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Bob Michel

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Everything posted by Bob Michel

  1. Yes--good point. And so, for that matter, does a lot of music that draws inspiration from flamenco. Now that I think of it, Miles Davis used the Phrygian mode a good bit on "Sketches of Spain," and also I think on "Kind of Blue." Bob Michel Near Philly
  2. John Kirkpatrick's song "Dust to Dust." Only one I know. Bob Michel Near Philly
  3. I like it as an alternative approach to drone harmony, but I think I'd miss the piper's kvetching about his/her reeds. Bob Michel Near Philly
  4. Standard Wheatstone/Lachenal layout for a 30-button has C# on the push, Eb on the pull. If Bramich shows a C# on the pull, either 1) he's referring to a Jeffries layout or 2) it's a typo. Bob Michel Near Philly
  5. Thanks, Don; I'm glad you enjoyed it. My history lessons do tend to go on a bit, but I really like this stuff, and sometimes have a hard time containing my enthusiasm. A lot of it is new to me, too. I'd had a vague sense of Handy's role in the musical ferment of that decade, but only recently have I started going back to primary sources, as they say. I've long owned the sheet music for "Yellow Dog Blues" (a lucky find in an antique store), but when I finally sat down and learned it this past year, it was from the Dover reprint of the 1949 edition of Handy's "Blues: An Anthology," which is a wonderful book altogether, and a real revelation to me. I've performed it more conventionally, using guitar, but it's fun trying to translate the accompaniment to the Anglo (which is after all just a souped-up harmonica). There's a lot left to learn about doing this effectively, but there's at least one more Handy song in the pipeline. Bob Michel Near Philly
  6. With #14 we break some new ground, and meet another of my very favorite American songwriters: http://youtu.be/eFm023F8I8k By 1915 ragtime was old news. Tin Pan Alley was still churning out any number of songs it called "rags," often for no discernible musical reason (there's nothing remotely ragtime about "Alexander's Ragtime Band," Irving Berlin's breakout hit of 1911 and probably the most famous song associated with the style). The sounds that had seemed so exotic and transgressive to white American ears starting around 1899, when Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" introduced them to an entirely new kind of syncopation, were by now mainstream, having done irreparable and salutary damage to the color line in the country's music. And as Al Jolson would famously say on a movie screen a decade later, "you ain't heard nothin' yet." The bandleader, composer, folklorist, cultural ambassador and force of nature that was W.C. Handy called this song a rag when he first published it in 1915. It went nowhere commercially. But Handy had other cards to play. He was already associated with--or, in his own self-promoting account, he had already invented--an African-American style fresher than ragtime, and that was poised to transform the soundscape of this country (and a lot of other countries) beyond recognition. He called that "The Blues." He wasn't the only blues artist on the scene. He wasn't the first, either (for all Handy's self-aggrandizing claims, he was always scrupulous about giving due credit--if not royalties--to his folk sources). But beginning with his "Memphis Blues" in 1908, and proceeding to the most famous blues song of all, his "St. Louis Blues" of 1914, he took what had been a traditional, regional form and turned it into a national sensation. The time was ripe: rebranded as a "blues," his flop of 1915 sold well when it was rereleased in 1919. That's the version I sing here. Handy's blues were formal, sophisticated compositions: art songs, not folk songs. A few of them (including this one) have been jazz and/or pop standards for a century, but later versions tend to abridge and simplify his originals. His songs, as he wrote them, are at once very familiar and quite odd. These aren't your father's Blues. Depending on your age, they might be your great-grandfather's Blues. I doubt that any other song in this sampling will have had lyrics half as cryptic as these are. Partly this has to do with local in-jokes and argot, in which Handy delighted (there are at least a couple lines here that escape me). Partly it's a matter of this being an Answer Song: it plays off the lyrics of Shelton Brooks's "I Wonder Where My Easy Rider's Gone" (1913). The one indispensable footnote involves the title, which is an allusion to the Yazoo Delta Railroad. Handy sought, and achieved, nationwide recognition; this is a commercial production, another Tin Pan Alley song, if you will. But we're a long way from Manhattan. Welcome to Memphis. Bob Michel Near Philly
