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Bob Michel

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  1. When not single-handedly capturing Berlin, pining for Erin, Dixie and/or Mother, or chasing his girlfriend around a linden tree, the young American of 100 years ago (at least as represented in popular song) could usually be found building castles in the air, chasing rainbows, or engaging in some other form of feckless reverie, a frame of mind in which he must have been a sitting duck for any wily recruiter. Song #43 is not the least famous example of this period trend: http://youtu.be/bhtACXNSsL8 John Kellette wrote the music; the lyrics, slight as they are, came from the team of James Brockman, James Kendis and Nat Vincent, working pseudonymously as "Jaan Kenbrovin." Although it was introduced in "The Passing Show of 1918," it was not copyrighted until the following year. Though the song--or at least its familiar chorus--has been endlessly covered and featured in countless soundtracks during the past century, it retains on this side of the Atlantic no particular association with Sport--though Ring Lardner did produce a memorable parody during the "Black Sox" baseball scandal of 1919. For all that he presumably wrote them without collaborators, Lardner's lyrics are frankly an improvement on the original. Bob Michel Near Philly
  2. Welcome, Arthur. For the sorts of music you describe, either an Anglo or English concertina might do nicely--certainly neither would be inappropriate--though they don't sound the same. Some people have a strong preference for one or the other. I play Anglo myself, but I don't count myself a partisan; they're both great instruments, each with its particular strengths, limitations and satisfactions. Are there any players you particularly admire, and whose styles you'd like to learn from and emulate? Do you know, or can you find out, the types of instrument they play? That would be a good starting point for your decision. Bob Michel Near Philly
  3. Our #42 is a bit of period fluff that turns up now and then in anthologies of WWI songs: http://youtu.be/_qt4zJDhu5M Composer George W. Meyer had a long career; among his many credits he also wrote the music to "For Me And My Gal" (#4 in this series). Grant Clarke, who cowrote the lyrics, barely made it to his fortieth birthday (he died in 1931), but managed to leave his mark with "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" (1912), "Second Hand Rose" (1921), "Am I Blue?" (1929), and dozens of other vaudeville songs. Of his collaborator Howard E. Rogers I know next to nothing, except that he also had a hand in such enduring classics as "Hunting The Hun" (1918) and "Don't Take Advantage (Of My Good Nature): The Great Automobile Song" (1919). The current number is notable mainly for two motifs: the linden tree and the Morris chair. The latter begins to emerge as something of a period obsession. A good friend owned an antique one in my undergraduate years, and I spent many hours sitting in it (always alone). It was comfortable enough, but it never would have suggested itself to me as an appealing venue for serious courtship. Presumably options were fewer a century ago. Wikipedia informs me that William Morris's firm first marketed the chair in 1866, and that D.D. Palmer of Davenport, Iowa introduced chiropractic in 1895. Coincidence? I think not. Bob Michel Near Philly
  4. Thanks, Don. That's most kind. Publish the arrangements? What an interesting idea. I confess that it hadn't occurred to me before now--in fact I'd barely thought of my dead-simple chording as "arrangements" at all, and it's quite gratifying to hear it described that way! I suppose I should, at any rate, make some notation of how I'm approaching the accompaniment. It's very much a matter of learning as I go, but I think I'm making slow progress. My interest in the project from the start has been equally divided between revivifying the material for its own sake and using it to figure out how to back myself up while singing. So let me think about that. You may have created a monster! Bob Michel Near Philly
  5. And so to #41, another song that could hardly be omitted from a WWI collection, at least in this country: http://youtu.be/jZwMoOGhv8Q This one isn't a Tin Pan Alley production: it was written in 1913, supposedly on a whim, by two Yale students, Alonzo "Zo" Elliott (music) and Stoddard King (words). The copyright is variously given as anything from 1913 to 1915; I've gone with 1914, the date of its London publication. So, like "Tipperary," it's a pre-war piece that only hit its stride (sorry) as a wartime marching song. But the mood here is very different: frankly wistful and sentimental, without a shred of comic relief. I think the juxtaposition of that emotion with the martial rhythm makes it quite an interesting song, as well as a lovely one. Small wonder that it was a bona fide favorite among the doughboys, or that it was recorded several times during the War years, most notably by John McCormack (whose 1917 version, needless to say, puts my little effort here utterly and hopelessly to shame). And as with "Tipperary," one wonders whether it would be remembered today, had it not figured, through no fault of its creators, in the soundtrack of so much history. One just writes the things, after all; there's no telling where, if anywhere, they'll end up--or even what they'll end up meaning. Bob Michel Near Philly
