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Monday, October 30, 2006

Episode 19 - That Ol' Black Magic

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Episode 19 - That Ol' Black Magic
We started with example of backmasking, where sounds meant to be played forwards are played backwards.

Sometimes deliberate, sometime only in the ear of the beholder, some bands who may – or may not - have used backmasking include Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Queen, Black Oak Arkansas, Judas Priest, and of course, The Beatles.

The backmasking on the final verse of "Rain" was deliberate, but that led to the 19 and 69 "Paul is Dead" rumor when a Detroit City DJ claimed to have found backward messages in The White Album proclaiming McCartney's death. According to True Believers, Paul was replaced with the never-announced winner of a McCartney lookalike contest.

Hmmm, I wonder if Heather Mills knows that story?

A more recent example of backmasking – or maybe reverse backmasking – was demonstrated by actor Michael Anderson on the Twin Peaks television series. Anderson would phonetically learn reversed speeches, record them, and his dialogue would then be reversed again, giving his speech a stuttering, spooky quality.

[I am the Arm]

Well, our turntables play in only one direction at Dreamtime, and its time to move forward. One of my favorite TV series when I was growing up was Bewitched, which ran from 1964 to 1972, roughly the same period when my hormones were raging at their highest levels. I wanted to be Darrin Stephens, not because the idea of coming up with weird advertising campaigns was attractive (even though it was). And not because the idea of commuting into the city every day and then returning to the 'burbs and a nightly martini sounded cool (even though it did).

No. I wanted witchy nookie. Specific witchy nookie. Samantha Stephens. I wanted a wife who did wonderful mugging faces and double-takes. I wanted a wife who went "Welllll..." when pressed for an answer she didn't want to give. I wanted a wife who looked great in mini skirts, and even better in Capris. I wanted a wife who could wiggle her nose.

Most of all, I wanted to be married to a witch. A specific witch. Hey, Sam, you know what? Darrin's an idiot. Babes, you want to do the nose twitch thing and put us on an island in the Caribbean with hot and cold running money, I'm for it. You want to do lunch in Paris, hang on honey, let me grab my beret. You don't want to do the chores when you know with a sweep of your arms and a zing musical cue everything's done? What, do I look stupid? Do your thing, and come back to bed, baby. There's lots of little Tabithas and Adams to be making.

Give me a witchy theme and I'm a happy camper. And here's Miss Peggy Lee, with that theme…

[Bewitched – Peggy Lee]

A lot of TV show themes had lyrics that were never used, including The Andy Griffith Show, Bonanza, and I Love Lucy

"The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" was written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and first published in 18 and 86. It became one of Stevenson's best-selling works. 120 years later, you can still say Jekyll and Hyde, and everyone will know what you're talking about. Scores of works based on the Jekyll and Hyde theme have been produced, including both versions of The Nutty Professor, the 1996 remake, and Jerry Lewis' original.

In Jerry Lewis' original version, Lewis plays Julius Kelp, a totally social inept college professor who invents a formula that turns him into the cool hipster, Buddy Love. In his first transformation, Buddy turns up a night club populated by college students and proceeds to woo the pneumatic co-ed, Stella Stevens, with a swingin' version of "That Ol' Black Magic."

[Jerry Lewis – That Ol' Black Magic]

While Lewis has always denied that it was deliberate, the character of Buddy Love seems to bear more than a close resemblance to Lewis' then ex-partner, Dean Martin.

Me, I've always thought that Buddy Love was probably pretty close to what you'd get if you met the real Jerry Lewis of the `60s.

Next on the turntable is a tune from a group that never existed, The Five Blobs. The Five Blobs is really just one Blob, studio singer Bernie Knee who did all the vocal tracks for the theme song of the classic 1958 monster movie, "The Blob," starring Steve McQueen, and Andy Taylor's girlfriend, Helen Crump.

[Beware of the Blob – The Five Blobs]

Beware of the Blob was one of the first songs turned out by Burt Bacharach, who teamed up with Mack David to produce it. Burt would later produce many hits with Mack's younger brother, Hal, songs including another tune originally written for the movies, The Look of Love.

The late `50s and early `60s were a scary period in America, with people facing real monsters like juvenile delinquency, the Atomic Bomb, and of course, the Red Menace.