  7. Here's the (Swedish) "Waltz from Orsa": http://youtu.be/Ac-VFs2AcDQ I've half-known this tune for many years, having first heard it (I think) from Jackie Daly and Séamus and Manus McGuire on the first (I think) album by "Buttons and Bows." I'm glad finally to have an incentive to tidy it up. Bob Michel Near Philly
  8. Since the designation of Finland as a Scandinavian country is a matter of controversy, what better way to kick things off than with a tune of disputed origin? http://youtu.be/6OIH2g6VCL4 "Astridin Valssi" is the Finnish name by which the Swedish group Norrlåtar recorded the tune in the 1970s (according to a discussion here: http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?112890-Astridin-Valssi-(Swedish-waltz)).I've seen it confidently described as both Swedish and Finnish. If you know one way or the other, please enlighten me. Wherever it originated, it struck me as a lovely waltz when I first heard it a few hours ago, looking for Scandinavian tunes to contribute to the Theme. Since I had some time this morning, I entertained myself by layering the instruments a bit on this one. Bob Michel Near Philly
  9. Sean-- It is indeed a wonderful story, and it could hardly be more on-topic. I know I've seen that site and those pictures before; whether I followed a link from this forum or just stumbled on them while browsing online for concertina-related stuff, I can't remember. It's entirely possible, in fact, that they planted the seed of this entire project. At the very least they were a contributing factor. Thanks for reminding me of them! Bob Michel Near Philly
  10. The last two songs, "America, Here's My Boy" and "When It's Orange Blossom Time in Loveland," were fairly obscure specimens of popular music from the nineteen-teens--some might say deservedly so. #13 in the series brings us back on more familiar ground, and needs no excuses. It has kept its currency in this country's culture; most people probably wouldn't quite recognize it as a song, but people of my generation and older (at least) know it as a proverb: http://youtu.be/5I1ESB1Ebm8 The theme of The Doughboy's Lost Innocence is pretty pervasive in the songs of 1918-1920, but this is probably its most famous expression. It's easy to hear this number, too, as a prelude to the Roaring Twenties. It obligingly includes two of the three indispensable clichés in period American songs that mention France: the exclamation "ooh la la" and the imaginary verb "parlez-voo" (in the sense of "to chat up"). The puzzling omission of the third cliché, a quotation from the Marseillaise, is a deficit I found easy to supply. Bob Michel Near Philly
  11. Very nice. It makes my fingers itch for a uke. (Wrong islands, I know; but it'd suit the song well.) Bob Michel Near Philly
  12. Steve-- Fantastic! That really is first-rate in every way. Love the old photos (and the tragic counterpoint they provide to the cheery melody), the vocal delivery (perfect match of style to material), the accompaniment (once in a rare while I hear something that makes me think, "Hmm...was I right, in the end, to choose the Anglo?"), and of course the song itself, with exactly the sort of loopy lyrics and outrageous rhymes that hit my sweet spot. Well done indeed. Gives me something to aim for. Also I must say that it's delightful to have some company in this endeavor. After all I'm just ploughing one tiny corner, over here in Yankee land, of a mighty big field. Yarrawonga's on my map now. Hope there's more to come. Bob Michel Near Philly
  13. I don't doubt you're right, Theo. I only ever tried to play the one; it wasn't in the best of shape and may have been a clunker to begin with. Anyway, my point of reference was Wheatstone's main line of Anglos from that period, not contemporary Stagis and the like. And of course even those (and worse) can make great music, when properly set up, in the hands of a good player. Bob Michel Near Philly
  14. I remember that episode, and I've heard a similar story about Dublin at around the same time--not $15 or $20 in that case, but maybe $100 or so. Yes, one wants to weep. I console myself that, realistically speaking, the prices that seem so laughable now would have been nearly as prohibitive to me then as the price of a top-notch Jeffries is today. I'd really want to have a cache of today's dollars in that time machine with me. Bob Michel Near Philly