  6. Trouble is, I suspect that that "elusive middle-of-the-road price range" between hybrids and top makers is largely occupied by late-period Wheatstones. For some perspective: The Button Box currently lists a nice looking 1957 Aeola (C/G, and 40 buttons, so not what you're after) and a 45-button Bb/F Jeffries (again, more buttons than you want, and also not of the best period). The latter costs half again as much as the former. Neither is cheap, but they're both being offered for less than you'd pay for a new instrument from a top maker--with a substantial wait. My point, I suppose, is that in the price range you seem to have in mind, unless you get lucky or can wait a good while until just the right box turns up, there may be a compromise or two in order. For my money, unless you're just dead-set against them, a late Wheatstone may be worth a look after all. Some are very nice indeed; and if the hook-and-lever action is unacceptable, it can be swapped out for a riveted one--and even with that added expense you'll probably be spending less than you would for a top-tier new box. My two cents, anyway. If I were in your place I think Greg's Wheatstone might tempt me (assuming it's still available). So would the Jeffries at the B.B.--but then, I like extra buttons. Bob Michel Near Philly
  7. I agree, and when singing period songs I'm very reluctant to alter the lyrics to suit modern sensibilities. Yet tricky cases come up. Here's one: "The War In Snider's Grocery Store" (1914) is a wonderful American anti-war song, which manages the neat trick of poking fun at nearly every European nationality without (to my mind) really insulting any of them--with one exception: a reference to "dago salami." When I was working up an arrangement last year I struggled with that word. Not because I found it impossibly offensive--especially by the standards of its time, it's pretty mild as slurs go, and I'd sing it in front of any audience (just possibly with the briefest "trigger warning" in my introduction)--but because it's jarring now in a way that it wasn't in 1914. I found that it drew too much of my attention, and interfered with the song's artfulness. So in the end I changed it to "spicy salami." I've tweaked a W.C. Handy line or two in a similar way. I very much want to preserve the integrity of the old songs I sing, even when they reflect attitudes we're well rid of (if we are indeed rid of them; these days one has to wonder). But they're not just texts, or museum pieces; I also want them to be entertaining, and to become, once again, *contemporary*; to touch listeners directly, not through a scrim of scholarship. If that means very, very occasionally substituting for an expression that touches a particularly sore spot, or simply defies translation...well, I suppose that's a form of artistic license I'd be unwilling to forgo. Bob Michel Near Philly
  8. When I started this project last summer I'm not sure whether I pictured myself ever typing a note on the fortieth song in the series. But here it is, just in time for St. Patrick's Day: http://youtu.be/Eoqj9RkIPUo Ireland rivaled Dixie in the 'teens of the last century as the focus of Tin Pan Alley's nostalgic reveries; sometimes the two destinations seem practically interchangeable. Needless to say, few of these songs have even the most tenuous relationship with any music that actually came from Ireland. Fred Fisher (see note on #38, "Peg O' My Heart") was German born; the two lyricists, Joseph McCarthy (no, not that one) and Howard Johnson (no, not that one), were both New Englanders. We've met McCarthy as the lyricist for "They Go Wild, Simply Wild Over Me" and "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows"; Johnson, who would see Navy service in the War, also penned the words to "Lindbergh (The Eagle of the U.S.A.)" and the immortal "I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Ice Cream," both in 1927. Charles W. Harrison's recording of this number topped the charts (such as they were) in 1916, the single moment in history when the notional gap between Ireland and its conventional reflection in the American songwriting industry may have been widest. That said, this isn't a bad song of its type. As my own grandmother was busy quitting Loughrea and establishing herself (briefly) in Boston around that time, I'll dedicate it to her memory. Bob Michel Near Philly