Communists seemed to be everywhere, including under the bed, as a very young Bob Dylan relates in this song from his Halloween concert…

[Talkin' John Birch]

Y'know, I've been told I do a pretty good young Bob Dylan imitation. It goes like this…

[Fred does Bob]

What do you think?

If you watch The Wizard of Oz carefully, you'll notice that the Wicked Witch tells one of the flying monkeys that she had had sent "a little insect... to take the fight out of them," right before the Flying Monkeys attack Dorothy and her companions in The Haunted Forest.

That "little insect" was The Jitterbug, who would bite each member of the group and make them dance the Jitterbug until they were exhausted and could easily be subdued by the flying monkeys. Here's Judy Garland, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, and Ray Bolger singing a segment from The Jitterbug...

[The Jitterbug]

The Jitterbug scene was cut from the final movie release, nobody is quite sure why. One theory has it that including a contemporary dance would date the movie too quickly. Another that the producers disliked "show stoppers," feeling that they slowed down what was already an overlong movie. In fact, for awhile, the studio considering removing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" too, because it was another show stopper.

Glad they didn't.

Well, I see from the Witches' hourglass that, like Dorothy, my time has run out. So, until the next show, have a Happy Halloween and don't let the Jitterbugs bite.

Closing music: Martinibomb and the Coconut Monkeyrocket - Munster Beat!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Episode 18 - High on a Mountain


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Episode 18 – High on a Mountain

[Ollabelle "Elijah Rock" excerpt - from TTRH "Bible"]

Ollabelle is Byron Isaacs, Tony Leone, Fiona McBain, Glenn Patscha and, as Dylan notes, Amy Helm, daughter of The Band's Levon Helm. The group originally grew out of an informal gathering of musicians who came together to play traditional gospel songs at a weekly jam at the East Village bar, 9C.

Ollabelle recorded their debut album in 2004 on spec at a local studio, and the project caught the ear of T Bone Burnett, a man was excellent musical taste, as Dylan says, and who released Ollabelle's self-titled album on his Sony-distributed DMZ label.

Ollabelle now has a second album out, Riverside Battle Songs, as pretty as the first, "a collection of songs of hard times, loss, compassion and hope," as Ollabelle member Fiona McBain describes. Riverside Battle Songs was produced by longtime Dylan sideman, Larry Campbell, and includes a cover of the bluegrass standard "High On A Mountain"—a song written by the band's namesake, Ola Belle Reed, a key inspiration in their formative days.

["High on a Mountain" excerpt]

The research for these podcasts always takes me down unexpected paths, this time from New York City to Grassy Creek, North Carolina. One of thirteen children, Ola Wave Campbell was born on August 17, 1916 in Grassy Creek. In 1936, Ola Belle began performing professionally as a member of the North Carolina Ridge Runners. In the mid `30s, music parks and picnic grounds were popular venues for bluegrass and country music each with a sizable audience and concession money to pay and feed the house band.

"Back home in the summertime we had carnivals - they were the main thing - and little parks," Ola Belle said in an interview. "They were so little that the few times the Ridge Runners played down there, we would be the only show there. I remember one time we came back on a Monday after playing one of these parks.... We played every half-hour all day till the park closed…"

In 1948, Ola Belle and her brother, Alex, teamed up and formed their own country music band, The New River Boys, and became a staple on the radio in the Pennsylvania and Maryland area.
In addition to performing, the group sponsored many musical programs at a country music park called New River Ranch, near Rising Sun, Maryland. In 1960, the band transferred to Sunset Park, in West Grove, Pennsylvania, where the group built quite a reputation as one of the quintessential Country Music performance parks. and performed there for the 26 years, broadcasting their own Sunday radio program live from the park.

Ola Belle and Alex operated Campbell’s Corner, a general store in Oxford, Pennsylvania which, in addition to general merchandise and groceries, sold country and gospel records and was home base for their own radio show. And in 1949, Ola Belle married Ralph “Bud” Reed, another accomplished local area musical performer.

In 1978, the University of Maryland awarded her with an honorary doctorate of letters for her contributions to the arts and culture of Maryland and the United States. She was also recognized for her historical and musical contributions by The Smithsonian Institute, The Library of Congress and The Country Music Association.

