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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Episode 47 - Xmas with Freddie B.

Photo: Jitterbugging in Negro juke joint. Memphis, Tennessee, November 1939. Marion Post Wolcott, photographer. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Direct link to mp3.

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We try to stay away from just doing playlists without commentary at Dreamtime, as we're trying to do our best to stay in the spirit - if not always the letter - of the Law of Fair Use.

But, as a one-time special gift to our listeners, here's a Dreamtime Christmas playlist from us to you - sans narrative for once from Your Host, Fred Bals.

For all of you who enjoy commentary and history on each selection, that can still be found at the Dreamtime blog (that's right here!).

From all of us to all of you, a safe and Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

~ Fred, Jailbait, Joyride, Shaggy Bear, and Curly Lasagna

1. At the Christmas Ball - Bessie Smith.

Reportedly the very first Christmas Blues song ever recorded, way back on November 18, 19 and 25 in New York City. Bessie shares vocals with Joe Smith who's also on cornet, Charlie Green is on trombone, and Fletcher Henderson is sitting at the piano.

At the Christmas Ball would become the center of a lawsuit between Jack Gee Jr., Smith's adopted son and heir, and Columbia Records. The song was originally rejected by Columbia, and wasn't released until 1951 when a researcher found it buried in the Columbia vaults - still with a ledger sheet attached noting Rejected and the column recording payment to Smith left blank. Gee's lawyers maintained that since Smith had never been paid for the song her estate still owned full rights to it, and Columbia was liable for damages.

Unfortunately for Gee, by the time the suit was brought in the mid `70s, "Columbia's arguably wrongful possession of exclusive rights to 'At the Christmas Ball' [had] ripened into complete and perfect ownership, good against Bessie Smith's estate...." according to the court, and he lost the case.

2. Christmas Island - Bob Atcher and the Dinning Sisters.

Here's the version I mentioned in my video post featuring the Andrews Sisters. Recorded in 19 and 50, I like this one better than the Andrews' more standard orchestral version because it's a good representative example of how Hawaiian music crept into both country swing and pop music.

As I mentioned in that earlier post, the Dinning Sisters were another "sisters" singing act that, while not remembered as well as The Andrews Sisters, had no small measure of success during their career. The Dinning Sisters' biggest hit was the million seller Buttons and Bows, originally featured in the Bob Hope movie, "Paleface. " One of the sisters, Jean, would later turn her hand to songwriting and pen a hit for her younger brother Mark with Teen Angel.

Known as the "Dean of Cowboy Singers," most of Bob Atcher's collaborations were with singer "Bonnie Blue Eyes," (Loretta Applegate) or his younger brother Randy. He probably hooked up with the Dinning Sisters when he joined their "National Barn Dance" radio show on Chicago station WLS in 19 and 48. As far as I can tell, Christmas Island was the only song Atcher and the Dinnings ever recorded together.

3. Jingle Jangle Jump - The Dexter Gordon Quartet (featuring Gladys Bentley).

A rara avis (that's a hard-to-find rental car) indeed with a Theme Time Radio Hour connection. Gladys "Fatso" Bentley as the vocalist on 19 and 52's Jingle Jangle Jump, backed by Dexter Gordon and his group.

Bentley showed up in TTRH Season 1's Summer episode, singing Juneteenth Jamboree. Dylan refers to Bentley as "Fatso," and to her as "him" in his commentary during that show. But while Bentley did perform under the "Fatso" nickname for a time, "he" was actually a "she," an openly gay performer who was well-known during the Harlem Renaissance of the `20s, and who once announced an "engagement" to her white, lesbian lover in the New York City society columns.

By the late `30s, Bentley had moved to California, where she maintained her career in a small way at lesbian and gay bars, although with nowhere near the flamboyant success of her Harlem days. Jingle Jangle Jump was recorded towards the end of her performing career. The same year she'd renounce lesbianism, claimed to have married two different men, and eventually devote herself to her church, The Temple of Love in Christ, Inc. Bentley was about to become a minister in that church when she died at age 52 in 19 and 60.

4. Christmas Mornin' Blues - Kansas City Kitty.

New Year he won't be here, 'cause death will be his Santa Claus.

