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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Three Miles South of Cash - Bob Wills and Carolina Cotton

We're in full Western Swing mode here at Dreamtime, this time around with a video of Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys from 19 and 51, featuring a semi-duet of Three Miles South of Cash between Wills and Carolina Cotton, who performs her signature yodelin' as Wills tries to keep pace.

This is from a so-called "Snader Telescription," one of television's first music videos. Snaders were 3-4 minute films shot live and produced from around 1950 until late 1953 or early `54, according to this site. The brainchild of Louis D. Snader, a Southern California real estate developer, almost all of the several hundred Snader Telescriptions were written, produced, and directed by a Duke Goldstone, who even helped design many of the sets. Goldstone could shoot as many as 12 Snaders in one day.

A bigger live draw than Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman in his heyday during in the 1940s, Wills career was winding down by 1951, as was Western Swing itself. He'd have one last Top Ten hit with Faded Love in 1950, although he'd continuing performing into the late `60s. The Yodelin' Blonde Bombshell - Carolina Cotton - was a featured songbird in the Spade Cooley, Deuce Spriggins (to whom she was briefly married), Hank Penny, and Bob Wills bands, as well as cutting her own singles.

Cotton appeared in several B Westerns as well as in some of the first "Soundies," an even earlier precursor to music videos (although the audio was taped, rather than performed live). Cotton was also one of the first female deejays, as well as a television pioneer. She turned down the role of Annie Oakley (later played by Gail Davis) to develop her own series, Queen of the Range, although the show was never aired. In the early `60s, Cotton retired from her entertainment career, earned her Masters Degree in Special Education, and taught at several schools in California. She'd occasionally still perform at Western Swing fan conferences and charity events into the late `90s, before passing away in 1997.

Cotton had a fascinating career, and you could learn more about her and her life at, a great site maintained by her family.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Hank Penny - Missouri

I need to do a Dreamtime episode on the Western Swing phenomena of the `40s and `50s, which has just a ton of great subject matter and characters to write about, including Carolina Cotton - "the Yodelin' Blonde Bombshell" - who you can see on bass in this clip, and Spade Cooley, the King of Western Swing, whose life played out like a James Ellroy noir novel.

Here we have the Deuce Spriggins Orchestra, featuring Hank Penny, doing Missouri. Spriggins - real name George Braunsdorf - and Cotton (Helen Hagstrom) were secretly married in 1945, and left Spade Cooley's band that same year, taking many of Cooley's musicians with them to form their own band. Spriggins and Cotton would be divorced the following year, with few people knowing that they had been married.

Hank Penny, whose 1950s hit Bloodshot Eyes was featured on Dreamtime 39, was born Herbert Clayton Penny on September 18, 1918, in Birmingham, AL. By the age of 15, he was performing professionally on local radio, and had formed his own band, The Radio Cowboys, before he turned 18.

By the mid-'40s, Penny was in Los Angeles, and had been recruited to front one of the pseudo-Spade Cooley bands that were operating throughout the country. Cooley's popularity was at such a height during the 1940s that the real Spade Cooley Orchestra couldn't fill all its bookings, so Cooley's manager simply formed several more Western Swing bands and sent them on the road under the Spade Cooley brand.

After later stints as band leader, deejay, and club owner, Penny joined Cooley's wildly popular television program in 1948 as a comic backwoods type known as "That Plain Ol' Country Boy." A year later, Penny cut Hillbilly Bebop, an attempt to reclaim the audience Western Swing was losing to the new bop music, and the more successful hit of 1950, Bloodshot Eyes.

Penny later would become a co-owner of the legendary Palomino Club, hosted his own television series, The Hank Penny Show, which was canceled after only a few weeks, and have a much more successful seven-year run at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas. He'd later moved to Nashville, and audition for the hosting slot of Hee Haw, a job he'd lose to Roy Clark. He passed away in 1992.*

*Note: Hank's widow, Shari, was kind enough to contact me with the correct dates of Hank's birth and death and I've edited the post to reflect those dates  Shari notes that the Hank Penny official web site will be online within the month, and we'll link to it when it goes live.  Thank you, Shari!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Episode 39 - The Lost Theme Time iPod

Direct link to mp3.

