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Bob Michel

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  1. Here's a group portrait, taken last year, of some of the regulars at Fergie's in Philadelphia. The fellow with the concertina is yours truly.


    Fergie's, on Sansom Street in Center City, has for many years hosted, from 4 to 7 on Saturdays, the best Irish session in town. Should you ever swing by this way, drop me a line and I'll give you directions, introductions, etc.


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly


  2. This is at least the second time that capitalization has been arbitrarily removed from a topic title I posted (I did indeed type "Newfoundland"; I checked). A small thing, but most annoying. I reliably make plenty of my own mistakes without the assistance of lame software algorithms.


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

  3. Canadian members, or others who have access to CBC broadcasts, may be interested in the documentary "Newfoundland at Armageddon," which will air at 8 PM EDT on Thursday, June 30. It's the tragic story of the Newfoundland Regiment, which was practically wiped out on July 1, 1916, the horrific first day of the Battle of the Somme. The film's reenactment scenes feature present-day Newfoundlanders who are descendants of members of the doomed regiment.


    I haven't yet figured out (suggestions welcome) whether or when I'll be able to view the film in the U.S., where CBC content isn't normally made available. But I'm keen to see it, both because I'm intrigued with the subject matter and approach and because my performance of "Keep the Home Fires Burning" (with concertina, of course!) is used in the soundtrack.


    More information:




    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

  4. A hiatus of several weeks has revived my appetite for exploring Tin Pan Alley songs from the WWI era, and I've decided to inaugurate a second series on YouTube.


    The first series was very much focused on using the concertina for vocal accompaniment; this time around I'm planning to vary the instrumental palette a good bit. For that reason I won't be posting the links in this forum, unless a selection happens to feature concertina prominently. But I know a number of folks here were kind enough to follow the first series closely, and I wanted to let you know that I'm back at it, though this time I'll be relying (largely) on different tools.


    Here's the link to the first, concertina-centric series:




    And here's the link to the first entry in the new one:




    Again, thanks to all who have taken an interest in these researches. Your comments and suggestions have been very much appreciated!


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

  5. Welcome.


    You can compare the two layouts here:




    I'm not familiar with the Wren. But even if you have no musical background at all (you didn't say), you can tell what you have by pressing the first (topmost) button on the right side in the accidental (farthest from you) row. If the note you hear when you push the bellows closed is lower in pitch than the note you hear on the draw, it's the Wheatstone system. If the push-note is higher than the draw-note, it's Jeffries.


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

  6. Here is a linked index to all the songs in the WWI project.


    Once I've checked that all the links work, I'll add this index to the description of each video on YouTube (once I figure out how to bring it in under the character limit).


    If you notice any errors, will you let me know? Thank you!


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly




    Fifty Popular Songs of the WWI era (1909-1920): a Centennial Commemoration.


    Arranged for voice with Anglo concertina accompaniment and performed by Bob Michel. Recorded at home and uploaded to YouTube between August 2015 and May 2016.


    Music and lyrics of all songs are in the Public Domain. Arrangements and performances ©2015-2016 by Bob Michel.




    1. "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" (1912)



    2. "Keep the Home Fires Burning" (1914)



    3. "Send Me Away with a Smile" (1917)



    4. "For Me and My Gal" (1917)



    5. "Would You Rather Be a Colonel..." (1918)



    6. "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier" (1915)



    7. "I've Got My Captain Working for Me Now" (1919)



    8. "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now" (1909)



    9. "Three Wonderful Letters from Home" (1918)



    10. "Oh! How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning" (1918)



    11. "America, Here's My Boy" (1917)



    12. "When It's Orange Blossom Time in Loveland" (1915)



    13. "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm" (1919)



    14. "Yellow Dog Blues" (1915/1919)



    15. "Hello Central, Give Me No Man's Land" (1918)



    16. "They Go Wild Simply Wild over Me" (1917)



    17. "The War in Snider's Grocery Store" (1914)



    18. "Beale Street" (1916)



    19. "He's Had No Lovin' for a Long, Long Time" (1919)



    20. "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" (1917)



    21. "So Long, Mother" (1917)