At one time, the term "Santa Claus" was used in the black community to mean a Christmas gift as well as the Jolly Old Elf. Thus, "death will be his Santa Claus," and the title of one of the stranger Christmas songs ever recorded, Junior's a Jap Girl's Christmas for his Santa Claus, where the singer, a soldier in WWII, promises to bring back an enemy skull for his son's Christmas present.

Kansas City Kitty was the title of a tune released in 1929 by Harry Reser's Syncopators, and the pseudonym of a blues singer working between 1930 and `34, possibly Jane Lucas, Mozelle Anderson or Victoria Spivey, with most historians split between Lucas and Anderson as the real identity of "Kitty." Whoever she was, Kitty usually worked with "Georgia Tom" on piano, full name Thomas Dorsey, but not that Tommy Dorsey.

5. Did You Spend Christmas Day in Jail? - The Reverend J.M. Gates.

He's talking to you, you Midnight Rambler! Recorded sermons were among the most popular of the so-called "race records" of the `20s and `30s, and Gates was was one of the most popular sermonizers, cutting over two hundred recordings between 1926 up to his death in 1941.

The Good Reverend liked Christmas especially to belabor and rescue his sinning congregation. Did You Spend Christmas Day in Jail? was his follow-up to an earlier recording, Will You Have Christmas Dinner in Jail?, and variations on the theme included Will Hell Be Your Santa Claus? Death Might Be Your Santa Claus, and You May Be Alive or You May Be Dead, Christmas Day.

6. White Christmas - Patti Smith.

We edge dangerously close to Dr. Demento territory with this cut, but I think Patti's sincerity, if uneven reading of the Christmas classic, makes it a worthwhile addition. Sometimes mistakenly identified as a bootleg, this was the 1978 A-side of a (somewhat) officially released 45 recorded in support of musician/producer Lenny Kaye's launch of an independent label.

Unfortunately, Smith was already under contract to another label, so the single was credited to a "R.E.F.M." Fans have speculated that the acronym stands for anything from "Records Exist For Music" to "Radio Ethiopia Field Marshal," but the exact meaning remains unknown, as does the producer of the single, who may have been Todd Rundgren or Lenny Kaye himself.

7. Papa Ain't No Santa Claus (Mama Ain't No Christmas Tree) - Butterbeans & Susie.

Jodie and Susie Edwards stage act of Butterbeans & Susie was considered a bit too raunchy for polite company, but they were one of the top comedy music teams on the minstrel show and vaudeville circuits during the `20s and `30s. Their typical act featured a duet, a blues song by Susie, a cakewalk dance and a comedy sketch, interspersed with rounds of marital bickering, usually centered on Butterbean's ah, "shortcomings."

Papa Ain't No Santa Claus is a classic example of one of their comic songs, filled with double entendres and almost the equal to Susie's signature number, I Want a Hot Dog for My Roll.

8. Shake Hands with Santa Claus - Louis Prima.

Perennial TTRH favorite Louis Prima recorded several Christmas-themed songs including Senor Santa Claus; Santa Claus, How Come Your Eyes Are Green When Last Year They Were Blue?; and his first, best-known, and arguably best Santa song, What Will Santa Claus Say When He Finds Everybody Swinging? from 19 and 36. Prima even did a turn as the voice of Santa Claus on wife Keely Smith's recording of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Since TTRH had What Will Santa Claus Say... on its Christmas playlist last (and this) year, Dreamtime weighs in with Prima's Shake Hands with Santa Claus from 19 and 51. Maybe next year we'll be back with that musical question, Santa Claus, How Come Your Eyes Are Green When Last Year They Were Blue?

9. Christmas around the World - Christmas in Jamaica - Brent Dowe and Christmas in Vegas - Dale Watson.

We pair these two up, as Dreamtime is dreaming of anyplace warm and without the white stuff - and we don't mean cocaine - on this snowy New Hampshire day. Brent Dowe is probably best-known for his work with The Melodians, and for Rivers of Babylon. The Melodians sold over 75,000 copies of their version, but the song was a mega-hit for Boney M. Their version of the song charted at #1 for 5 weeks in the U.K. Dowe also had a successful career as a single act, before passing away much too early in 2006 at age 59.