  9. I'll chime in with what Chris and Doug have said. When I took up the Anglo, not quite 20 years ago, I played a lot of Irish music, in a limited number of keys: "only fiddle tunes with occasional chordal embellishment" is a good description of the style I was after. Had I been able to afford one, an instrument customized for my particular needs of the moment would have tempted me. I'm very glad I didn't take that route. I've had a long, sometimes frustrating wrestling match with the quirks and limitations of a couple of standard-layout instruments (both, as it happens, 40-button boxes in the Wheatstone/Lachenal configuration)--and it's been of immense benefit. I play now in more styles, and more keys, and with a much wider chordal vocabulary, than I ever dreamed I would. My cranky concertinas have taught me to do things that might never had occurred to me had their design better suited my initial sense of what I needed. At the same time, I don't think (others might disagree) that they've seriously impeded me as a player of fiddle tunes. I understand that there are very different philosophies about this, and I'm just reporting on my own experience, for what it's worth. Having to make do with constraints I never would have chosen for myself gets my creative juices flowing. The process continues: I can certainly think of some specific ways to change my boxes that would make them better adapted to the way I play now. But not necessarily to the way I'll want to play five years from now. Bob Michel Near Philly
  10. Thanks, Don. No, you're right; I thought the story had a pretty firm foundation, though I'd forgotten that it came from the man himself. I think Irving protested too much. What higher praise than having one of your songs covered by Groucho? Bob Michel Near Philly
  11. It's been a while since we checked in with Irving Berlin. Entry #39 is one of his oddest compositions--in fact, it strikes me as one of the weirdest conceits in all of American popular music--and one that he regretted having written for most of his long life. Groucho Marx was particularly fond of it, and delighted in singing it in spite or because of Berlin's protests (and, according to legend, attempted bribes). It was also memorably covered by Tiny Tim on his 1968 LP "God Bless Tiny Tim." http://youtu.be/YCoOs97vUxU Quite a few popular songwriters over here aired pacifistic sentiments in the early months of the conflict, but the trend didn't last long. For Berlin, the professional patriot, who would soon be composing "God Bless America" for the military revue "Yip Yip Yaphank" (though he cut the song from the show and subsequently shelved it for a long time), it was particularly embarrassing to have dallied with such notions, however briefly. On the contrary, I think the song speaks well of him; in all his vast catalogue there are few I like as well. And I'm pretty sure I'd say that even if it didn't sit so well in the not-so-diabolical key of Dm on a C/G Anglo. Bob Michel Near Philly
  12. Very strictly speaking entry #38, which first appeared in 1913, isn't a WWI era song. But it was certainly in the air throughout the war years--as it's been ever since; this is one of the most tenacious earworms of its decade. Or the chorus is, anyway; as usual, the verses have tended to go missing, an omission which is corrected here. http://youtu.be/w-p03F0Ofxg Alfred Bryan, the lyricist, also had a hand in #6, "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier," and #37, the English version of "Madelon." And we've encountered the composer Fred Fisher as well: among other hit songs of the period he collaborated in 1917 on "They Go Wild, Simply Wild Over Me" (#16 here). One minor mystery attends the current entry: Fisher, who was born in Köln, is said to have dropped the 'c' from his (adopted) name to deflect anti-German sentiment during the War, but the name is already spelled "Fisher" on the original sheet music--or at least on any copies I've seen. I'd be intrigued to discover an early printing with "Fischer" on the cover. Another peculiarity of this song is that while it was inspired by the very popular stage production of the same name, it wasn't actually featured in that play; instead, it made its debut in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1913. It was the golden age of vaudevillian Irishry in the United States: sentimental chestnuts like "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" (1912) and "Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral" (1914) were the order of the day, and this number fit right in to the trend. American theater audiences reveled in ethnic stereotypes, many of them more than a little toxic by modern standards, but the Irish (or pseudo-Irish) ones are mostly pretty benign. Or such, at any rate, is the judgment call of my own half-Irish self. Bob Michel Near Philly
  13. I'm not in the market, but may I put in a word on just how nice this style of Lachenal Anglo can be? My 40-button box is very similar to this one, right down to the novelty buttons, and I've really come to appreciate its distinctive qualities. No, it's not a Wheatstone or Jeffries, but it's a beautifully made instrument with a voice all its own, and I wouldn't trade it. I've even passed up the opportunity to replace its action with a riveted one; I enjoy playing it as it was designed to be played. Your asking price seems more than reasonable, too. Someone is in for a treat. Bob Michel Near Philly
