Monday, April 15, 2013

on mistaking covers for the originals

After the Bobtown show last Friday night, I was chatting briefly with one of the singers (I think it was Jen McDearman) about their cover version of the Blue Oyster Cult song, "Don't Fear the Reaper."  I noted that, while I had heard of the song, I wasn't really familiar with what it sounded like.

Actually, I'm kind of puzzled here. I had this whole memory of Blue Oyster Cult having gotten heavy criticism because some teenager commited suicide and it was somehow blamed on the song. I was sure I could get some details by looking up the song on Wikipedia. But there's no mention of any real controversy. The closest I can find is a quote from Buck Dharma:
I felt that I had just achieved some kind of resonance with the psychology of people when I came up with that, I was actually kind of appalled when I first realized that some people were seeing it as an advertisement for suicide or something that was not my intention at all. It is, like, not to be afraid of it (as opposed to actively bring it about). It's basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners.
Maybe they were criticized for supposedly encouraging suicide, but weren't blamed for any specific suicide?

Anyway, Jen commented that it was a good thing -- I will always know that song for their version and not for BOC's. And that reminded me of growing up. There were several sopngs that I knew better via their cover versions than by the better known hit versions.

Prominent example? "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." I knew it as a Partridge Family song because it was on their Notebook album, which my sister had. It was only years later, when I saw an ad in a catalogue for an Animals compilation, did I learn of the better-known rendition. While I love the Animals's hit, I also have a soft-spot for the Partridge Family's version. You can listen to it here:

Another example was "Me And You and a Dog Named Boo," which I knew by the Brady Bunch version -- my sister had their album, Meet the Brady Bunch. I only learned of my folly when I was at a friend's house.Her older sister had a friend over, and they were listening to the radio. On comes Lobo's hit version. I said something like "That's a Brady Bunch song!" What a look I got. Unlike the Partride Family cover I mentioned above, this was a horrendous cover. Judge for yourself:
The Brady bunch cover of "American Pie" (yes, it was years before I learned that it was not their song originally) was even worse:
Of course, I remember at summer camp explaining to someone that "Daydream Believer" wasn't originally an Anne Murray song. So at least then I got to feel superior

Sunday, April 14, 2013

great misheard lyrics

I've heard lots of variations of the misheard lyric meme.

"There's a bathroom on the right"? Heard it.
"Let's pee in the corner"? Heard it.
"The dude I'm in"? Heard it.

But there is one that I heard recently that I hadn't heard before. Instead of "Smoke on the Water," someone quoted a lyric as "Slow Uncle Walter."

I like that.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

a (probably) overlong story of how i came to hear of bobtown

"Alan Lee Backer is playing on Long island Friday night." I was trying to prepare a presentation for work. My wife was checking into activities for the kids, when the email came in on her computer. And that comment was what led to my seeing Bobtown yesterday (see yesterday's post). For I am an Alan Lee Backer fan.

Some (OK, a ton of) background: in college -- actually, I don't remember if it was college or the years shortly thereafter -- I saw the Beat Farmers play at the Lonestar Roadhouse. The Lonestar was a C&W bar /restaurant / venue on 57th Street in Manhattan. It's no longer around. Anyway, I was one of the few people who came around early enough to catch the opening act -- a local country-flavored band called Five Chinese Brothers. They gave me a copy of their single, "Baltimore," which was out on Diesel Only Records. Diesel Only specialized in New York country-flavored singles. Often it was truck driving music. They also provided me some of my earliest experiences with alt-rock. Influenced by the Five Chinese Brothers's single, I eventually bought a copy of each of the brand's singles that were still available. Actually I bought two copies of each -- my Christmas present tro Desmond that year was one copy. One of my favorites was "Two Hearts (Tender Lovin' and True)" by the Twanglers. I wish I could find a Youtube video of it, but I can't. FWIW, here's a video of the Twanglers live doing "My Babe:"
I loved "Two Hearts," but that single (and the song's appearance on Diesel Only's compilation, Rig Rock Jukebox, was all I had of the Twanglers. I bought the three Five Chinese Brother albums as they came out. Those were the days when I still bought a lot of albums. I had a job and no kids. Money flowed freer then. From the liner notes I could see the names of the brothers. One of them had even played in a band with a guy I was freinds with in college. Small world. Anyway, the Twanglers never did an album. So I loved the track, but never knew names or anything. One of the names that I didn't know was Alan Backer.

Nearly twenty years later, I was with the family at the Long Island Children's Museum. We were there for a performance by Ken Waldman, Alaska's fiddlin' poet. I should write a post about him. No promises. Anyway, he recites his freeform poetry while playing the fiddle. On this occasion, he had a drummer backing him up. I recognized the drummer. I was sure opf it. But I couldn't quite tell from where. At the end of the show, Ken thanked him by name. It was Charlie Shaw. I knew that name. From somewhere. But I couldn't place it. So I approached him and asked if he had been in any New York area bands that I might have seen him in. Among the many names he reeld off was Five Chinese Brothers. I responded by reciting lyrics from "Baltimore." So we talked music for a while. I mentioned other bands that I liked from Diesel Only. Including the Twanglers. He mentioned that he's in a new band called The Wicked Messengers with a couple of the guys from The Twanglers. Really? So I got the information.