Ola Belle suffered a stroke in 1987 and she was bed-ridden until her death on August 16, 2002. She passed away one day before her 86th birthday. Here's a short excerpt of an interview with Olla Belle, which includes a snippet from her signature song, "High on a Mountain."

[Ola Belle Reed - "High on a Mountain" excerpt]

And from Maryland to Woodstock. Hearing Amy Helm naturally made me wonder what's up with her father, Levon, and a quick search on the Web brought be to and his Midnight Rambles, bimonthly concerts based on old-time Southern medicine shows held at Helm's barn and recording studio in Woodstock. A ticket to the show – if you can get one, the rest of 2006 is already sold out – is $100 bucks, includes chips, salsa and homemade cookies, and you'll hear anything from bluegrass to Springsteen covers from Levon and friends, which in the past have included Dr. John, Emmylou Harris, and Donald Fagen, among any others.

"Dress comfortably and bring a sweater just in case the Catskill air gets chilly, reads the Ramble invitation. We have seating, but if you have a favorite pillow for the floor, that's okay too. Guests are encouraged to bring snack and/or finger foods for the community snack table."

"Every show is a celebration," Helm notes on his web site. And it's a celebration I plan to go to as soon as I can. Expect Dreamtime to be remote podcasting from Woodstock in 2007.

This has been Fred Bals with occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show. And to close out, we have a song from The January 06 Midnight Ramble, a freebie posted on, if you want to go download your own copy. I wish more bands would do something that.

Sources:; Remembering Ola Belle Reed; The Women of Southern Songbirds; Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Episode 17 - October in the Railroad Earth

[October in the Railroad Earth]

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Jack Kerouac - defest of poets, reading October in the Railroad Earth, accompanied on piano by Steve Allen.

In the "Rich Man, Poor Man" episode of "Theme Time" Dylan includes Kerouac in his list of famous hobos; an appropriate label, as the common definition of "hobo" is "a wanderer who is willing to work."

"I read On the Road in maybe 1959. It changed my life like it changed everyone else's," Dylan notes in an interview. Dylan also mentions Kerouac and On the Road several times in Chronicles. And like with many of us, Dylan's appreciation of Kerouac remained, even as his taste for the Beat lifestyle and characters began to fade away. As Dylan writes, "... [I] lost my interest in the 'hungry for kicks' hipster vision that Kerouac illustrates so well in his book On The Road. That book had been like a bible for me. Not anymore, though. I still loved the breathless, dynamic bop poetry phrases that flowed from Jack's pen, but now, that character Moriarty seemed out of place, purposeless..."

Later in Chronicles Dylan relates a funny story as he and Bono kill a case of Guinness and... "[talked] about things that you only talk about when you're spending the winter with somebody -- talked about Jack Kerouac. Bono knows Kerouac's stuff pretty good. Kerouac, who celebrated American towns like Truckee, Fargo, Butte and Madora -- towns that most Americans never heard of. It seems funny that Bono knows more about Kerouac than most Americans."

As the case is finished off, Dylan recommends that if Bono wants to see the birthplace of
America, he should go to Alexandria, Minnesota. Dylan details an itinerary for Bono, telling him to "follow the river through Winona, Lake City, Frontenac," a road trip that if Bono ever took would involve a drive up Highway 61.

And, of course, Kerouac was a source for Dylan. Kerouac's novel Desolation Angels was published in May 1965, and Highway 61 Revisited recorded in August 1965. "Desolation Row" and "Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues" include quotes from Desolation Angels, including the phrases "a perfect image of a priest," "her sin is her lifelessness," and "Housing Project Hill."

Kerouac died on October 21, 1969 at age 47. Allen Ginsberg and Dylan visited Kerouac’s grave at Edson Cemetery, in Lowell, Massachusetts during the Rolling Thunder tour of 1975, a pilgrimage chronicled in the movie Renaldo and Clara. They read choruses from Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues and Ginsberg asked Dylan how he knew Kerouac’s poetry. Dylan replied, "Someone handed me Mexico City Blues in 1959 and it blew my mind. It was the first poetry that spoke my own language."

