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Monday, July 31, 2006

Episode 6 - Juneteenth and Fatso

[Theme Time promo]

This is the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show.

Episode 6 - Juneteenth and Fatso

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[Fatso Bentley "Juneteenth Jamboree" excerpt]

"Juneteenth Jamboree," sung by Fatso Bentley. As Dylan says on the "Summer" episode of "Theme Time," Juneteenth is the oldest celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19th Eighteen and Sixty-Five, 2,000 Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.

General Gordon Granger read the contents of "General Order No. 3":
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.
Of course, this was two and a half years after Emancipation. However, Emancipation had little impact in Texas due to the small number of Union troops available to enforce it. But, with the surrender of General Lee in April of Eighteen and 65, and the arrival of General Granger's regiment in Galveston, the Union forces were finally strong enough to bring about freeing the 250,000 slaves in Texas.

Slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations. The first organized celebrations of Juneteenth were used as political rallies and to teach freed African Americans about their voting rights. Within a short time, Juneteenth was marked by festivities throughout the state. In the state capital Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1867 under the direction of the Freedmen's Bureau, and became part of the calendar of public events by 1872.

Juneteenth declined in popularity in the early 1960s, when the civil-rights movement diminished interest in the event. But by the 1970s African Americans' renewed interest in celebrating their cultural heritage led to the revitalization of the holiday in Texas, and Juneteenth became an official Texas state holiday in 1980. Although Dylan is right that only Texas officially celebrates Juneteenth, thirteen other states list it as an official holiday, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Alaska, and California, and there is ongoing movement to make June 19th a national holiday.

["Worried Blues" excerpt]

That's Fatso Bentley again, singing "Worried Blues" this time around. Fatso is one of the more colorful residents of the Ol' Weird America that "Theme Time" seems intent on cataloging. "Fatso's" real name was Gladys, and she's variously described as a bull dagger lesbian and/or male impersonator singer who performed in tuxedo and top hat while flirting outrageously with the females in her audience. Bentley was one of the stars of Harlem during the 1920s, performing at speakeasies and gay hangouts such as the Clam House, once described in the press as "not [a place] for the innocent young."

Bentley eventually moved to California, where she sang in lesbian bars around Los Angeles and San Francisco, and in 1950, made guest appearances on Groucho Marx's TV show, You Bet Your Life. In 1950 she also claimed to have renounced her lesbian past through female hormone treatments. She married a [male] cook nearly 16 years her junior and was studying to become an ordained minister at the Temple of Love in Christ, when she died of the flu in 1960.

She was 53 years old, and lived one hell of a life in those 53 years.

In eighteen hundred and sixty-five,
A hep cat started some jive,
He said, "Come on, gates, and jump with me
At the Juneteenth Jamboree."

The rhythm was swinging at the picnic ground,
Fried chicken floating all around;
Everybody happy as they could be,
At the Juneteenth Jamboree!
During my research on "Juneteenth Jamboree" I discovered there's at least one other song of the same name out there, that I'm closing out the show with. Originally recorded by Louis Jordan & His Tympani 5 in 1940 for the Decca label, the song was mislabeled as "June Tenth Jamboree," apparently because no one at Decca knew what Juneteenth was…

This has been Fred Bals with the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour.

This one has been for Jill and her family way down in Tyler, Texas. Keep the faith, baby.

[Louis Jordan - "June Tenth (sic) Jamboree" excerpt]

Sources: Juneteenth Worldwide Celebration; Handbook of Texas Online; Juneteenth Day Campaign; Gladys Bentley biography from the "Queer Cultural Center"; Gladys Bentley at Mona's Club 440; Lady Sang the Blues by Neil S. Plakcy; "June Tenth (Juneteenth) Jamboree" lyrics; WFUI "Night Lights" Juneteenth Jamboree show - broadcast June, 2005

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Episode 5 - Two voices from Chronicles

[From Theme Time - "Cars"] - "A delivery boy makes a wrong turn."

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This is the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show.

Episode 5 - "Two voices from Chronicles."

I'm changing gears in this episode, talking about two singers who have yet to appear on Theme Time... but probably will at some point. To correct a mistake I made in episode 4, Fred Neil was not the owner of the Cafe Wha?, but a singer/songwriter who ran the daytime show at the Wha? as Dylan notes in Chronicles. Thanks to "jump right in" for pointing out the error to me.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1936 and raised in St. Petersburg Florida, Neil came to New York in the late '50s, working at the Brill Building as a staff writer. At the Brill, a musician could find a publisher and printer, cut a demo, promote the record, and cut a deal with radio promoters, all within one building.