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Theme Time Music That Never Was, That Might Have Been, And Could Still Be

[Bed music - Perry Mason Theme - Mundell Lowe]

Here's the story. Sometime in 2005, somewhere in Los Angeles, Bob Dylan is in a studio. He does whatever he came there to do, and then makes like a tree... and leaves.

But he forgets his iPod.

Imagine that for a second. There it is, sitting on a sound board right in front of you. Bob Dylan's iPod. Looking just like every other of the million of iPods out there. But it belongs to...
"...the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll. The voice of the promise of the '60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock. Who donned makeup in the '70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse. Who emerged to find Jesus. Who was written off as a has-been by the end of the '80s, and who suddenly shifted gears releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late '90s. Ladies and gentlemen - Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!"
That's his iPod. Wouldn't you be curious about what Bob Dylan listens to? What would you do? Would you turn it on? Would you skim through the playlists? Would you listen?

Maybe you'd copy the iPod's contents, especially since you have all the equipment to do it right there at hand. And later, so you'd have a clean conscience, you'd call Dylan's people to let them know that their Boss had forgotten it.

That's what somebody supposedly did sometime in early 2005 in the City of Los Angeles. Or at least that's how the story goes. Later that year a playlist appeared on the Web, purportedly listing the contents of the copied iPod... and than the story just kind of faded away into the aether, forgotten by most Dylan fans.

It's not that hard to understand. There's no music by Bob Dylan in that playlist. In fact, you've probably never heard of most of the 171 songs unless you're a hardcore fan of rockabilly, jump music, gospel, bebop, and honky tonk.

In fact, you'd probably need to have the tastes of a certain disk jockey who operates out of the Abernathy Building to know all these songs.

It'd be easy to dismiss the story as the work of an obsessive prankster fan who thought it might be entertaining to come up with a forgery of what you might expect Bob Dylan to listen to. But in 2005 - a year before the first episode of Theme Time Radio Hour ever aired - how many people would have expected Bob Dylan to be a fan of (Every Time I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone by Roy Montrell? Or of Buddy and Ella Johnson? Now, Hank Snow, The Staple Singers, even Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, sure. But Charlie Mingus and Eat that Chicken?

Here's what I think. I think the story about the iPod is true. And I think that in early 2005, maybe as early as January 2005, XM Radio and Dylan's organization and Eddie Gorodetsky had agreed in principle - as the politicians like to say - that Dylan would be doing a radio show for XM starting in 2006.

Now they had to figure out what that radio show was going to be, and what Mr. D. was going to play. And I think that from Dylan's direction and from a list of his likes and dislikes someone put together a playlist of eight hours worth of music, ripped that music to an iPod, and sent it on down Dylan's way to churn some thought and to spark ideas for the show.

It's not exactly Theme Time Radio Hour, but you can sure hear the roots of the show, and sometimes you'll find music on the playlist that just seems just perfectly perfect Theme Time material: Kip Anderson's R&B number Knife and Fork for the Food episode for example, or maybe this cut from Dr. Humphrey Bate And His Possum Hunters...

[How Many Biscuits Can You Eat? - Dr. Humphrey Bate And His Possum Hunters]

Dr. Humphrey was really a doctor, as well as a graduate of Nashville's Vanderbilt University. His group was originally known as the Augmented Orchestra, but when the group played on the first ever Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast, promoter and host George Hay saddled them with "the Possum Hunters" moniker, figuring it'd be more of a draw with the listening audience.

There's some very strange references on that iPod playlist, too. There's three Hank Williams cuts, all supposedly from an album titled Codfish Pie. Except, as far as I can tell, there never was a Hank Williams collection with that title. The Davis Sisters Everlovin' is supposedly pulled from something called The Sacred Frowns. Except the only Sacred Frowns I could find a reference to is a group that ex-members of NRBQ formed. Weirdly, NRBQ has covered Everlovin', but why the association in the playlist on Dylan's iPod?

[The Davis Sisters - Everlovin']

Everlovin' was recorded in 19 and 55 by Skeeter Davis and Georgie Davis, who were not sisters. Skeeter was born Mary Frances Penick, and took on the more easily remembered name when she teamed up with the original Davis sister, Betty Jack.