    22. "He's a Devil in His Own Home Town" (1914)



    23. "Come On Papa" (1918)



    24. "Over There" (1917)



    25. "Smiles" (1917)



    26. "We Don't Want the Bacon" (1918)



    27. "The Last Long Mile" (1917)



    28. "You Never Can Be Too Sure about the Girls" (1917)



    29. "Are You from Dixie?" (1915)



    30. "Goodbye Broadway, Hello France!" (1917)



    31. "Oh, What a Time for the Girlies" (1918)



    32. "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" (1918)



    33. "The Rose of No Man's Land" (1918)



    34. "Salvation Lassie of Mine" (1919)



    35. "That's the Way That I've Missed You" (1919)



    36. "There's a Quaker Down in Quaker Town" (1916)



    37. "Madelon (I'll Be True to the Whole Regiment)" (1918)



    38. "Peg O' My Heart" (1913)



    39. "Stay Down Here Where You Belong" (1914)



    40. "Ireland Must Be Heaven, For My Mother Came from There" (1916)



    41. "There's a Long, Long Trail" (1914)



    42. "If He Can Fight Like He Can Love..." (1918)



    43. "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" (1919)



    44. "Oh! Frenchy" (1918)



    45. "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine" (1910)



    46. "Everybody's Jazzin' It" (1917)



    47. "Put Me to Sleep with an Old Fashioned Melody..." (1915)



    48. "They're Wearing 'Em Higher in Hawaii" (1915)



    49. "I'll See You in C-U-B-A" (1920)



    50. "Palesteena" (Leena from Palesteena)" (1920)


  7. And so we come, with entry #50, to the end of this little project:




    Con Conrad (1891-1938), co-creator of this essential ditty, would go on to write the music for "Ma! He's Making Eyes at Me" (1928), and to win the Academy Award for Best Song in 1934 for "The Continental." His collaborator J. Russel Robinson (1892-1963), was a ragtime composer who had worked with W.C. Handy, and who played piano in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, which had a hit with their (instrumental) version of this song. He'd go on to pen dozens of songs through the '20s and '30s, including Cab Calloway's "Reefer Man" (1932).


    It was just over a year ago, while recording an earlier version of this song (http://youtu.be/eUPp-s_z92s), that I first thought of putting together an anthology of WWI-era songs sung with only concertina accompaniment. The truth is that I didn't feel up to that sort of performance at the time: I had (and still have) a lot to learn about using the instrument to complement vocals. So for all these discussions of period songwriters' careers, historical background, cultural trends, etc., etc., the focus of my interest all along has been simply figuring out how to do that. I think that at the outset I assumed that my accompaniments would naturally grow more sophisticated and ambitious over time; if anything, I think they've become simpler. But I choose to regard that as a healthy sign. The songs, after all, are the thing.


    Thanks to all who contributed comments, suggestions and links to related performances. I've learned a lot from this project, and may share my thoughts about it at some point. Apart from that, I'll try to put together a linked list of the fifty songs, in case anyone might find that useful. We still have nearly a year to go until the centennial of the American entry into the War, and as I've barely scratched the surface of the repertoire, I may yet choose to revisit this territory. But in the meantime I need to get out of Tin Pan Alley for a while and take on some new project that's a bit closer to my trad roots. I have several ideas.


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

  8. The forty-ninth and penultimate song in this series marks a transition to new themes and new styles, as well as our farewell to Irving Berlin, who in 1920 had already enjoyed a decade of prominence in the songwriting business, but who was just getting started on his long and staggeringly productive career.




    In the U.S., the years of the First World War were also the climax of the decades-long controversy over Temperance, the battle between the Wets and the Drys. The Drys won, with the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution and the passage, over President Wilson's veto, of the Volstead Act, both in 1919. The vast and dubious social experiment of Prohibition commenced in 1920, and lasted thirteen years.


    Prohibition is more or less coterminous with what we think of as the Jazz Age, a period radically different in its music and mores from the one we've been exploring these past months. Not surprisingly, Berlin was among the first writers of popular music to signal the change, and this song counts among the very first to respond to the new regime. It does so with a broad wink, or perhaps a rolling of the eyes. Alcohol had only been banned for a few months when it appeared, and already there's a very strong sense that this isn't going to go at all well.