In 1960, Neil began to perform solo at the Cafe Wha?, as well as the Night Owl and Bitter End. By 1961, he was sometimes accompanied by Dylan and Karen Dalton, both pictured with Neil in this episode's show notes.

Neil was something of a musician's musician, influencing among others John Sebastian, who would go on to form the Lovin' Spoonful; Paul Kantner, who would lead Jefferson Airplane; Richie Havens, Felix Pappalardi, the producer of Cream (as well as the bassist for the group, Mountain), and both David Crosby and Stephen Stills. A story, possibly apocryphal, has it that Stills and Crosby originally wanted to call their supergroup with Graham Nash “The Sons of Neil.”

Neil compositions were recorded by both Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison; he also played as a session guitarist for Bobby Darin and Paul Anka. In 1968, Nilsson recorded a cover version of Neil's song "Everybody's Talkin'," which became a mega-hit when it was used as the theme song in the film Midnight Cowboy.

Neil semi-retired in the 1970s and passed away in 2001.

[Everybody's Talkin' excerpt]

Of Neil, Dylan writes,

"Freddy had the flow, dressed conservatively, sullen and brooding, with an enigmatical gaze, peachlike complexion, hair splashed with curls and an angry and powerful baritone voice that struck blue notes and blasted them to the rafters with or without a mike. He was the emperor of the place, even had his own harem, his devotees. You couldn't touch him. Everything revolved around him. Years later, Freddy would write the hit song 'Everybody's Talkin'.' I never played any of my own sets. I just accompanied Neil on all of his and that's where I began playing regular in New York."
In the same section, Dylan reveals his favorite singer at the Cafe Wha? was Karen Dalton.
"A tall white blues singer and guitar player, funky, lanky and sultry," Dylan writes. "Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday's and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed and went all the way with it."
Picture a room, empty except for an unmade bed. A woman lies on it, staring up at the ceiling, watching a fan turn, slowly pulling the smoke from her cigarette into its blades. A half-empty glass of wine is on the floor, by the woman's hands...

[Little Bit of Rain excerpt]

That's Karen Dalton, singing Fred Neil's Little Bit Of Rain on her first album, It's So Hard To Tell Who's Going To Love You The Best, originally released in 1969 and reissued on CD in 1997. As Dylan, and nearly everyone else who heard her noted, Karen's voice strongly resembles that of Billie Holiday's, in fact to the point where the Capitol press release for her first album described her as "the folksinger's answer to Billie Holiday."

Dalton's voice is also eerily similar to the modern day smoky voiced singer, Madeleine Peyroux, who herself is often compared to Holiday. Unlike Peyroux, Dalton never had that much popular success. In the little information available about her on the Web, that may have been because she was uncomfortable in the studio and had to be coaxed into recording the two albums she did produce, or perhaps because she rarely wrote her own songs, or perhaps because of drug and alcohol problems she reported struggled with until her death in 1993.

Fred Neil who had first brought her to the attention of Capitol Records wrote in his 1971 liner notes to her second album:
"She did 'Blues On The Ceiling' (which is my song) with so much feeling that if she told me she had written it herself I would have believed her. Her voice is so unique, to describe it would take a poet. All I can say is she sure can sing the shit out of the blues."
The country singer Lacy J. Dalton has said that she took her name from Karen, who had greatly influenced her singing style. Also known as "Sweet Mother K.D.", It is said that the song "Katie's Been Gone" by The Band was written about her.

A great, haunting talent that never got the audience she deserved, you can buy Karen Dalton's first album on Amazon or as separate tracks through iTunes.

There's apparently a European version of "It's So Hard…" just released in July of 2006, that includes a DVD described in a review at Amazon UK as, "a 25 minute home movie , directed by Dalton and shows her hanging out playing her guitar and performing four songs."

This has been Fred Bals with the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour – and occasionally commentary on other things that may or may not show up on Theme Time.

Until next time, sweet dreams.

Sources:; Karen Dalton disography page; Nicholas Hill email on Karen Dalton; "Folk Revisited" by Steve Ritchey in The Student Underground, 2004 (Google cache link); Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Episode 4 - Tiny, I never saw a Toronto Maple Leaf hockey game.