The two would record a #1 hit - later covered by Bob Dylan - I Forgot More Than You'll Even Know in 19 and 53. But Betty Jack would die that year in a car accident that would also badly injure Skeeter. Skeeter would later team with Betty Jack's real sister, Georgie, and the two would release several records still using the The Davis Sisters name until Skeeter went solo in 1956.

Here's another cut from an album that doesn't exist as far as I can tell, Fay Simmons singing that nuclear blast from the past, 19 and 54's You Hit Me Baby Like An Atomic Bomb.

[Fay Simmons - You Hit Me Baby Like An Atomic Bomb]

Like Fay Simmons herself, Atomic Bomb is one Big Unknown. Simmons recorded it on August 23, 1954 in Philadelphia with an unknown band. The composer is unknown, and for reasons unknown the song was never picked up by a label.

Not much more is known about Fay Simmons. She appeared on at least 20 singles in a career that spanned about a decade, but she never grabbed more than East Coast airplay, and never had that breakout song. By 1965 she had disappeared from sight.

A fan of old record labels has the best information about Simmons on the Web at the Color Radio and Doo Wop site which includes two other tracks worth a listen: the closest thing Simmons ever had to a hit: And the Angels Sing, and an up-tempo version of the Doris Day classic, Secret Love.

The iPod's playlist has Atomic Bomb coming from something titled One-Offs, which may have been a private compilation put together by Eddie Gorodetsky. The song doesn't appear to have been commercially released until the `90s from the very obscure Flyright label on a CD called Talk to Me Daddy. You can also find it on that comprehensive collection of Cold War madness, Atomic Platters, which came out in '05. If Theme Time ever does a show on the Bomb, I'll guarantee you that more than one song will come from Atomic Platters.
You're listening to the Dreamtime podcast and Theme Time music that never was, might have been, and could still be.
Like Fay Simmons, The Zion Travelers never got the fame that they deserved, but they were one of the best of the gospel quartets of the `40s and `50s. This cut from the iPod playlist stopped me in my tracks when I first heard it, because it's a near-perfect reworking of The Orioles hit from 19 and 53, Crying in the Chapel, with completely different lyrics.

[A Soldier of the Cross - Zion Travelers]

Was someone on the Theme Time team playing with the idea of at least one show dedicated to wildly different versions of songs? Maybe, because as well as A Soldier of the Cross, the iPod playlist includes the original This May Be the Last Time, recorded by the Staple Singers and later a revised hit for The Rolling Stones, and Loretta Lynn doing two completely different takes on I'm a Honky Tonk Girl.

Speaking of honky-tonkin', my own honky-tonk girl, Jailbait Jones, pointed out that the iPod playlist has over a dozen honky-tonk songs, ranging from Joe Maphis and Rose Lee doing Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music) to Kitty Wells 1952 classic, It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels. Throw in some dee jay chatter, a couple of email readings, and Mr. D. reading the the following poem, and by God you have a a Theme Time episode in the bag...

It's a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes.

The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts.

The banjo tickles and titters too awful.

The chippies talk about the funnies in the papers.

The cartoonists weep in their beer.

Ship riveters talk with their feet

To the feet of floozies under the tables.

A quartet of white hopes mourn with interspersed snickers:

"I got the blues.

I got the blues.

I got the blues."

And . . . as we said earlier:

The cartoonists weep in their beer.

- Carl Sandburg, Windy City poet
We're closing up the honky tonk with a song that would have worked on the Eyes or Drinking episodes, and may still show up on a Theme Time Radio Hour at some point.

A comedian, deejay, singer, club owner, and band leader at various points in career, here's Hank Penny with his hit from 19 and 50, Bloodshot Eyes

[Bloodshot Eyes - Hank Penny]

In the mid-50s, Hank moved his act to Las Vegas where he started a seven-year run at the Golden Nugget casino, fronting a band which at one time included Roy Clark. They'd run into each at least one more time, when Clark beat out Hank for the job hosting Hee Haw.

That's just five of the 171 songs on the iPod's playlist, from Al Urban to the Zion Travelers, from A Cottage for Sale to Your Wild Life's Going to Get You Down. Was it the lost iPod of Theme Time Radio Hour?

We may never know for sure.

You've been listening to the Dreamtime podcast – occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour.

