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Bob Michel

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  1. Well, that's kind of wonderful, in a nightmarish sort of way. Funny how it always sounded like relatively innocent fun on a banjo uke. Bob Michel Near Philly
  2. Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young, the New York-born lyricists who collaborated on the last selection, paired up again in the same year for #32, which surely must be the best known of all the era's countless "Dixie" songs: http://youtu.be/2dTQukmQp2g Lewis and Young were teamed this time with the composer Jean Schwartz. The trio stuck gold twice in 1918, with "Hello Central! Give Me No Man's Land" (#15 in this series) as well as with this number. Of the two songs, this has proved the more enduring: a hit for Al Jolson, it's been covered by everyone from Judy Garland to Aretha Franklin. And with good reason: it's really a terrific melody, and--like "Hello Central!"--a tad more sophisticated than the typical vaudeville hit of the period. It was also a bit more challenging to accommodate on a C/G Anglo, but great fun. Bob Michel Near Philly
  3. Lasse Johansson and Mary Flower are indeed marvelous guitarists, and their appearance in this discussion suggests a new way of looking at the "whole band" question. They're revivalists who draw their inspiration, and a lot of their arrangements, from the first generation of ragtime-influenced guitarists: folks like Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller and (especially) Reverend Gary Davis (also blind, as it happens). These players weren't perhaps trying to sound like a "whole band," but they were quite deliberately trying to make a guitar sound like a piano--specifically like a ragtime piano, with the left hand keeping the beat and the right hand "ragging" (syncopating) the melody. The ragtime guitarist approximates the left hand piano part with the thumb on the bass strings, and the right hand part with (usually) two fingers on the treble strings. Gary Davis managed it all with just thumb and index finger, which still makes me a little dizzy when I think about it. The point is that a piano (along with related keyboard instruments) has been regarded for centuries as adequate to the challenge of complex, polyphonic music, whether in the form of original compositions or of transcriptions from orchestral arrangements. Of course, strictly speaking even a piano can't be a "whole band," but we're used to hearing it in that role. The ragtime guitar innovators were trying to get as close as they could to that kind of complexity and versatility on an instrument that was more accessible, affordable and portable: a "lap piano," as George Van Eps called his (admittedly seven-string) instrument. In concertina terms, I suppose we'd want to say Knee Piano. Bob Michel Near Philly
  4. And so to #31, another homecoming song very much in the vein of "He's Had No Lovin' For A Long, Long Time," but distinguished by the collaboration of three notable (if largely forgotten) American songwriters: http://youtu.be/axz82SOsbAw Unless you're an enthusiast of WWI music--or perhaps of the Avon Comedy Four, major celebrities of the period, who recorded it--this one is probably new to you. But Harry Ruby, the composer, almost surely isn't. In addition to writing the melodies for several venerable standards, including "Who's Sorry Now?" (1923) and "I Wanna Be Loved By You" (1928), he went on to score three of the best Marx Brothers films: "Animal Crackers" (1930), "Horse Feathers" (1932) and "Duck Soup" (1933). Co-lyricist Joe Young also had a hand in 1932's "In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town" and 1935's "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter." His collaborator, Sam M. Lewis, is better known for his work on "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree)" (1919; #13 in this series) and "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?" (1925). And the two lyricists shared credit for a number of better-known numbers, including "I'm Sitting On Top Of The World" (1925) and "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody," published in the same year as the present song. I have decidedly mixed feelings about this one. It's well-crafted and reasonably clever, but upbeat songs about steamy postwar reunions strike me as more than a little crass, not only on account of the uncomfortable period construction of "duty" in this context (different times, different assumptions, of course), but because so many of the "girlies" had none to look forward to. On a more mundane note I have to wonder about the practicality of spooning in a Morris chair, even from the most patriotic of motives. Bob Michel Near Philly
  5. Here are a couple of leaked-theme reels: http://youtu.be/mWlbDKkiNyY The first one, "My Love And I In The Garden'" is perhaps better known by the title "I Wish I Never Saw You," but that seems a bit cynical for a Love/Valentine's Day theme. The second is the familiar "My Love Is In America." So what shall we call the set? "What A Difference A Day Makes"? Or maybe "Cheap Flights!" Bob Michel Near Philly