"I tell you, no one knew more about old music than Tiny Tim did." - Bob Dylan

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The Bob Dylan/Tiny Tim connection has a long, rich history, which Dylan alludes to in the "Flowers" episode of Theme Time as he introduces "Tip-toe through the Tulips." In Chronicles, Volume I, Dylan writes about their first meeting,

"One of the guys who played in the afternoons was the falsetto-speaking Tiny Tim. He played ukulele and sang like a girl -- old standard songs from the '20s…"

["On the Old Front Porch" excerpt]

Tiny Tim was born Herbert Buckingham Khaury, on April 12, probably in 1932, although in various interviews he gave his birth year as anytime between 1922 and 1932. His first performances -- under the name Larry Love -- took place in 1954, where he won several amateur contests. His professional career began in 1963 or '64 at a lesbian cabaret in Greenwich Village called the Page 3. In a short time, Tiny Tim was well-known in the Greenwich Village music scene, although more as a novelty act than for his deep knowledge of American music.

In Chronicles, Dylan goes on to tell about sharing lunch with Tim, "The best part of working with [Fred Neil , owner of the Café Wha?*], was strictly gastronomical -- all the French fries and hamburgers I could eat. At some point during the day, Tiny Tim and I would go in the kitchen and hang around. Norbert the cook would usually have a greasy burger waiting. Either that, or he'd let us empty a can of pork and beans or spaghetti into a frying pan."

In 1967, Dylan and Tiny Tim would meet again, when Tim recorded several songs with The Band – yes The Band – for Peter Yarrow’s seldom-seen rockumentary, "You Are What You Eat." The Band/Tiny Tim collaboration included Memphis, Tennessee, The Sonny and Cher classic, I Got You Babe, and this Al Jolson standard, Sonny Boy.

[Sonny Boy]

According to Tim, Dylan renewed their friendship after hearing he was recording with The Band, and invited him to his Woodstock home. Greeting Tim at at 12 o’clock in the morning. Dylan said, "Tiny, I never saw a Toronto Maple Leaf hockey game."

In the course of conversation, Tim serenaded Dylan with Rudy Vallee’s "Maine Stein Song" and "My Time is Your Time" and played Dylan's own "Like A Rolling Stone" - comparing Dylan's popularity to Valle's. According to Tiny Tim, "After he [heard] the comparison to [Rudy] Vallee and what he meant to me Dylan said, 'Look, do you want a banana before you go to bed?' I said, 'No, I have my own fruit with me.'"

[Maine Stein Song excerpt]

Before retiring for the night, Tim sang an Irving Kaufman song from 1923 called "What's Today Got To Do With Tomorrow (when tomorrow's so far away)", and Dylan in turn played "Cool Water” for him. Dylan also offered Tim a minor part in "Eat the Document," for which he was paid $22.00.

Tim's performance in You Are What You Eat led to his first TV appearance on the popular Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, where he was an instant sensation, although perhaps not in the way he would have wanted. Perhaps. Tiny Tim seemed to exist in his own space; oblivious to snickers, laughter, and ridicule. In any case, he became a hot TV property, appearing on Laugh-In several more times, as well as on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, and, of course the Tonight Show. In 1969 in front of an estimated 40 million viewers, he would marry Victoria May Budinger, better known as "Miss Vicki," on The Tonight Show. The couple later had a daughter, Tulip, as Dylan mentions on Theme Time, but lived apart, and divorced after eight years of marriage.

Although the public's taste for Tim's inherent weirdness had faded away by the mid-70s, he never stopped performing wherever and whenever he could, reportedly even joining a circus for a few months in the 1980s. In September of 1996, Tiny Tim suffered a heart attack while performing at the Ukulele Hall of Fame in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Upon his release from the hospital, Tim resumed his concert schedule, but, on November 30 1996, suffered another heart attack in Minneapolis while performing his signature song. He died an hour later. His remains are in the mausoleum of Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, pictured to your left.

A true eccentric who happened to be in the right place at the right time to become a media star, and a lover of the American songbook who dedicated his life to bringing back old, obscure songs, Tiny Tim never let his personal oddities or public reaction interfere with his main mission… singing the songs he loved.

This has been Fred Bals with the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show. Dreamtime is not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else. Until next time… think of Tiny Tim, and follow your dreams, wherever they lead.

[Tip-toe through the Tulips excerpt]

*See comments

Sources: Remembering Tiny Tim; Tiny Tim: A Look Back; Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Episode 3 - A Single Olive

"You can order anything you want for your last meal. Ted Bundy had a steak medium-rare, hash browns, and coffee. Joan of Arc had Holy Communion.