  14. Entry #37 belongs on anyone's short list of WWI classics. In France, where it originated, it would need no introduction. But though the English version (given here) was wildly popular among the doughboys--rivaling, by some accounts, "Over There" and "Tipperary"--it's not much remembered now, let alone performed, in the U.S.A. http://youtu.be/7cXCaZaR4qM Louis Bousquet's French lyrics, set to Camille Robert's stirring march, date from the very beginning of the War. But it wasn't until 1918 that this rendering, with new words by the Canadian lyricist Alfred Bryan, was published. We've met Bryan before, as the cowriter of 1915's "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier" (#6 in this series). In addition to having a hand in these two iconic (and radically different) songs of the War years, he also gave us the words to "Come Josephine In My Flying Machine" (1910) and "Peg O' My Heart" (1913). (Even though it slightly predates my chosen period, I may yet choose to add "Josephine" to the list; it's just such a wonderful, goofy song. And surely it was still in the air, as it were, during the War.) Bryan certainly didn't let fidelity to his French source hamper the flight of his imagination here. Nor French geography, either: one wonders why he chose Britanny, when he could have set the scene closer to the front without sacrificing either rhyme or meter (Picardy?). That said, his more formidable version of the flirty, feisty tavern girl is an affecting bit of fan fiction. Anyway, different countries; different customs. Bob Michel Near Philly
  15. For some reason I'm failing to picture that look just now. Maybe it's a Quaker thing? Bob Michel Near Philly
  16. The thirty-sixth song in our series is another bit of ephemera from my personal sheet music collection: http://youtu.be/j1tTFmpWLHo Henry Burr had two separate hit recordings with it in the summer of 1916: a duet version with Albert Campbell on the Victor label and an arrangement for the Peerless Quartet, recorded for Columbia. (Both can be heard on YouTube.) I've been unable to locate any other credits for lyricist David Berg, but German-born composer Alfred Solman was a busy man in vaudeville. I'm eager to take on his "The Heart You Lost In Maryland, You'll Find In Tennessee" on the strength of the silly title alone, but he's better known for "The Bird On Nellie's Hat" (1906). I'd always assumed this originated as an English music hall song, and am intrigued to learn that it was a Tin Pan Alley production. Apart from its historical interest, I feel honor-bound as a native Philadelphian to include this number. I love the notion that my home town, though no more than "two hours' ride from old Broadway," could have been as mythical a landscape to New York songwriters as, say, Alsace-Lorraine. For the sad fact is that even in 1916 Philly's distinctive Quaker roots weren't something one stumbled over at any given intersection in the city. As for nowadays--why, I don't think anyone has addressed me as "thee" all day. Granted, it's early yet. Bob Michel Near Philly
  17. While Tin Pan Alley loved to send the doughboys mooning after any available Red Cross nurses or Salvation lassies, not to mention Sweet Marie from Gay Paree, the wives and sweethearts at home were rarely portrayed as anything other than paragons of stoic fidelity. Occasionally The Girl He Left Behind would take a break from knitting socks and pen a soulful letter. Here's one from 1919, #35 in our series: http://youtu.be/UWx5q4fx6UI To judge by the paucity of online references, this number must be something of a rarity, for all that it was written by two major songsmiths of the period, composer Egbert Van Alstyne ("In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree") and lyricist Gus Kahn ("Makin' Whoopee"), whom we've already met as collaborators on "So Long, Mother" (#21). I've never heard it performed, but I happen to own a very dogeared copy of the sheet music (in the reduced-size format introduced in 1918 to conserve paper for the war effort), and I worked up this arrangement from that. Something about this selection hints strongly--to my ear, anyway--at the music of the decade to come. It's slight enough, I suppose, but by now my taste has been sufficiently corrupted by immersion in the styles of that day that I really do find it a perfectly lovely song of its kind. Bob Michel Near Philly
  18. Thanks, Jim. No; I hadn't come across this site. Several American universities are doing the same thing, and their collections are growing all the time. Missouri has a particularly good one, as does Duke. And of course the Library of Congress has quite a bit of stuff online. I raid these repositories all the time, though most of the songs I've recorded so far are from my own stash of sheet music. I see that of the 22 songs listed (so far) on the Pritzker site I've already covered half a dozen. And I know I have a copy of "Joan Of Arc They Are Calling You" tucked away somewhere. Bob Michel Near Philly