Some time later I went to see them play at Hill Country, a Texas-style barbecue restaurant in Manhattan. I surprised Alan Backer before the show by asking him to autograph my copy of the Twanglers' single. I mentioned that it was one of my favorite songs. I later learned that he wrote it, so I must have sounded like I was just buttering him up, but I was being honest. It was great show. I saw the Messengers play a couple of other times -- they do a great show. But between work and family commitments, I don't get out to see them as much as I'd like. They do a karaoke show at Hill Country on Tuesdays, and I hear that's a great show. It's sort of like karaoke, except instead of having pre-recorded music, you have a live band behind you. Here's a video of someone doing Billy Joel's "You May Be Right:"

It's difficult for me to work that in. I should make a point of picking a Tuesday and going. Come hell or high water.

Anyway, As I posted yesterday, I almost didbn't make it to see Bobtown. But I'm glad I did. And Alan even gave me a copy of the Wicked Messengers' second album, Livin' Fast

Anyway, I leave you with Bobtown doing "Hell and Gone." I admit that I can't tell if this is the version from before Alan became a member.

Friday, April 12, 2013

a night in bobtown

Thank God for parkour. Earlier this week I heard of a concert that was really tempting. I wanted to go.

But it wasn't going to happen. I've been a workaholic recently -- one of the reasons I've been blogging so sparsely. I have a lot to get done for work, and this week has been particularly tough for me. Tuesday I had to make a presentation at work. I may blog about it since it was about music, but I may not since it was about music about the company and I'll have to remove so much that any interesting aspects will be lost. Anyway, I lost a full day of my "real" work to that. And a half day on Wednesday taking my youngest to the dentist. So despite wanting to go see this show, I probably would have missed it.

But I lucked out and was saved from myself. The kids wanted to go to a Friday parkour class. It just so happens that the class was near the venue (a library in Long Beach) and it staretd at the same time. So we all went out. My wife driopped me off at the library and went off to parkour with the kids.

I can't stress enough how glad I am that this worked out. The band was a five-piece called "Bobtown." According to the introduction, Bobtown was originally an acapella group that Katherine Etzel put together as a vehicle for her field hollers. She learned that artform working on farms in Iowa. The band is different now -- for starters, it's not acapella. But there is a heavy emphasis on vocal styling  - they feature some of the most haunting vocal harmonies I can recall hearing. The style can best be described as eclectic. There are songs that sound like gospel with an appalachian flavor. At one point they sounded like Motown with banjoes. And there was one song, "Resurrection Mary," that sounded like an Andrews Sisters number. Oh, and I loved their cover of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." For another cover (though not one they performed at this particular show), follow the following link (which, for some reason, I can'tr seem to embed in this post):

One thing that I found interesting was the visual aspect of the band. Ther's no big drum kit. There was plenty of percussion -- spoons, a triangle. And Etzel herself was playing a small drum, and had a small suitcase rigged up for use as a kick drum. Interesting.

My big regret? They were on Kickstarter about a year ago. See their plea video:

I wish I'd known. For a $500 pledge, they would record a cover version of a song of your choosing. Did the pledger have the option of choosing a song he or she wrote? That's an option I would have loved to go with -- similar to my donation to Wreckless Eric's and Amy Rigby's Kickstarter campaign. Or for $501, the pledger gets the cover version and an appearance in one of their videos. Too late. Maybe there'll be another campaign for their next album?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

five missing one -- well, the lyrics anyway

I finally got around to registering the copyright on "Five Missing One," the song I wrote last year. I recorded a demo with HP Mendoza when my family visited him in december. I blogged about it back then. The process of registering the copyright online is remarkably easy, once one gets over one's natural tendency to procrastinate over any task that's not entirely familiar.

So now, with copyright registered, I present the lyrics:

Five Missing One
 Guiding horses with able hands
Through valleys and tablelands.
Another night by the fire
With the freedom we desire.

We're five but we're missing one.
Ride together under moon and sun.
We had a friend who wouldn't run.
We're five but we're missing one.

He thought it was all for fun.
And in a moment gone.
A day I won't forget.
But a life I can't regret.

We're five but we're missing one.
Ride together under moon and sun.
We had a friend who wouldn't run.
We're five but we're missing one.

He kne the risk. He took the chance.
And gave us his last dance.

So we drink to the family we found
And to the one who's not around.
And we ride on.

We're five but we're missing one.
Ride together 'til the ridin's done.
We had a friend who wouldn't run.
We're five but we're missing one.

I'm kind of proud of it, since I succeeded in a few specific goals. I wanted something that was evocative of the old western songs. Almost a Louis L'Amour novel in musical form. It didn't quite get to LL novel stature, but I managed to get a little bit of s atory in there. I also succeeded in leaving a certain mystery in the story. It's clear that someone died, but I don't say how. That's a biggie. At some point over the last couple of years I had the realization that one of my problems as a songwriter is this urge to fill in every gap. That can make things too cumbersome. If I tried to tell the whole story of how the missing one died, I'd have to add a couple more verses. (at least). And that's not really the point of the song anyway. It would be, I guess, if I had written more verses to completely flesh out the story. But I like this better. And I like the point of the song better this way. I have to remember this going forward. There's one song in particular that I've been toying with for years. If I consciously leave details out, that might help me make progress.

Also, I think I succeeded melodically. If I ever figure out how to add widgets to this blog I can attach my demos so you can listen. Anyway, I got away from the same chord progressions that I tend to fall back on. CDG GDC GDGC. Transpose as you like, but you get the idea. Here the verses are based on going from D to D-suspended then back to D. Then transitioning to A7 via an A7-suspended. Of course, to play it again, I have to reconstruct the exact chord progression. I have an early version on my computer. But I made changes in San Francisco and hand-wrote them. But I lost the copy that I wrote them on. I think I'll manage, because those suspended chords were the only things that were in any way exotic.

There are a couple of people I have to email mp3s to. Maybe I'll get around to it sometime in the 23rd century.