  6. That's a useful clarification. On the other hand, I can listen to a good baroque or Irish-style flute player (say) spin out unaccompanied solo melodies for hours without missing polyphony at all: to my ear the music is as fully-fledged and satisfying as I could want it. So perhaps "playing as a soloist" isn't quite right, either. When Jody asked about emulating "a whole band," I suppose I understood that description in a relative sense. What's the baseline; how many distinct voices is one used to hearing at once from a particular instrument? As an Anglo player who started out playing Irish music, I still hear even simple English-style melody-and-chord arrangements as fairly band-like. On the other hand, the polyphony of Guy Van Duser and Leo Kottke, both of whom have been mentioned in this thread, actually strikes me as pretty normal fare, in the ragtime or Piedmont blues tradition, for the guitar; it's the exceptional creativity and expertise of the players that makes their music stand out. I chose the example of Evan Marshall on mandolin because he's accommodating (at least) two parts on an instrument that's typically allotted just one; James Hill's cover of "Billy Jean" works in a similar way. I don't mean to put words in Jody's mouth, but that's how I think about it. Bob Michel Near Philly
  7. Thanks, Rod. I'm not sure what the problem was, but it appears to work now. Bob Michel Near Philly
  8. Number 30 in the series bears the distinction of having been the #1 American song of 1917: http://youtu.be/XJngQTbGSJY It was first recorded by the American Quartet (featuring the unmistakable voice of Billy Murray), but subsequently covered by many other period artists. Benny Davis, who cowrote the lyrics, would go on to collaborate on the familiar 1926 hit "Baby Face." The composer, Billy Baskette, had a long and productive Tin Pan Alley career, though this number was surely his biggest success. (I've recorded and uploaded one other Baskette song--with concertina, though not in this series--the irresistibly titled "You Can Stay But That Doggone Fiddle Must Go!" from 1920. http://youtu.be/VHChYF7l67A The swaggering farewell here brings to mind some previous songs in the series-- apart from "Over There," "Send Me Away with a Smile" and "Goodbye, Mother" come to mind--but it introduces a couple of interesting tropes. Broadway in period songs is often just shorthand for the fleshpots of the Big City--but this song actually was introduced in the "Passing Show of 1917," at the Winter Garden Theatre on the Great White Way itself. And a terrific production number it must have been, too, particularly if there were departing servicemen in the audience. The other theme worth mentioning is the Debt to France: the notion that by joining the Allies the United States was finally paying that country back for its aid in the American Revolution. "Lafayette, nous voilà!" (first spoken by Lt. Col. Charles Stanton at a Fourth of July reception for the newly arriving troops at the marquis's Paris tomb) was the byword of the hour. Lafayette duly puts in an appearance in the lyrics of this song, along with Pershing, who looms so large in the lyrics of 1917 that it's hard to imagine what actual military feats could ever have matched the fearsome reputation he was extended on credit by the songwriters of the era. Needless to say there were all sorts of reality checks in the offing. Bob Michel Near Philly
  9. I think you're on onto something. There does seem to be a different sort of aesthetic impulse here (different, at any rate, from what seems to drive most of the music I like), and it probably runs somewhat along generational lines. Plus there's a sort of competitive virtuosity at work that's certainly dazzling but (to my agèd ear) not terribly engaging. Different people listen, quite legitimately, for different things. I sometimes think of traditional dance music (at least) as embodying a kind of dialectic between Groove and Story. There are genres and styles of music where I'll happily ride a good groove until the band drops dead of exhaustion, but in the context of Anglo-Celtic-American "fiddle" tunes I really do crave some kind of narrative: tension and resolution; beginnings, middles and endings. Is this generational? I'd like to think not, but then I remember my father, nearly fifty years ago, objecting to some new LP I'd just brought home: "It just doesn't *go* anywhere!" On the other hand, "stiffness" is indeed an occupational hazard, and I love the idea of new approaches and arguments and appropriations. So probably I just need to listen again. Bob Michel Near Philly
  10. Your ear is your best guide, and it sounds as if your ear is already guiding you very well. The trick in playing with others is to avoid redundancy--unless redundancy is the particular effect you're after. Find an acoustical space that isn't occupied by another instrument, and make your home there. And less really is more. Freddie Green, Count Basie's indispensable rhythm guitarist, famously simplified his style over time, stripping away everything he didn't *have* to play, until he was mostly playing two-note "chords." But they were exactly the right notes every time--and in perfect time. As far as practice goes, when I'm playing by myself I tend mostly to play like a soloist. Then when I join a group I subtract whatever I can. Alternatively, practice playing along with recordings until you have a sense of what enhances the sound and what muddies it up. Another useful approach is to record yourself and overdub individual parts, whether on concertina or on another instrument, if you play one. This can be a great way to attune your ear to what does and doesn't work in a group setting. Bob Michel Near Philly