  19. I'd missed this Great War Blog entry on popular music from just over a year ago, which provides some useful background to this project: http://ww1blog.osborneink.com/?p=5705 It features a nice picture of the actual Tin Pan Alley on 28th St. in NYC, as well as a link to Henry Burr's recording of Irving Berlin's notorious anti-war song "Stay Down Here Where You Belong." (I need to work up a concertina version of this one. I did record it with uke accompaniment last spring: http://youtu.be/4WsGCnwFedQ). It's also good to be reminded of the enormous influence of John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) on period tastes. Sousa's own cylinder recordings with the Marine Band had been among this country's very first hit records, and his marches were a big part of the War's soundtrack here. Even in the first year of the conflict, when public opinion ran strongly against involvement, Americans loved their stirring martial music. Bob Michel Near Philly
  20. Having scored a hit in 1918 with our last entry, lyricist Jack Caddigan evidently thought there might be another big payday in the angel-of-mercy theme. Whence this song (#34), on which he teamed up with yet another Bostonian, Oliver E. "Chick" Story (1885-1961), a composer and publisher with whom he often collaborated. http://youtu.be/QOV6Ufdc-U8 Like most sequels, the second song completely failed to achieve the éclat of the original. Still, when I came across the title the other day, I knew I had to learn and record it as soon as possible. Although the lyrics claim that the pious young volunteer had "the emblem of God in her hand," I suspect that this was a misidentification--due no doubt to the fog of war--and that the device she was holding, and with which she won the narrator's heart, was actually something quite different. Bob Michel Near Philly
  21. Those are marvelous, Jack; thanks. It'd be hard for me to say which melody I prefer, though I confess I fared better with the Italian lyrics than with the Hungarian ones. Have you by any chance been following this blog? I can't remember whether I've mentioned it before. http://ww1blog.osborneink.com I particularly appreciate the space he's giving to theatres and aspects of the war--the Eastern Front, certainly, and Africa--with which I'm less familiar. I haven't noticed any entries on WWI music yet, but I suspect that's only a matter of time. Bob Michel Near Philly
  22. The thirty-third entry in our series is one of those iconic WWI songs one could hardly omit from such a collection: http://youtu.be/ePW3ZakMMds Bostonians Jack Caddigan and James Alexander Brennan collaborated, as lyricist and composer respectively, on quite a few war-themed numbers ("We're All Going Calling on the Kaiser," etc.), as well as some bog-standard Dixie pieces ("When It's Cotton Pickin' Time in Tennessee," etc.). But the current song is easily their best known work. It also has a French verse, penned by Louis Delamarre. Ordinarily I'd have included this, but I found it a surprisingly awkward fit with the melody. The full-bore sentimentality may be a bit of a stretch for modern tastes, but (possibly because I've been immersed in this stuff for a year) I find it a lovely song. Since my own late mother was a war nurse--though regular Army, not Red Cross, and in a later conflict--I'll make the appropriately sentimental gesture of dedicating this one to her memory. Bob Michel Near Philly
  23. Thanks, Stuart! I'm just trying to figure it out as I go. I couldn't sound like Billy Murray or Al Jolson even if I wanted to, so I'm trying to see what can be done with my limited folkie toolkit. Bob Michel Near Philly
  24. That's part of it, but I can usually manage a song in one or the other of the home keys, C or G. The habit of playing in other keys comes more from years of accommodating other instruments, especially in the Irish repertoire. D becomes second nature early on, then A. And there are a few choice tunes in the near flat keys as well. As you move away from the home keys, chords grow sparser, and there are fewer available inversions. And of course scales are pretty nonlinear and quirky. Deprived of the full-fisted harmonies that come so naturally in C and G, you have to get creative. But that's not a bad thing. It's easy to overstate vocal accompaniment on an Anglo--I plead guilty. I'm always looking for ways to prune back and simplify the chording. When working from old sheet music, I'll always give the original key a go; I'll only transpose the song if another key suits my voice better. And I particularly like the way F and Bb tunes sound on a C/G Anglo--whether or not I'm singing. Bob Michel Near Philly
  25. I'm not at all sure that mine are the right hands, but I'm definitely learning as I go. It's not such a terribly limited instrument--especially with extra buttons (though pretty much any of these arrangements could be played with the standard 30, given a few minor adjustments). Each key requires a completely different approach, of course, but I'm determined to regard that as a feature, rather than a bug. Bob Michel Near Philly
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