This has been Fred Bals with the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show. Until next time, may you dream well during October in the Railroad Earth.

Sources: Kerouac Corner, with Dave Moore and friends. The invaluable Boblit site. And don't miss the wonderful "Highway 61, Visited" NY Times article where the writer and friend take a road trip based on Dylan's directions to Bono.

The opening and closing recordings are from The Jack Kerouac Collection, a complete collection of the three jazz/poetry albums Kerouac cut. Highly recommended.

The two October foliage photos are courtesy P.W. Bals.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Episode 16 – "Gene Vincent said, 'Bubba, let's go on tour'"


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

Episode 16 – "Gene Vincent said, 'Bubba, let's go on tour'"

[High School U.S.A. excerpt]

Written by a Norfolk Virginia record store owner named Frank Guida, Tommy Facenda's "High School U.S.A." was on the Billboard Charts for 13 weeks in 1959, peaking at number 28. Tommy's page at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame web site says Guida originally wanted a black doo-wop group to do the number, but then had visions of Facenda becoming the next Frankie Avalon with the song.

The original version of "High School U.S.A."– on Guida's own Legrand Records label - names various Virginia-area high schools. Guida convinced Atlantic to pick the song up, and someone – maybe someone at Atlantic, maybe Guida – realized the idea could be extended for schools across America. So, Tommy went back and re-recorded versions using school names in different cities. How many versions? No one seems to know, maybe 25. Maybe 28. Maybe 30. Maybe as many as 40… or 50.

Tommy Facenda says, "The magic number they seem to come up with is 28. There were more. They might not all have been released, but I cut a copy for every state in the U.S.A. Maybe 28 were released, but I know what I cut. It was just about the most awful thing to go through…"

Indeed, because Tommy didn't simply re-record the lyric listing school names, each master was recorded from beginning to end. Or maybe not. The page at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame – which contains articles from different writers - contradicts itself several times. One section says 40 versions. Another says 28. One section says that Tommy completely re-recorded each version. Another says Tommy sang the relevant verse over and again to add the name changes… which sounds a heckuva lot more likely.

In either case, it must have been an effort. The Cincinnati version of High School U.S.A." required Tommy to sing out nearly 30 high school names. With even 28 versions, he probably catalogued somewhere between 500 to 700 schools during the recording sessions.

And imagine the problems of touring. As Tommy says, "Everyone else in the tour package could just sing their same hits all the time. I had to study the upcoming town's high school name list using a pen light on the bus. If I forgot the names, I'd just sing the original Virginia version."

Born in 1939, Tommy Facenda joined Gene Vincent's "Blue Caps" band in 1957 as a background singer and dancer, and was immediately nicknamed "Bubba." Usually on Vincent's right in band publicity shots, you can spot Tommy in full `50s coolness with upturned collar, slicked-backed hair, and JD sideburns. During concerts, Tommy would show off his patented "Facenda Freeze" when, during a Johnny Meeks guitar solo and with Vincent rolling in full frenzy on the floor, Facenda would begin shaking from head to foot as if totally overcome by the Dark Demons of rock-and-roll.

It was a show-stopper.

Tommy's run with Vincent was short. By `mid-58 he had left the Blue Caps to pursue a solo career.. not having much luck until "High School U.S.A." became a hit for him. That put Tommy in demand and he ended up on tour bills with Jackie Wilson, Connie Francis, Annette Funicello, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, and Fabian, among others, singing out the names of local high schools one city at a time.

But that hit would also be the peak of his music career, and after a stint in the Army, Tommy Facenda headed back to Portsmouth, Virginia, where he had been born and raised. He took a job with the local Fire Department, stayed with that until his retirement, and then worked as a part-time hospital security guard.

He may be doing that in Portsmouth still, making the rounds of the calm hospital corridors, and maybe on the quiet nights suddenly stopping and slowly stretching out his arms, lifting on his toes… shaking from head to foot as if possessed by the Demons of Rock n Roll.

I kind of hope so.

This has been Fred Bals – Chadwick School, Palos Verdes, California, 19 and 71, with the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show.

Dreamtime is not associated with XM Radio or Bob Dylan, and had nothing to do with that cherry bomb in the girl's bathroom. Until next time, dream on.