  11. For solo playing that aspires to make a complete statement (as opposed to, say, interesting vocal accompaniment), Evan Marshall's "duo style" on mandolin sets the bar pretty high. His party piece, well represented on YouTube, is the "William Tell" overture, and it's pretty astonishing if you've never heard it. But his technique has a good bit more expressive range than that morsel shows: http://youtu.be/QN4HFaOPMy0 Bob Michel Near Philly
  12. I did enjoy the challenge of having someone else call the tune (or theme). Particularly when it was something well outside my comfort zone. But since it really isn't anyone else's job to scratch that itch for me, I've transferred my energies to an idiosyncratic project of my own: the WWI-era songs I've been learning (very roughly one a week) and posting in the Videos and Music section. The material's relatively new to me and very different from most of the music I play, and I'd never thought of arranging it for concertina until last summer. So it makes a good substitute in the Theme department. I'd be delighted if anyone else were to pitch in on this (Steve Wilson contributed a fabulous Australian song several months back). I'd be equally delighted if someone else launched a similar thematic project and welcomed contributions. Bob Michel Near Philly
  13. That's a lovely arrangement, and well performed. The piano part is particularly nice, I think. Bb Michel Near Philly
  14. Somehow we've managed to reach #29 in the series without having once taken on the theme of (civilian) Homesickness. Time to rectify that omission: http://youtu.be/rxUkF4AYLik Nostalgia, in American songs of this decade, comes in two predominant flavors: Irish and Southern. In either case, the songwriters most often had no personal connection with the longed-for region. Jack Yellen, who wrote the lyrics for this one, was born in Poland and raised in Buffalo; his later credits include "Hard Hearted Hannah" (1924), "Ain't She Sweet" (1927) and, most notably, "Happy Days Are Here Again" (1930), which the 1932 Roosevelt campaign turned into an enduring anthem of the Democratic Party. George L. Cobb was a Northerner too, with roots in Massachusetts and New York State; he's best known for his showpiece "The Russian Rag" (1918), a pastiche of Rachmaninoff that became a signature tune for the mandolin virtuoso and showman Dave Apollon. But their shared Northern heritage didn't stop the team of Yellen and Cobb from specializing in fanciful (and commercially successful) celebrations of Dixie all through the vaudeville era. In addition to this one they cowrote, among others, "Alabama Jubilee." It's a mythical landscape after all. Many of the Dixie songs from that era are rote, formulaic affairs, and quite a few are frankly unsingable today. But there are a few standouts, and this is one. It's been revived many times since 1915: the Blue Sky Boys did a wonderful version which they used as their theme song for decades, and Jerry Reed had a hit with it in the late Sixties. Even today you might well hear it on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Whatever you do, don't tell them it was written by a couple of Yankees. Bob Michel Near Philly
  15. That, and a lot more sentimentality than you'd find in songs today, and an unabashed pleasure in broad jokes and silly word play. I always picture them being performed onstage to a hugely diverse audience--which of course most of them were. I can't listen to or sing songs from this decade without thinking about the earthquake that was just about to happen in the form of jazz. Popular music from the Twenties is far more sophisticated in lots of ways. It's more interesting, more complex; it has more harmonic and emotional range. It's more significant--even just better--music. Irving Berlin was already a fixture in the Teens, but move into the Twenties and you have Kern, Gershwin, Porter, Waller, Rodgers and Hart... They don't call it the "Great American Songbook" for nothing (and we may as well drop the "American," since of course the phenomenon was international). But that music--or the best of it, anyway--has never dropped out of circulation. It's still performed everywhere; people still recognize it. These songs, by contrast, apart from a few chestnuts--"Over There," "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," and so on--are all but forgotten. They're not just evocative of their period; they're also fascinating (to me) in the way they straddle rural and urban tastes, "folk" and "art" music. And when a blue note does creep in now and then, it's like a trumpet call, announcing the excitement to come. Plus they're all in the public domain! Bob Michel Near Philly
