Monday, November 30, 2009

Got the Key to the Highway - Brownie McGhee

Born this date in 1915, Brownie McGhee would hav been 94 years old today.


This little three days of blog posts has been a real triumverate of music that makes me happy when I listen to it. Randy Newman's sardonic ballads and show tunes, Merle Travis' bouncy Texas Swing and today, a progenitor of a kind of "Happy" Blues music that I don't think the casual listener even knows exists.

Yes the blues is there to make you happy. The blues isn't sung to wallow in self-pity, the blues are sung to share common woes and the best lyrics (blues or otherwise) is written with a sly wink and a nod to knowing our troubles will NOT be the end of us.

Brownie McGhee's stuff is "happy" just being listened to. The melody is friendly and the beat is truthful.

Hell. Brownie's stuff is just plain GOOD.



Most folks know the more electric "Chicago-style Blues" of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Willie Dixon, the accoustic-rural-rustic "Delta-style Blues" of Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton and Tommy Johnson. There's also the "Swinging Big-Band Blues" of T-Bone Walker and Louis Jordan and there's the horn driven "New Orleans Blues" of Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory and Chick Webb.

But remember, blues is a folk music. A music of the people. Played by people, for people and about people. This style as played by wandering folkies has a real welcoming and friendly feel to it. Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Boy Fuller, Lightning Hopkins, Blind Willie McTell, Sonny Boy Williamson and...Brownie McGhee.



Brownie spent a good part of his career partnered up with Sonny Terry. Between Brownie's smooth lower register voice and full sound of his guitar and the contrasting staccato of Terry's harmonica and his old-timey "whoops and hollers" (more on this another time...whoops and hollers are actually a deep rooted type of musical expression to be taken seriously) they made a sound totally unique.

Because they worked so much as traveling musicians, they became not so much associated with the blues singers of their day, as with other traveling folk singers like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seegar, Cisco Houston and Ramblin' Jack Elliott.



Man this music sounds good.



It really makes me happy to listen to it.

Thanks Brownie for reminding us to put a smile on with a case of the blues.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Merle Travis Time - When the Music Was Crisp, and Show-Bidness Was Fun

Born this day in 1917, Merle Travis - the inventor of the syncopated style of guitar playing, known as "Travis Pickin'" or "Chicken Pickin'" would be 92 years old today.

Just look at that grin and the way the guitar looks like part of his body. That's our boy Merle.

Merle Travis was a guitar player, singer and songwriter who's heyday was in the post-war 1940's and into the 1950's. A genial guy with a really pleasant voice and a knack for writing catchy songs that made him a top-notch front man, his amazingly clean and crisp guitar style made him a much sought after side man as well. Travis sounded good and he made everyone else sound better!

Here he is singing one of his most famous songs, a song made even more famous when it was covered by Tennessee Ernie Ford. And yes, that is Tex Ritter (John's dad) introducing the man:



And here's Merle and that "Pea-Picker" hisself, Tennessee Ernie with Molly Bee. Travis is mainly playing support here and it shows how generous he could be. On top of that, this is one of the all-time classic country-honky-tonk songs of all time. Though this song could be played in a very maudlin fashion, Tennessee Ernie is in rollicking good-time form, showing that happy feeling you get hearing Merle's guitar:



I guess that's just it. His voice was clean and clear. His songs were melodious and euphonious. But that crisp, clean enunciation on his guitar just makes your heart bounce. All this combined with his light stage presence combined for making a sound that is welcome at any time.

Here he is doing one of his own songs, a duet about laying it on much too thick when you're sweet-talking that plays great! Singing with Judy Hayden and being backed by a really slick band:



And here he is for one last one for you today:



What a great laid-back but up-beat sound and just look at that sh*t-eating grin. He really looks like he's having a great time and he's inviting you to come along for the ride.