Dreamtime is researched and written by Fred Bals and is a Not Associated With production. As the name says, we're not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else.

Some of the music on Dreamtime is provided via the Podsafe Music Network. Check it out at

Remember that the Dreamtime team loves to get email. You can write us at

The Dreamtime top cats are Curly Lasagna and Shaggy Bear. Our announcers are the notorious honky-tonkin' sisters, Jailbait and Joyride.

Until next time, dream well.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen - On the Road

via the Paper Cuts blog at the NY Times

and Dreamtime favorite Jack Kerouac reading a selection from On the Road, backed by Steve Allen on piano.

More Kerouac and Allen can be heard in Episode 17 - October in the Railroad Earth.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Episode 38 - A Wink or a Nod From Some Unexpected Place

Direct link to mp3.

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"... all it takes is a wink or a nod from some unexpected place to vary the tedium of a baffling existence.

That happened to me when Gorgeous George the great wrestler came to my hometown. In the mid-50s, I was performing in the lobby of the National Guard Armory, the Veterans Memorial Building, the site where all the big shows happened - the livestock shows and hockey games, circuses and boxing shows, traveling preacher revivals, country-and-western jamborees.

Once a year or so, Gorgeous George would bring his whole troupe of performers to town: Goliath, The Vampire, The Twister, The Strangler, The Bone Crusher, The Holy Terror, midget wrestlers, a couple of lady wrestlers, and a whole lot more.

I was playing on a makeshift platform in the lobby of the building with the usual wild activity of people milling about, and no one was paying much attention. Suddenly the doors burst open and in came Gorgeous George himself. He roared in like the storm, didn't go through the backstage area, he came right through the lobby of the building and he seemed like forty men. It was Gorgeous George, in all his magnificent glory with all the lightning and vitality you'd expect. He had valets and was surrounded by women carrying roses, wore a majestic fur-lined gold cape and his long blond curls were flowing. He brushed by the makeshift stage and glanced towards the sound of the music. He didn't break stride, but he looked at me, eyes flashing with moonshine. He winked and seemed to mouth the phrase 'You're making it come alive.'"
- Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One
"I am the Greatest Wrestler in the World!"

During the peak of his career, Gorgeous George's fame was comparable to that of Muhammad Ali's - whose public persona had more than a little of Gorgeous George in it. During the early part of his career, when he was still known as Cassius Clay, Ali was promoting his latest fight on a Las Vegas radio show. Also appearing was Gorgeous George, who was talking up his own fight and who worked himself into a frenzy describing the hurt he planned for opponent,
"If this bum beats me, I’ll crawl down Las Vegas Boulevard on my hands and knees. But it won’t happen. I’ll tear his arm off. For I am the greatest wrestler in the world!"
Like the young Dylan, the young Ali was entranced by George's rhetoric, and became even more enthusiastic when he discovered that George regularly sold out wherever he appeared. Taking up George's invitation, Ali went to see his match and, as he later remembered, "I saw 15,000 people coming to see this man get beat, and his talking did it. I said, 'This is a g-o-o-o-d idea!'"

Gorgeous George's influence can also be seen in Little Richard, James Brown, and Liberace, as well as nearly every other sports or entertainment figure - such as Elton John - who ever adopted a flamboyant, outrageous style.

Gorgeous George was born George Wagner in Seward, Nebraska on March 15, 1915. He began his wrestling career during his teens - often competing at local carnivals, where the prize purse averaged 35 cents. By age 17, George was getting bookings through the area's top promoter. At 5'9' and 215 pounds, Wagner was not all that an imposing a figure, but he developed a reputation as a solid wrestler, and by the late `30s he had legitimately captured two regional titles.

He also met his first wife, Betty Hanson, who George subsequently married in an in-ring ceremony. That turned out to be so popular that the couple incorporated the wedding into their tour and would re-enact it in arenas throughout the U.S. Seeing how show biz elements helped draw crowds may have started George thinking about developing a more memorable shtick than simply straight wrestling. At least one report has it that he got the idea for an effeminate, dandy villain wrestler after reading an article about a now-forgotten contemporary who wrestled under the name Lord Patrick Lansdowne, and who would appear at bouts as a British Lord attended by a valet.