  16. I hadn't been thinking along those lines, but I'm sure you're right: the school-approved Foster songs were stronger on period flavor than they were on social commentary. On the other hand, they also contained lyrics one cringes even to see in print now, but which we sang blithely enough fifty years ago. Bob Michel Near Philly
  17. I was noodling on the concertina this morning and realized that I'd been playing variations on this song for several minutes. "Why not?" thinks I. So here's a spontaneous version, something a bit different from the WWI-era stuff that's been preoccupying me these last months: http://youtu.be/FFGt5y12TDk Nowadays, when it's firmly established as part of the canon, having been covered by the likes of Dylan, Cash, Springsteen, Harris and so on, it's easy to imagine that this was one of the Stephen Foster songs we (in the States, anyway) grew up singing in school, along with "Old Folks at Home" and "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Oh, Susannah." It wasn't, though: I'm pretty sure I first encountered it on the 1981 LP of the same name by the Red Clay Ramblers. One wonders how it ever fell out of circulation. Anyway, to my ear it sits very nicely on an Anglo. Bob Michel Near Philly
  18. Surely there's a huge overlap, with influences running in both directions. I'm not even sure I could explain what it is about this particular song that put me in mind of Music Hall style. It's more the melody than the lyrics, I think. I'd love to know more about the background of Rubey Cowan, the composer. Bob Michel Near Philly
  19. For #28 we step away from the War--or the war of nations going on in Europe, anyway--for an engaging bit of vaudevillian fluff. http://youtu.be/sYI_6FndQuI All the collaborators on this one were Tin Pan Alley stalwarts, each with numerous song credits. Lyricist Lew Brown would go on to pen the WWII hit "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree" (1942). His collaborator Bobby Heath had a hand in "My Pony Boy" (1909) and "September Morn" (1913), the latter inspired by (or at least an attempt to capitalize on) Chabas's controversial 1911 painting. I know very little about the composer, Rubey Cowan, except that she was one of the most prominent and prolific women in American songwriting, with a career that lasted until at least the 1950s. I can't recall where or when I picked up the sheet music. To the mind's ear of this Yank it evokes a London music hall more than the Ziegfeld Follies. That may be just my imagination working, though; I've never actually heard it performed. Bob Michel Near Philly
  20. I think this passage, from Booth Tarkington's "Penrod" (1914), is the very place where I first encountered the word "concertina." The reference is only enriched by the fact that the instrument in question isn't a concertina at all. Though I'll bet Mr. Schofield disposed of it by offering it on eBay as one. Sadly, I never seem to meet mysterious benefactors like Penrod's. Bob Michel Near Philly ------------------------- "Oh SOMETHING!" shouted Mr. Schofield, clasping his bilious brow with both hands. "Stop that noise! Isn't it awful enough for you to SING? Sit DOWN! Not with that thing on! Take that green rope off your shoulder! Now take that thing out of the dining-room and throw it in the ash-can! Where did you get it?" "Where did I get what, papa?" asked Penrod meekly, depositing the accordion in the hall just outside the dining-room door. "That da--that third-hand concertina." "It's a 'cordian," said Penrod, taking his place at the table, and noticing that both Margaret and Mr. Robert Williams (who happened to be a guest) were growing red. "I don't care what you call it," said Mr. Schofield irritably. "I want to know where you got it." Penrod's eyes met Margaret's: hers had a strained expression. She very slightly shook her head. Penrod sent Mr. Williams a grateful look, and might have been startled if he could have seen himself in a mirror at that moment; for he regarded Mitchy-Mitch with concealed but vigorous aversion and the resemblance would have horrified him. "A man gave it to me," he answered gently, and was rewarded by the visibly regained ease of his patron's manner, while Margaret leaned back in her chair and looked at her brother with real devotion. "I should think he'd have been glad to," said Mr. Schofield. "Who was he?" "Sir?" In spite of the candy which he had consumed in company with Marjorie and Mitchy-Mitch, Penrod had begun to eat lobster croquettes earnestly. "Who WAS he?" "Who do you mean, papa?" "The man that gave you that ghastly Thing!" "Yessir. A man gave it to me." "I say, Who WAS he?" shouted Mr. Schofield. "Well, I was just walking along, and the man came up to me--it was right down in front of Colgate's, where most of the paint's rubbed off the fence" "Penrod!" The father used his most dangerous tone. "Sir?" "Who was the man that gave you the concertina?" "I don't know. I was walking along" "You never saw him before?" "No, sir. I was just walk" "That will do," said Mr. Schofield, rising. "I suppose every family has its secret enemies and this was one of ours. I must ask to be excused!"