  15. If the one Mayfair I've handled was typical of the breed, they were truly horrible. It takes a lot of work to produce that unimpressive sound. Whatever the shortcomings of postwar Wheatstones generally, the Mayfairs were several orders of magnitude worse. Bob Michel Near Philly
  16. What demand for concertinas there was in those years came largely from South Africa, and it was mainly for Anglos. Wheatstone still produced a considerable number of these every year: their serial numbers are in the 50,000 range. There's quite a bit of information about them online, on this site and elsewhere. There were indeed plenty of shortcuts taken in the Boosey and Hawkes period, but the quality of individual instruments varies across a pretty wide spectrum. I've handled one or two that were pretty dreadful, probably not worth the trouble and expense of restoring. But my own Wheatstone is a keeper. It's a model 6A (the highest grade of hexagonal box in the catalogue) from 1953, very much in the preferred South African style, with 40 buttons and an enormous eight-fold bellows (the latter is a replacement, but I'm pretty sure it's true to the original design). I had a riveted action installed (by The Button Box) some years ago, and in its improved condition I honestly don't think it's too far off the mark of a top-notch Linota from the golden years. My one complaint is that I really do prefer the sound of reeds in brass shoes (or think I do; I know that many people far more knowledgeable than I am deny that there's any tonal difference), and mine has the alumin(i)um ones typical of the period. But these make for a lighter instrument, which is a significant consideration when you're talking about a lot of extra buttons. So all in all I'm happy with the trade-off. Bob Michel Near Philly
  17. Oh, good. I almost always post from a tablet, and I'd assumed that the nifty formatting I see in other people's posts involved some terribly basic computer trick I should have learned twenty years ago. But of course I wasn't about to embarrass myself by asking. Bob Michel Near Philly
  18. There you go. I was hoping for some corrections. I'd thought of both Jacques Brel and Noel Coward, actually; I know Harry Lauder only a little, so am glad to be set straight on that score. Brel I omitted, I suppose, because my focus was narrowly anglophone (actually Georges Brassens strikes me as a more significant omission along those lines). I ought to have mentioned Noel Coward, though (I'm a big Penelope Fitzgerald fan, and just recently read her novel "At Freddie's," which includes a wonderful set piece with a fictionalized Coward). Perhaps I was pigeonholing him as a writer of comical/novelty songs (grotesquely inaccurate and unfair, I know), a genre that's always been more tolerant of composer/interpreters. By the same token I ought to have mentioned Fats Waller. By and large, though, commercial music, in this country at least, long involved a record company A&R man (Mitch Miller was probably the most notorious) matching singer to song. There were exceptions all along, but that was the rule. The arrangement changed in the '60s, when an expectation evolved that a first-rate performer ought to be generating his/her own material (whence the new category of "cover artist" for those who didn't). Lennon, McCartney and Dylan didn't invent the singer/songwriter, but I do think that their advent was the tipping point. That said, it's good to be reminded of the giants on whose shoulders they stood. Bob Michel Near Philly
  19. Typically there's one composer and one lyricist, though now and then the collaborators shared these roles, Lennon-and-McCartney style. It's not unusual to see a third, or even a fourth name credited. A single name is uncommon, though it happens: Berlin often worked solo, as he did on "Oh! How I Hate To Get Up,.." Collaboration would remain the norm: most of the selections in the so-called Great American Songbook were shared endeavors, with notable exceptions (Cole Porter comes to mind). It would be decades before "songwriter" conjured by default someone equally adept at both tunes and verses--and of course that even more exotic beast, the "singer-songwriter," was practically unheard of, at least in mainstream commercial music (i.e., I'm not counting Woody Guthrie, or any number of rural blues singers). One tends to forget just how unusual John and Paul were when they came along over forty years later--and they, of course, collaborated. Quite possibly I'm overlooking somebody obvious, but the prototype of the Lone-Artist-Who-Does-It-All (and sells millions of records) seems to me to be Bob Dylan. Bob Michel Near Philly
  20. "The Merry Peasant" got around some. It never occurred to me until just now how close the A part of "Redwing" is to the first part of "American Patrol." Bob Michel Near Philly