    A huge portion of the nation's energies over the next decade would be spent in arranging ways to get around the law. And one of the first ways to come to mind--at least, evidently, in Berlin's circle--was escape to an extraterritorial refuge which is just now in the process of once again becoming a destination for Americans, after a hiatus that's lasted nearly my entire lifetime. I've always wanted to go, and within the next few years I hope to plan a Wonderful Trip. One more Prohibition bites the dust.


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

  9. The Hawaiian craze of the 1920s, which had a huge and lasting impact on American popular music (we owe it not just ukuleles, but every flavor of slide guitar), got its start at the Panama-Pacific Exposition, held in San Francisco in 1915. Although the United States had annexed the islands back in 1898, 1915 marks the beginning of their hold on the popular imagination in this country. And nothing Hawaiian exercised a stronger hold--on the male imagination, at any rate--than the discovery of hula dancers, a cultural milestone commemorated in song #48, which was published in the following year:




    Hula is of course a subtle and sophisticated art form which doesn't give up its secrets easily to a casual observer--an observation which could hardly be less relevant to the excitement engendered by the sudden appearance of scandalously bare-legged tropical dancers in the strait-laced America of 1915. The current item was the work of two Tin Pan Alley stalwarts, composer Halsey K. Mohr ("Give Your Smiles to All the Boys, But Keep Your Heart for Me," "Driving Home the Sheep with Mary," etc. etc.) and lyricist Joe Goodwin ("When I Get You Alone Tonight," "I'm Knee Deep in Daisies," etc., etc.).* It's notable as one of the first Hawaiian-themed songs written in response to the Exposition. The flood would not be far behind.


    I know of no particular connection between Hawaii and concertinas; I imagine the climate must be a challenge to maintenance. Before settling on the Anglo as the accompaniment of choice for this series I did record a version (predictably) with uke:




    Bob Michel

    Near Philly


    *Among his patriotic numbers Joe Goodwin also penned "Liberty Bell It's Time To Ring Again," and as a native Philadelphian I'm intrigued to learn that that local symbol was shipped to San Francisco by rail for the fair--the last time it ever left my home town.

  10. I missed out on any kind of formal instruction in music, and very much wish I hadn't. When I was ten I found my father's old mandolin in the garage, consulted an encyclopedia on how to set it up, and started teaching myself tunes.


    And I've basically been teaching myself tunes ever since. I ditched mandolin early on for guitar, only picking it up again thirty years later. Added a pawnshop five-string banjo around the time I finished high school, and--after falling hard for the Irish music revival in the '70s--whistle and then flute several years after that. Squeezeboxes didn't come into the picture until the '90s.


    What little I know about theory came late and laboriously; I still have big gaps to fill. I can learn either quickly by ear or slowly by eye. The older I get the more determined I seem to be to move out of my trad comfort zone (witness all those WWI-era songs). My biggest musical regret is my handlessness around keyboards; the musicians I most envy are probably jazz pianists. At this point I suspect I'll be deferring that aspiration until my next lifetime.


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

  11. The ukulele version

    I'll confess that when I first started toying with the idea of researching and recording a bunch of songs from that period, my first thought was to accompany them on a uke (though it would be just slightly anachronistic: full-blown uke mania was still a few years off during WWI).


    "But that's so hip and trendy just now," I thought. "Let's see, what would be a more fitting instrument for a greybeard like myself...?"


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

  12. As I've no doubt mentioned before, the entries in this series fall into three groups:


    1) songs that entered the popular canon, and have remained in circulation throughout the past century (e.g., "Smiles," "Are You from Dixie?");


    2) songs, some familiar, some less so, that are evocative of the period and accessible in multiple recorded versions including, these days, some on YouTube (e.g., "Good-Bye Broadway, Hello France," "Hello Central, Give Me No Man's Land");


    3. songs that have been more or less forgotten over the years, and which I've never (or hardly ever) actually heard performed (e.g., "When It's Orange Blossom Time in Loveland," "There's a Quaker Down in Quaker Town").


