Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sounds of the Niagara Frontier: the Rockin' Rebels, John Fogerty, and Screamin' Dick Biondi.

"Wild Weekend" by the Rockin' Rebels was recorded in 1959 by two Buffalo DJs, Tom Shannon and Phil Todaro, for their Mar-Lee (named for their girlfiends) label. Shannon and Todaro had written "Wild Weekend" as a theme song for their radio show on WKBW. It became a regional hit in the Northeast, securing the band a spot on the Dick Clark show. In 1962, it was re-released on the nationally marketed Swan label, and in 1963 it became a major hit, reaching number eight on the pop charts. This makes it, to the best of my knowledge, the only top ten hit to have originated in Buffalo, a city with which I have some familiarity. You can get the tangled history of both the music and the band and a discography here.

John Fogerty isn't from Buffalo, but listen to "Rock and Roll Girls." Instrumentally, it's practically "Wild Weekend" redux from the get-go, opening with the same hooky run and with sax accompaniment that sounds very similar to the Rebels'. Fogerty nails it in the vocal toward the end of the song with these words:
If I had my way, I'd shuffle off to Buffalo, Sit by the lake, and watch the world go by....
WKBW, home of Shannon and Todaro, also had for a time one of America's best known DJs, Dick Biondi. There's a sample of Biondi's frenetic style in the clip above. Biondi's edgy humor--he adumbrated the "zoo" style that became widespread on pop radio in the '70s--was often directed at station management, which sometimes led to his being fired. He became best known when he moved from WKBW to another 50,000 Watt platform, Chicago's WLS. Later he had a gig with KRLA in Los Angeles.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day; happy Bloomsday.

Today is Father's Day, so best wishes to all my fellow dads. This year it's also Bloomsday, the anniversary of the day in 1904 when Leopold Bloom (sketch by James Joyce at left), father of Milly and mourner of short-lived Rudy, makes his way through various encounters in Dublin, as described in Joyce's Ulysses. The novel also gives us short excursions into the worlds of Bloom's cheating wife Molly (the story climaxes, as it were, with her soliloquy while in the arms of her manager and lover, Blazes Boylan), and of Bloom's bachelor friend (and Joyce alter ego) Stephen Daedalus. Dermot McEvoy has these thoughts:
Happy Bloomsday! “YES!” said Molly Bloom. It’s a day for aimless wanderings, gorgonzola, and, perhaps, a trip to a cemetery—after a neat drop off the 40-Foot in Sandycove. In celebration listen to the brilliant Jonathan Brielle’s “River Liffey,” taken from his equally brilliant musical about James Joyce, Himself and Nora: [Hear it here.]
You can see and hear me reading an excerpt from Jim Quinn's restaurant guide Word of Mouth, which incorporates the Burton Restaurant scene from Ulysses, at a Bloomsday celebration two years ago. Then scroll down to get a much better Joyce reading; Molly Bloom's soliloquy (NSFW!) as interpreted by Aedin Moloney.

Van Dyke Parks, "Donovan's Colours."

Van Dyke Parkes is a musical genius who surprised and mostly delighted the rock crit world in 1968 with an album titled Song Cycle. My friend Michael Simmons calls it "The Great Overlooked Classic Of American Popular Music." I certainly overlooked it for many years. Before the album was released, one of the cuts, "Donovan's Colours" (video above), appeared pseudonymously as performed by "George Washington Brown." In his story linked above, Michael tells of his and his colleagues', and the members of Moby Grape's, efforts to figure out who GWB was. The Mobys at least had him sending his recordings to Parkes, who was then an in-demand L.A. studio musician. Parkes later said he had it released under a nom de guerre because he "craved anonymity." Here's the original "Colours" by Donovan: Parkes does a classical thing with the song. He begins with a statement of the theme, but at about 1:20 in the video at the top of this post the theme dissolves into variations. The theme is reasserted triumphally at about 2:50. Michael notes the similarity of the sound to that of a music box. I also sensed a similarity to that of a Trinidadian steel band, another musical style of which Parkes was fond. Donovan was also a fan of Trinidad's calypso music.