Someone once said of Dale Watson that he plays country like country was when country was country, a sentiment Our Host would probably approve of. Watson rejects the "country" label these days, but whatever he's playing, I like his Elvis-flavored Christmas in Vegas, which has a nod to the King's Viva Las Vegas. If you like what you hear, you can find more info about Dale at his Web site.

10. The Only Thing I Want for Christmas - Eddie Cantor.

We're closing out tonight's Christmas show with a song that was a new discovery for me, and my current Christmas favorite - Eddie Cantor and the Mitchell Choir's 1939 single, The Only Thing I Want for Christmas. If you've been cruising these here interwebs for the past month or so, you may have already come across The Only Thing... as it's been featured on several popular sites, including BoingBoing.

I love the recording, Cantor's vocals, and especially the sentiment, which I think a good way too close...

What do I want for Christmas? Well it’s simple and its plain.
It isn’t tied with ribbons or wrapped in cellophane

If Santa passes by my stocking, I promise not to mind a lot
The only thing I want for Christmas is
just to keep the things that I’ve got
A pair of loving arms around me, a garden of forget-me-not
The only thing I want for Christmas
is just to keep the things that I’ve got.

May you all have a Merry Christmas,
and may you keep the things you have.

Judy Garland - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

There are several types of Christmas songs: the religious, the traditional, the novelty songs and, of course, the bittersweet. Most of us get the blues at one time or another during Christmas. It's as much part of the season as candy canes and snowmen.

Here's one of the most bittersweet of those bittersweet Christmas songs, the original Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, introduced by a 22-year-old Judy Garland in 19 and 44's classic Meet Me in St. Louis, which this clip is from.

In 1943 Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane were hired to pen the songs for Meet Me in St. Louis, which would pair Garland with her future husband, director Vincente Minnelli. Though Martin and Blane shared credit for the tune, Martin was actually the sole writer of Merry Little Christmas according to this Entertainment Weekly article tracing the song's history.

Merry Little Christmas is always close to the top in ASCAP's Top 25 Holiday songs. Last year it was in the #2 slot, right behind the usual #1, The Christmas Song. In 2007, both songs were trumped by Winter Wonderland, according to ASCAP.

Originally from Minnesota, a birthplace she shares with Prince as Our Host often notes, Garland was featured on the first episode of the first season of TTRH with her version of Come Rain or Come Shine. And we'd also feature Judy here at Dreamtime, in our first Halloween show, where we put an outtake from The Wizard of Oz on the turntable, Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, and Ray Bolger performing The Jitterbug.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rick Nelson - The Christmas Song

Appropriately, Rick, still Ricky then, sang this song 51 years ago today - December 19th, 19 and 56 - in an episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, "Busy Christmas."

You can pick up that episode and a companion Christmas episode on DVD at Amazon. Also featured in the clip is a very young Tracy Nelson, Rick's daughter.

Although feeling he was a bit too polished and slick, Dylan mentions Nelson with obvious respect and admiration in Chronicles: Volume One, and has played his Waiting in School in Season 1, as well as his version of Hello, Mary Lou in the first show of Season 2. We first mentioned Rick at Dreamtime in Episode 13 - where we played his Travelin' Man, as well as his on- and off-air relationship with Lorrie Collins in Episode 41, And the Angels Sing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Island - The Andrews Sisters

How'dja like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island?

I have to say that from snowy New Hampshire's perspective, the prospect looks inviting. I wish I could have found the Bob Atcher and Dinning Sisters version as video, since it's the music I think of when I think of Christmas Island, but the Andrews Sisters do a nice turn on this song from 19 and 46.

Another one of the "sisters" singing acts popular in the 40s and 50s, The Dinning Sisters were probably best-known in the Midwest. Three sisters, twins Jean and Ginger and sister Lou, were winning amateur singing contests before the age of ten, and later began to perform with older brother Ace Dinning's orchestra. The young ladies eventually made their way to Chicago, where they were picked up by NBC Radio and ultimately became the highest paid radio act in the Windy City. And an interesting piece of trivia for you, Jean Dinning wrote the song "Teen Angel" later in her career.