    Song #47 is in the third category. I bought the sheet music on eBay because I liked the cover art, and it's been hanging on my wall for a long time, but only last year did I get around to learning it. It is indeed a very old-fashioned piece, but I'm quite fond of it:*




    1915 is a bit late to be citing ragtime as a benchmark of modernity, but Harry Jentes, who wrote the music, was himself a pianist and composer of some reputation in that style, so that for once the song has an authentic ragtime vibe. Of the lyricists, Dick Howard (who lived into the 1980s) is perhaps best known for the WWII hit "Somebody Else Is Taking My Place." And Sam M. Lewis we've met more than once: he also had a hand in "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm" and "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody."


    Arranging actual ragtime pieces for Anglo is something I'd love to make time for at some point. So in a way this entry is aspirational.


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly


    *In fact, just over a year ago I recorded a concertina-free arrangement of the song:



  13. Thanks, Rod. I don't know; standards aside, there are probably around a dozen instruments I mess around with regularly, and maybe three or four others I pick up now and then. Too many, at any rate; in my next lifetime I swear I'm going to stick to one thing and do it well.


    Jim, I don't see why I couldn't try that, since I'm using two recording devices (phone and tablet) anyway. As for sound, I use an Apogee MIC to record, and I only have one of those, but I could rig another arrangement for the second device easily enough. The two mics wouldn't be matched, of course, but I doubt that would matter too much for a YouTube video.


    So maybe I'll experiment along those lines; thanks for the suggestion. I think I'd probably go cross-eyed watching it, though.


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

  14. Since I enjoy playing around with audio multi-tracking, I've been meaning for some time to penetrate the mystery of the split-screen video. No doubt the technique is rated dead simple by folks with a more sophisticated grasp of visual technologies. Me, I have trouble turning on the TV.


    Anyway, here's an experiment I did this morning:




    I think I remembered all the parts. No guarantees, though.


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

  15. And now for something...substantially...different:




    1917 wasn't just the year when the United States belatedly entered the First World War as a combatant. It was also the year when America discovered jazz.


    While the style had been evolving for quite a while in New Orleans, the release of "Livery Stable Blues" by the Original Dixieland Jass Band (the word's spelling was still up for grabs) is generally credited with introducing it to a national audience. That happened in early '17, and Tin Pan Alley began to register the new fad almost instantly. The current song, #46 in this series, bears the distinction of being one of the very first popular songs to allude to it.


    This isn't to say that the song *is* jazz, even by the most forgiving definition. The popular recording by the comic duo of Arthur Collins and Byron G. Harland (available on YouTube, though oddly misdated '1912') does have a plausible ragtime vibe to it, but you can't listen to it without reflecting that in 1917 white America (at any rate) is just beginning to learn to hear this music. To wit: jazz-inspired lyrics of the period are full of references to the music being played "off-key," which presumably refers to still unfamiliar flat thirds and sevenths. The Collins/Harland version is lively enough (and not as cringeworthy in its mimicry as some of their other numbers), but it ain't got that swing.


    As with a few other items in the series, I found in arranging the song that it's very difficult at this remove to unhear the soundtrack of the Jazz Age and reproduce the tentative quality of a 'teens performance (my own awkwardness in interpretation being another matter entirely). But then authentic period performance has never been the goal here. I paid my lip service to authenticity by leaving the song in its printed key of Eb (my 40-button Anglo came in handy on this one), but I probably allowed a bit of anachronistic rhythm to creep in. Well, musical taste was evolving quickly in 1917. Slouching towards jazz.


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

  16. Although song #45, a megahit in 1910, falls slightly outside the chronological scope of this project, I've decided to include it for three reasons.




    1. Both its composer, Fred Fisher, and its lyricist, Alfred Bryan, are major figures in the popular music of the WWI period, and we've run into them before--Fisher as a collaborator on "Peg O' My Heart" and "They Go Wild, Simple Wild over Me," Bryan as a contributor to "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier." And the current song certainly retained its popularity through the 'teens.