The Human Orchid

Also known as "The Human Orchid," George debuted his new persona in 19 and 41 in Eugene, Oregon, and was instantly slapped with the title "Gorgeous George" by a bemused ring announcer. George rapidly became the villain crowds loved to hate. One of the first wrestlers to use the type of flamboyant entrance now common in pro wrestling matches, George would arrive to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, escorted down a personal red carpet by his ring valet “Jeffries,” who would carry a silver mirror for George to gaze upon as rose petals were strewn at his feet.

These entrances often took longer than the actual bout, as George still had to exchange taunts with the crowd, have Jeffries spray the ring and unwilling opponent with disinfectant which George claimed was "Chanel #10." The show would culminate in George's refusal to let the referee inspect him for foreign objects unless he was also doused by Jeffries while George shrieked in horror, "Keep your filthy hands off me!"

Eventually the match would begin, and George would brazenly ignore the rules while chanting his motto to the audience: "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!"

It was an outrageous, larger-than-life act, tailor-made for the new medium, television. Gorgeous George would become the biggest drawing card of the wrestling industry, as well as one of its first genuine stars. It's been claimed that Gorgeous George was responsible for selling as many TV sets as Milton Berle, Mr. Television, himself.

By the '50s, Gorgeous George was earning over $100,000 a year, making him that decade's highest paid athlete. His most famous match would take place in 1959 before 14,000 fans and millions of television viewers where he would be defeated by longtime rival "Whipper" Billy Watson and would lose his treasured platinum locks to the Whipper's razor.

Although he would wrestle for three more years, and in fact, knowing a good crowd-pleaser when he saw one, would lose his hair to an opponent's razor twice more in those three years, age and a tough lifestyle eventually caught up with the Gorgeous One. George retired in 1962, bought into a turkey ranch and opened a cocktail lounge in Van Nuys, California, "Gorgeous George's Ringside Restaurant," where he would entertain customers with card tricks. Although filmed before his retirement, you can see a different side of Gorgeous George in this clip from You Asked For It, as he demonstrates some sleight-of-hand for the audience and host Art Baker.

Our Daddy, Gorgeous George

Gorgeous George passed away on December 26, 1963 at age 48. Although he had made millions during his wrestling career and for a time was probably the most recognizable entertainer on the planet, Gorgeous George would die broke. He was buried at Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood, California, the final resting place for several other celebrities including Oliver Hardy; Curly Joe from The Three Stooges; and in a coincidental Dreamtime connection, Cliff ("Ukulele Ike") Edwards, the voice of Jiminy Cricket, who also died penniless.

Gorgeous George's grave can be found in plot 6657, near the northeast side of the fountain. A plaque reads "Love to Our Daddy Gorgeous George."

Audio excerpt from Chronicles: Volume One, read by Sean Penn.


You've been listening to the Dreamtime podcast – occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour.

Dreamtime is researched and written by Fred Bals and is a Not Associated With production. As the name says, we're not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else.

Some of the music on Dreamtime is provided via the Podsafe Music Network. Check it out at

Remember that the Dreamtime team loves to get email. You can write us at

The Dreamtime top cats are Curly Lasagna and Shaggy Bear. Our announcers are the notorious honky-tonkin' sisters, Jailbait and Joyride.

Until next time, dream well.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Anita O'Day - Let Me Off Uptown

Ms. Anita O'Day, a three-time favorite of TTRH, she of the "Dance" (Ten Cents a Dance); "Tears" (And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine); and "New York" (Let Me Off Uptown) episodes. Here's Anita with the Gene Krupa Orchestra doing that last song. I add my recommendation to that of Our Host that you pick up her gritty, noirish biography, High Times, Hard Times.

There's also a new documentary out on Anita O'Day - The Life of a Jazz Singer - that is getting good reviews and probably well worth hunting down if you're lucky enough to live somewhere slightly less rural than New Hampshire. The last documentary that played in Dreamtime's home town was Our Friend, the Beaver at the Grange Hall.

Bryant Gumbel: "Your personal experiences include rape, abortion, jail, heroin addiction..."

Anita O'Day: "That's just the way it went down, Bryant."

Here's the trailer for Anita O'Day - The Life of a Jazz Singer