One of the more popular entertainers of the post WWII-era, Bob Atcher had a 21-year career at OKeh and Columbia Records, as well as being a featured performer on the WLS National Barn Dance out of Chicago. His range of material ran from traditional country to comic novelty songs. In 1948, Atcher cut two of the earliest LPs ever released by Columbia, a pair of discs devoted to cowboy songs and folk music.

The Andrews Sisters - LaVerne, Maxene, and Patti - are still probably the most successful female vocal group of the 20th century in the U.S. having 113 singles chart entries between 1938-1951, an average of more than eight per year. Their second Decca single, Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,"an Anglicized version of a Yiddish song, became their first hit, making ts first appearance on Your Hit Parade on January 8, 1938, and charting at #1 two weeks later.

The Andrews Sisters premiered their own weekly network radio show, Eight-to-the-Bar Ranch - as in Beat Me Daddy... - at the end of 1944, and had one of their biggest hits with Rum and Coca-Cola which went to #1 in February 19 and 45, becoming the top single of the year. That song, as Constant Listeners to TTRH or Dreamtime know, was not written by Morey Amsterdam no matter what the copyright says, but by Lord Invader and Lionel Belasco.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dean Martin - The Christmas Blues

We're going to try our hand with a video Christmas countdown for the next week featuring performers who have made an appearance on Theme Time Radio Hour and Dreamtime.

First of our Christmas Crooners is Dino himself, who sang I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine on Episode #1, the Weather show. Dylan remarked in that show that, "we forget how much Elvis wanted to be Dean," an off-hand comment that would eventually inspire the first Dreamtime show. Dean Martin would also be featured in Dreamtime Episode 11 - All Mobbed Up.

Originally released as a 19 and 53 single, The Christmas Blues appears on the Making Spirits Bright CD, and can also be downloaded as an mp3 through Amazon.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

007 (Shanty Town) - Desmond Dekker

Desmond Dekker performs his 19 and 67 hit in 2004, two years before the King of Ska's death at age 63.

It's a bit bemusing watching aging white mods rocking to a song celebrating rude boy gangsters with lyrics like, "them a loot, them a shoot, them a wail, at Shanty Town." But, what the hey, radical chic crosses both sides of the Atlantic.

Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar - Maurice Rocco and Mabel Lee

Not The Andrews Sisters performing their paean to masochism, but I think Our Host would approve of this Soundie from 19 and 40 anyway. Featuring Maurice Rocco on boogie-woogie piano and Mabel Lee offering what they used to call in carny-speak, an "interpretative dance."

Born Maurice Rockhold in Oxford, Ohio, Rocco was an early progenitor of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, being one of the first to play the piano while standing up. He studied at the music school of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, intending to pursue a career as a concert pianist. But the ol' boogie-woogie claimed his soul and he ended up beating eight to the bar on local radio stations in and around Cincinnati. He'd later work with the Noble Sissle band and eventually form his own group, Maurice Rocco and his Rockin' Rhythm Boys, which played to enthusiastic audiences in New York and Chicago night clubs, theaters and radio stations. Rocco also had a creditable career in the movies, performing in Duffy's Tavern, Incendiary Blonde, 52nd Street, and Vogues of 1938.

Mabel Lee appears to have had a successful career struttin' her stuff, as her jazz dancing appears in several early jukebox Soundies, including ones with Louis Jordan, Noble Sissle, and Pigmeat Markham. Soundies director William Forest Crouch claimed to have"discovered" Mabel Lee, though she was already well-known in the Harlem community as one of the original Apollo Girls and for her night club performances. Although better known as a dancer, Lee also sang in several of the jukebox shorts, and also had a small acting career. One of Lee's most memorable performances was in 19 and 43's Chicken Shack Shuffle, another Soundie reviewed here by "Paghat the Ratgirl." An excerpt...

The Chicken Shack Shuffle (1943) celebrates a Harlem landmark, Tillie's Chicken Shack, the place for fried chicken & sweet potato pie during the Harlem Renaissance, right up to today.

In the 1920s & '30s it was one of the few places where white musicians could jam with black musicians in order to learn how to play jazz right. It remains a Harlem landmark up on Sugar Hill.

Mabel Lee sings the title number, wearing as little as was legally possible at the time, a slightly ridiculous feathered bikini.