    2. Like "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now" (1909), this one also has some thematic relevance to the war. Aviation was brand new and extremely exciting in those years. As an aside, I have to confess that, like any American schoolkid, I long ago had the portentous year of 1903 impressed upon me as the date of the Wright Brothers' first successful powered flight at Kitty Hawk. But only recently did I learn that very little happened to advance their fame or influence for the next five years: flight didn't really begin to seize the interest of governments and private citizens, in either Europe or America, until the demonstrations the Wrights made in France--in 1908. So flying as a metaphor was still very fresh in 1910, when this song first appeared.


    3. Most importantly, I just really like the song--for its giddy "industrial optimism" (to crib a phrase from Wendell Berry), for its sheer silliness, and for what seems to me a sustained exercise in outrageous double entendre to match anything in American popular music of any period. Not only that; it simply begs to be backed up on an Anglo (before starting this project I'd recorded a version with more conventional accompaniment: http://youtu.be/BWknSkysthY). I find I can tolerate the duets of Billy Murray and Ada Jones only in small doses, but their classic 1911 recording of this one (also available on YouTube) is great fun.


    Handle with care, though: if you're not familiar with this song, you should know that it's a serious earworm. There; you've been warned, and my conscience is clear.


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

  17. Song #44 is one of my favorites from the period, and one I've recorded before*:




    The lyricist, Sam Ehrlich, was a Southerner educated at Columbia; I'm intrigued by how many of the footsoldiers of Tin Pan Alley had degrees, often from Ivy League schools and the like, in an era when very few people in this country went to college. Ehrlich collaborated on more than one song with the composer, Con Conrad, who went on to create earworms such as "Ma! He's Making Eyes At Me" (1928). Conrad's most enduring achievement, though, has to be the immortal "(Leena From) Palesteena" (1920), which is, or should be, the anthem of our guild.


    This song retained its popularity in the 1920s, becoming something of a jazz standard, recorded by no less than Fats Waller (among others). It has a place of honor in my personal collection as the first piece of period sheet music I acquired, sometime in the '80s. I do love the cover art, which still graces my wall:




    Bob Michel

    Near Philly


    *The previous, concertina-free version is at http://youtu.be/HgT8NIggcnE.

  18. A selection of different, well chosen, linked choruses can be combined very effectively to make a very pleasing instrumental 'medley'.

    Has the 'medley' slipped out of fashion Bob.....I fear it may have done.

    It's an alternative way of providing the choruses with a context, I suppose. (Again, I think of a stage performance, where the overture of an opera or musical often quotes all the big tunes to come.)


    As to whether song medleys have gone out of fashion, I can't say. They used to be a prominent feature of TV variety shows when I was growing up, but as far as I know (I don't watch a lot of TV) shows like that disappeared long ago. If it's true that medleys are no longer popular, that may be part of a larger cultural trend: I think of the Internet as a global jukebox where individual songs circulate independently and are rented (owning a copy is increasingly passé) without reference to their origin, or to their historical/stylistic relationship to other songs. (Sitting down and listening to an entire album, as I still like to do, always makes me feel terribly old-fashioned!) I've played around with devising medleys for some of the WWI choruses, and may yet work up a few standard ones.


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

  19. Irrespective of the lyrics, the verse melodies themselves are very much part of these compositions without which the choruses alone can sometimes sound somewhat bereft ?

    I couldn't agree more. Many if not most of these songs were introduced onstage, as part of some sort of dramatic sequence (were it only a stand-alone production number in a variety show). Even when the verses are less than brilliant, they suggest something of that context. I can't imagine omitting them.


    "La donna è mobile" is surely one of the catchiest tunes ever written; you don't need to understand a word of the lyrics, or to know anything about the plot of "Rigoletto," to appreciate it. But when it also evokes for you the unspeakable Duke of Mantua, jeering at women at the very moment when Gilda is about to give her life to save his worthless hide...it becomes an almost unbearably mordant reflection on the way clueless power dismisses the sacrifices that enable it. *And* a great melody!


    More typically the verses are no more than a conventional setting, while the chorus is the gemstone. It's the gemstone that commands our admiration--but we still like our gemstones in settings.


    Bob Michel

    Near Philly

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