  21. I think I'd concentrate for now on playing Irish tunes in the cross-row style, while at the same time learning the more harmonic material from Day, Edgley etc., in the along-the-rows harmonic style. If the repertoires are (mostly) different, you shouldn't get confused. As time goes on, you'll make more and more connections, and the two styles will converge--as Ken says, it's perfectly possible to play harmonically across the rows, and for that matter, generations of Irish players worked mainly up and down the rows before the cross-row style was worked out. But there's no need to rush that process, or worry about it in the early going. Bit by bit the two approaches will reveal themselves as part of a larger pattern; in the meantime, you'll be mastering both, and learning lots of tunes. Bob Michel Near Philly
  22. Many (most?) of the post-WWII Wheatstone Anglos that were shipped to South Africa had extended bellows, and my understanding has been that this was to accommodate the rich harmonies of Boeremusiek. My own Wheatstone, made in 1953, has eight folds. I believe the bellows was replaced later, but to original specs. It does make a difference. I can be a bit more slapdash about chording on this instrument, since there's almost always air to spare. But my playing is so conditioned by the limitations of my other concertina, a Lachenal with the more typical six folds (I like being able to use the two interchangeably), that I probably don't take full advantage of the increased air capacity. Of course, I don't play Boeremusiek--though I wish I could! Bob Michel Near Philly
  23. Rod-- I've been wondering about this, and have finally remembered to check my copy. The dedication is to "Lieut. Joseph Foley, U.S.A.," which suggests to me that it was probably a different fellow. The name, like those of the three songwriters, is common enough that it's difficult to track down any definitive information online. However, Google Books obligingly pointed me to a 2005 title "Chicago Boxing" by J.J. Johnston and Sean Curtin (with a foreword by no less manly a figure than David Mamet!), featuring a picture of a middle-aged "Kid" Howard Carr with one of the middleweights he managed. Given the nickname and the Chicago connection, this has to be the same Carr who co-wrote the song. Evidently he found a new way to bring home the bacon later in life. Bob Michel Near Philly
  24. Each row of a 20-button Anglo concertina--which is the kind you're describing--gives you a major scale. Most typically the lower-pitched scale (the "outside row") is in C and the higher-pitched one (the "inside row") is a fifth higher, in G. But concertinas in G/D are quite common, and other key combinations are used as well. Let's assume you have a C/G instrument. Picture a couple of octaves (plus some low notes) of a piano's white keys--plus F#, which you need to play a G major scale. If you can manage a song on these piano keys, you can play it on a 20-button concertina. The vast majority of "American type fun songs" should give you no trouble at all, as long as you're comfortable playing them in one of the two keys you have. Where you run into trouble is in songs with accidentals--notes that fall outside of those scales--or songs that modulate to another key. Many Tin Pan Alley songs, and most jazz standards, fall into these categories. Even "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" has one pesky little accidental you'd have to fudge. To play these sorts of songs you'd want a 30-button box, which has a third row containing all the accidentals you'd need. An Anglo concertina follows more or less the same logic (different notes on push and pull) as a Chemnitzer, but I don't believe the layout is identical. Think of two harmonicas, in C and G (or the keys of the particular instrument in question, whatever they are), and you'll have a pretty good notion of how the contraption is set up. The difference is that you use a bellows to supply the wind, rather than your lungs. Hope this helps. Bob Michel Near Philly
  25. Welcome, Mike. It's a bit of a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string question, but keep in mind that the (Anglo) concertina was designed for playability; that is, to be accessible and useful to people without much formal musical background. And it sounds as if you have considerable musical background. With daily practice I can't think why you couldn't work up a tune or three in a matter of weeks, especially with a lesson now and then. After that there will always be new tunes you want to learn. Always! As for age, I guess it's always an issue in learning. SometImes it's an impediment, sometimes an advantage. On the downside, it probably takes longer to get new material into muscle memory. On the upside, you draw on your experience, and you know how to learn. I wouldn't worry too much about it. Bob Michel Near Philly
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