The soundies were not subject to the motion picture decency code, & between filming burlesque acts for the panoramas in the adult arcades & getting girls to show lots of skin in musical numbers for the entirely above-board, those panorama boxes whether in the back room or front room alike were selling sexiness.

So Mabel wears a tiara & feathered bathing suit, the same as worn by Pauline Bryant in Jungle Jamboree (1943). On a set tricked out to look like a chicken restaurant, Mabel sings:

"There's a skiffle & a skuffle/ In the chicken shack shuffle/ You can do it any way you will/ You jump to the left & you cross your legs/ And tip along like you're walking on eggs/ Do anything but a pigeon wing/ Strut like a rooster but you gotta swing.

"There's a riffle & ruffle/ In the chicken shack shuffle/ Up on Sugar Hill/ In Harlem, up on Sugar Hill."

Mabel then dances a wild long-legged dance around the chicken shack, while boogie piano provides the instrumental. The uncredited pianist was the legendary Dan Burley.... Mabel's voice for Chicken Shack Shuffle is adequate; but without showing so much of her gorgeous body the voice might not have been enough to make it seem like a good song.

At 80+, Mabel Lee is still working, recently offering Senior Dance classes at the 2007 Tapology Tap Dance Festival.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Collins Kids - Let's Have a Party

I was going to post Elvis' better-known version (from 19 and 57's Loving You), but ran across my faves, the Collins Kids, and decided to go for this one instead. Larry Collins on the double-neck Mosrite. His sis, Lorrie, rocking out.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Lesley Gore - It's My Party

... and she'll cry if she wants to. A great little clip from "Hullabaloo." Watching the background go-go dancers who, my god, look like real people, slightly wide hips and out-of-step syncopation and all, is worth the price of admission alone.

Gore recorded It's My Party in 19 and 63, at age 16 and it would be her only #1 hit. She'd follow up later in the year with a sequel song, Judy's Turn to Cry, which tells the story of the lead character reuniting with her boyfriend, Johnny, after he dumps Judy. Those fickle kids!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Wanda Jackson - Let's Have a Party

I haven't listened to this week's "Party" episode yet, but I'll take any opportunity to post about Wanda Jackson. According to a 1996 interview, this clip is from a show called Star Route, and you'll note a criminally young Glen Campbell on guitar.

Wanda: ...I had been doing the nation's first network country music TV show, the Red Foley show, it was called "Ozark Jubilee" and later, "Jubilee U.S.A.," which is referred to as "The Red Foley Show". I was with them for five years. On that show, I did country and some rock, too, whatever record I had out at the time, I'd sing that. So, television wasn't really new to me. I enjoyed doing "Ranch Party." I like all the people on it. It seemed kind of strange to me, at the time, though (both laugh). But, it was a popular show, and I knew everyone on it, so it was always fun to do. I have some of the old videos of my performances on it.

John: Yes, so have I!

Wanda: You do, too? (laughs)

John: I have one of you. I don't know what it's from, of you singing, "Let's Have A Party" with Glen Campbell on guitar.

Wanda: I think that was called "Star Route."

John: Right. I've got some episodes of that show on video, too . . .

Wanda: Yeah, Glen Campbell was playing guitar . . .

John: Yeah, Glen Campbell was in the house band (and a slightly older Collins Kids were regulars --John).

Wanda: And they had me sitting on a stool and everything! (laughs) It was kind of funny, trying to sing "Let's Have A Party" like that. I wasn't comfortable with that. That's what we called the "Hollywood production." It would take them three days to tape a thirty minute show, and you just got so worn out, you did it however they wanted, just to get it over with (laughs). You got tired of fighting 'em.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Daydream - The Lovin' Spoonful

One of those songs where everybody gets the title wrong, most people thinking it's (What a day for a) Daydream. While the Lovin' Spoonful had a profound influence on a number of bands, including The Grateful Dead, and a number of memorable songs, including this one, only one would chart to #1, Summer in the City.

Everly Brothers - All I Have To Do Is Dream

Written by the legendary husband and wife songwriting team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, who Mr. D. mentioned in the "Classic Rock" episode when playing another song the team wrote, Rocky Top. The Everly's version is the only song to be at #1 on all of Billboard's singles charts simultaneously, on June 2, 1958.