  21. That's uncommonly kind of you, Rod, but I don't have any illusions about being more than a journeyman in this endeavor; I wish I could do the songs better justice. But an old piece of sheet music just begs to be performed, however indifferently, and I've felt vaguely guilty for years about sitting on so many of them without having a go. I have to say, too, that the WWI centennial seems to be flitting by, in this country at least, with less attention than it deserves. For that matter, we just finished observing the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, and that too struck me as a pretty tepid affair--at least compared to the centennial, which made a great impression on me as a boy. So I suppose that the attempt to breathe a little life into a few period songs also has something to do with making amends, in a tiny way, for that neglect. Bob Michel Near Philly
  22. Having dallied with Mars, we return to Venus. Entry #12 is a love song from 1915, which happens to sport one of my favorite titles of the decade: http://youtu.be/TSPHFcUhMKU When I started thinking about this project, the first decision I made was to play the songs straight. There's unlimited potential for camp, obviously, but what would be the point of that? The cultural distance doesn't need underlining. The second decision I made was not to focus exclusively on either well-known songs or songs that particularly caught my fancy on first hearing. I want a broader picture than that, and I also want to challenge my own predilections. Having said as much, I have to concede that this one brings us perilously close to Tiny Tim territory. Getting through the (unintentional?) double entendres in the lyrics with a straight face was a non-trivial task. For that matter, the artwork on the cover, which is what drew me to the song in the first place, is more than a bit Freudian: http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/media/jpg/hasm/med/a2262-1.jpg How innocent was all this, anyway? I'm undecided. Subtexts worked very differently a century ago, surely. In the end we're left with the song, which to be fair isn't that bad. Or I assume it wasn't; the fact is that I've never actually heard this one, and my version is at best a plausible reconstruction. It has a nice raggy melody, at any rate. But if I had to pick one period piece on the theme in question, it'd probably be "For Me and My Gal." Bob Michel Near Philly
  23. If the "extra" notes on my 40-button Wheatstone are a tad weaker, the difference is slight, and I've long since learned to compensate for it. But the reed pan is a bit crowded: the action on the RH accidental row F#/D# and C#/D# has given me trouble in the past, and I've mucked around with shims and reversed springs and whatnot. Last year I sent it to The Button Box for some tweaking, and they did a superb job of correcting these problems (at least so far). But they agreed with me that the design is less than optimal. Bob Michel Near Philly
  24. Duly seconded. I can't think of a better primer than Mary's playing. You might also seek out recordings by Charlie Coen, both with his late brother Jack ("The Branch Line") and solo ("Father Charlie" and a very recent one I haven't picked up yet). His style is, if anything, even more spare than Mary's, but lacks for nothing at all. Two other commercially recorded artists who come to mind are Jacqueline McCarthy and (of course) the great Chris Droney. All these players have distinctive styles of their own, but they all understand that one well-placed ornament is worth ten flashy ones. (By which I don't mean to belittle anyone else's approach; it's just the kind of playing I prefer.) Bob Michel Near Philly
  25. Very cool; thanks for the link! An unexpected benefit of this little project is that I'm learning a lot about music from that period which I'd never heard before. I'm not surprised that the Yiddish songs were recorded here first; there are lots of parallels (traditional Irish music, for one). And of course the Yiddish theatre was a very big deal in the U.S. at that time: Wikipedia tells me that at the start of WWI there were 24 establishments in New York City alone. The debt of Tin Pan Alley to that tradition (and to Jewish music in general) is enormous. So many of the tunesmiths (including Irving Berlin) were a generation removed from the Pale; there are countless quotations of traditional and popular melodies in commercial songs from those years (including, delightfully, in "God Bless America"). Bob Michel Near Philly
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