers and everyone there enjoyed themselves pretty well. The lady singing at the beginning of the clip might have been the best performer of the bunch. Sadly the audio of her singing didn’t carry over as well as it should. They were taking requests, as they do in a dueling piano setup, and I tried thinking up the most ridiculous songs I could challenge them with, figuring, They must get bored playing the same tunes every show.

They played four of them: Country Roads, Enter Sandman and the like. It was a nice evening, which is especially great for a day off.


13
Aug 19

They specifically said they wouldn’t play Freebird

When we started making our plans for last weekend my wife asked her parents what they would like to do during our visit. It was their weekend. Big birthdays, so we thought they should make the plans. We went to a wonderful little Italian restaurant on Friday night. On Saturday night, we went to a rock ‘n’ roll show.

This is a band called Long River Jam. The guitarist and lead singer works with my mother-in-law on a church program she runs. He’s a musical therapist, among other things, and he has this bband. Turns out the in-laws go see them fairly often at this apple orchard farm where they played this weekend. Did I mention we were celebrating two of those big, round number birthdays, and we were doing it at a rock ‘n’ roll show?

Sure, they played the Violent Femmes. The farm was selling their cider and baking you pizzas. They’d brought in a food truck that was selling not-bad downstate New York barbecue. There was a petting zoo, and the kids were running around having a great time. It was a great family atmosphere. And the band was putting out some great atmosphere. Here’s the more-or-less full set list:

Xs and Os – Elle King
Isn’t She Lovely – Stevie Wonder
Dancing in the dark – Bruce Springsteen
Harder to Breathe – Maroon 5
Hard to Handle – Otis Redding (But in the style of Black Crowes)
Hand in My Pocket – Alanis Morisette
Hurts so good – John Mellencamp
Santeria – Sublime
She Moves in Mysterious Way – U2
Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2
In the Name of Love – U2
It’s Beautiful Day – U2
Semi Charmed Life – Third Eye Blind
With a Little Help From My Friends – Beatles
Locked Out of My Heaven – Bruno Mars
Sweet Child o’ Mine – Guns ‘n’ Roses
Lookin’ Out My Back Door – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Oye Como Va – Santana

Because nothing says family like cults, massacres, political assassinations and crystal meth, he laughed, in his distinctly Gen X way, during the first set. To be perfectly honest, though, the band was doing a great job turning an oversized patio into a party.

And can I just tell you? The little kids, who danced most of the night away, really liked Hard to Handle.

Here are the in-laws, enjoying the show as the band plays just in the background:

During the break, my father-in-law said the second set wasn’t as strong. They come to see their friend in the band so much they know the setlist. But he changed his mind because of some new material and improving play. Here’s the second set:

Love Shack – B-52s
I Wanna Dance with Somebody – Whitney Houston
Let’s Hear it For the Boy – Deniece Williams
I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
I Will Walk 500 Miles – The Proclaimers
Valerie – Amy Winehouse
Good Lovin – The Rascals
Authority Song – John Mellencamp
I Want You Back – Jackson 5
Summer of 69 – Bryan Adams
Time of my Life – Jennifer Warnes/Bill Medley
Another One Bites the Dust – Queen
Magic Carpet Ride – Steppenwolf
Blister in the Sun – Violent Femmes
The Joker – Steve Miller Band
Last Dance with Mary Jane – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Country Roads – John Denver
Proud Mary – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison

It was right around Jackson 5 that we started giving him a hard time about his second set pronouncement. And then, of course, they had to put in Dirty Dancing, and so we did all the Dirty Dancing bits. All of them. Most of them successfully.

They did Country Roads with this cool Caribbean island swagger, and then on the last chorus really sped things up. That would have been enough, but they actually played an encore. Cover band encores are always good.

Of course by then it was late into the evening, and the guitarist we know had to go take his girlfriend to the airport for a 3:30 a.m. flight, so I didn’t get to ask, but I’m guessing the CCR and Van Morrison were some of the first songs someone in the band played.

Two other quick videos from the weekend. Here are some beautiful flowers I saw Sunday morning:

And this is a Purdue ad at the airport. “We’re a terrific university in a wide range of area, but did you know we’ve been to the moon?” Honestly, they probably have to resist the temptation to use this in all of their promotional material:

Anyway, it was another great weekend, which is why I’ve dragged it into Tuesday. If there’s a lesson to be learned it is to get yourself some in-laws who are kids at heart. They’ll always be ready to have a good time with you.


3
Jan 19

#MostIconicRockSong

We’re doing a thing on Twitter. Down from 48 nominations to 12 semi-finalists. We’ll get this figured out in the next few days. Come over and vote.


7
Sep 18

To the immediate days ahead of you

I had two ideas today. That’s a lot for me. One of them, I suggested to someone, and you could see the notion percolating in the imagination of another person. That was neat. How often do you get to see the whole range of expression from blank expectation to unsold kernel growing into a ‘tell me more’ moment? And then you have to tell the person more and you know someone might be able to run with it. And finally, there’s the note-taking, and the ‘Let’s talk more about this?’

My other idea is perfectly formed, it arose in one clear moment with a precise degree of technical certainty, so much so that I sought out some information that might put the lie to the entire concept. But, no, the idea sound. So I’ll need to figure out some way to polish it up a little bit, so I can suggest it to some people so nothing will come of it.

A man told me once I was an idea guy. I wasn’t, but I liked the notion and have tried to incorporate a bit of that into everything I do ever since. Very, very occasionally someone will run with my idea of the moment. Usually it is dismissed, until someone else thinks it up. Then it’s brilliant. Ideas are about timing, their framing and who pitches them.

How was your day?

For a moment late this moment all my Apple products were each charged to 100 percent. I may never again achieve Inbox Zero, but I’ve made my peace with that. Apple 100 is a bigger challenge anyway.

This afternoon’s official music video, because this afternoon needs an official video. The chorus makes it worth it:

I’m writing this at the best part of the week, the idealism of the weekend is upon us. It hasn’t really sunk in yet — for me, that’s usually when I turn in and realize I can turn off my alarm clock for tomorrow.

Of course, right after that I begin to think of how finite the weekend can be. Maybe they should all be three-day weekends, after all. There’s a feeling that never goes away, so there must be something to it.

Regardless of how long this weekend is going to be for you, I hope it is a blast.