And Victor Feguer had a single olive." - Bob Dylan

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This is the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show.

In the June 7th episode of Theme Time - Jail - Dylan, while riffing on famous last meals, mentions that Victor Feguer's last meal consisted of a single olive.

Until Timothy McVeigh's execution in 2001, Feguer was the last federal inmate executed in the U.S. In the summer of 1960, Feguer arrived in Dubuque, Iowa, renting a room at a boarding house. Feguer phoned Doctor Edward Bartels, claiming that a woman needed medical attention. When Dr. Bartels arrived, Feguer kidnapped him, later killing him in Illinois with a single gunshot to the head. Feguer apparently chose Dr. Bartels, a 34 year old father of two, at random from the local Yellow Pages, in an attempt to find drugs. Because he had crossed state lines, federal charges were filed against Feguer. He was tried and convicted, and held at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. He was brought back to Iowa because Leavenworth was not set up at the time to perform executions.

Feguer's attorney, contacted then-President John F. Kennedy to request clemency for Feguer. Kennedy’s reply in total was, "…Taking all factors into account, it is my decision that the petition should be and is hereby denied."

At dawn on March 15th 1963, Victor Feguer was hanged for murdering Dr. Bartels. Feguer had asked for the olive, with the pit still in it, as his last meal, reportedly telling prison authorities that he hoped an olive tree would sprout from his grave as a sign of peace. The pit was placed in the pocket of one of the two new suits that the government had provided for the execution.

No olive tree grows at Feguer's unmarked grave, in a corner of a cemetery at Fort Madison, Iowa.

This has been Fred Bals with the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show. Dreamtime is not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else. Until next time… don’t let your dreams be troubled.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Episode 2 - The Ol' Ball Game

"What we aim to do is hit the ball out of the park, touch all the bases and get home safely." - Bob Dylan

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That’s Bob Dylan reciting, on the May 23rd edition of “Theme Time,” the all-but-forgotten first stanza of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," the reworked 1927 version of Jack Norworth's song which has become the unofficial anthem of baseball.

Norworth originally wrote the lyrics for "Take Me Out…" almost one hundred years ago, in 1908, and then published a revised version nineteen years later, changing the original lady fan's name from Katie Casey to Nellie Kellie and updating some of the references. Albert Von Tilzer, a friend of Norworth and composer of "Wait Til the Sun Shines, Nellie," wrote the melody for Norworth's lyrics.

By 1910, the song was a fixture in baseball stadiums. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is the 3rd most-often-played song in the United States, after "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Happy Birthday to You." Jack Norworth wrote over 2,000 other songs in his career, including "Shine on Harvest Moon." And although he wrote baseball’s most popular song 32 years earlier, Norworth didn’t attend his first ballgame until 1940. He lived until 1959, spending his final years running a novelty shop in Hollywood and, on request, would perform "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

This has been Fred Bals with the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show. Dreamtime is not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else. Until next time… dream well.

Episode 1 - Elvis & Dino

"Radio station dreams... You know how when you're a kid, you stay up late in bed, listening to the radio, and you sort of dream off the radio into sleep... That's when disc jockeys played whatever they felt like." - Bob Dylan

... The office manager of Sam Phillips' Sun Records studio in Memphis, Marion Keisker, tells of a not entirely successful first audition Presley had with Phillips. According to Marion, Sam asked Elvis to run through some of his repertoire, which seemed to lean so heavily on Dean Martin stuff, she thought Elvis had decided "...if he was going to sound like anybody, it was going to be Dean Martin."

While Elvis was probably inspired by Martin's version of “I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine," more accurately both Presley and Martin were covering Patti Page's 1950 Top 10 hit.

"I Don't Care..." was written by Mack David (Tin Pan Alley tunesmith and brother of Hal David) originally for the Disney version of Cinderella, believe it or not. The song was dropped from the movie without ever being recorded, as far as I can tell, which seems to have been a smart decision. The mind boggles at Cinderella and Prince Charming singing it...

Theme Time Radio Hour is broadcast on XM Radio every Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET, and rebroadcast Fridays at 6 pm, Sundays at 8am, and Mondays at 8pm. You can listen to the show online – as well as XM Radio’s full lineup - at The cost is $7.99 per month, cheap for Dylan’s show alone.

Dream well.