Thanks Merle! You made that guitar sing and you make our hearts bounce!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Randy Newman - Tickling Me While He Tickles The Ivories

Born this day in 1943, Randy Newman celebrates his 66th birthday today.

Randy Newman is one of those true artists who kicks categorization in the shins and is truly unique. Even in the halls of my heroes of the singer-songwriters he seems quirky and ill-pigeon-holed.

I guess one of the reasons is, rather than the guitar...which seems the instrument-of-choice for folks of a singular voice, Newman's sidearm is the piano. He's one of those guys who uses more than 3 chords...the big showoff.

He comes from a musical family, his uncles being Alfred, Lionel and Emil Newman, who were all prominent film composers. His cousins Thomas, David and Joey are all film composers and his contemporaries.

Another trait that separates Randy from the majority of singer/songwriter's is Randy writes the majority of his songs "in character". A tool used by others in this realm to convey a viewpoint different from their own while still putting their own spin on the subject, Randy uses this almost exclusively.

This has been something which has been slightly off-putting to the casual listener. That listener who is ironic- and sardonic- challenged.

My opinion? Screw the casual listener. Songs are not meant to be background noise. Pay attention. The reward is there.

I believe the first time Randy came to the consciousness of the general American public was with this little ditty, and I seem to remember a lot of folks out there misunderstanding it's intent:



And then there was this radio hit, which I think people misunderstood as well, this time to the benefit of the song though:



Newman has always enjoyed a cult following. Those out there who "get him". The cult audience is something everyone should want. A crowd of people out there who click on the same wave-length and are there for life, not just for the next hit single.

A couple of my favorites from his "cult-album" heyday of the 1970's.

A viewpoint of America's foreign policy. One of my all-time favorites:



From a concept album which speaks of celebrity and the life of an entertainer:



From another concept album which told a story about segregation and the "Good-Ol'-Boy network" in the Southern U.S.:



Since the 1980's, Randy has drifted more and more away from the usual path, and has concentrated on film scores. Oscar nominated and winner for scores in films like "The Natural" won him big cache' in this field.

Here's a great song he wrote for the film "Parenthood":



Over the last 20+ years he's had a close relationship with the boys at Disney-adjacent film makers, with scores for "James and the Giant Peach" and especially with Pixar doing the music for their 1st 4 films "Toy Story", "A Bug's Life", "Toy Story 2" and "Monsters, Inc.". Returning for "Cars" he's now on the slate for the upcoming "Toy Story 3" and "Cars II".

Here's a couple from this period to make you smile and maybe even tear up a little:





Thanks Randy! For lyrics and music that make you feel everything!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Flying Spaghetti Monster, part 1

The fastest growing carbohydrate based religion in the world today:

I have seen the light...and He is delicious.

The Dawn of Man!

Like many people wandering aimlessly and without purpose in today's world, I guess I was sub-consciously seeking some sort of spiritual guidance. A reason behind it all. A spirituality I was in denial of as a long time atheist and believer in science, natural law and evolution.

I guess my mind was clouded by all those cumbersome "facts" in insurmountable "evidence" that there was no higher power.

Then without even seeking, I discovered that there was an "intelligent design" to us and our world.

One true creator. A divine being who made it all happen.

And He is The Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I am a new disciple and am still trying to drink in all the beauty and wisdom of the "FSM", though the religion of "Pastafarianism" has been around for the entire time of the Earth and man (a couple thousand years by best guesstimate), it was forgotten long ago and was only recently rediscovered and brought to light by our prophet Bobby Henderson.

See his web-site here for more details.

Though I am new, I am bursting with the joy of it all, and feel compelled to witness what I have learned thus far. This being Friday it is the Holy Day of the Church of the FSM and seems a fitting time to me.


Pirates!

In the beginning was the word,
And the word was "Arrrgh!"
-Piraticus 13:7

The Divine Beings to the FSM are pirates.

They're His favorites. When worshipping His Noodliness it is fitting to drape thyself in the raiment's of full-pirate regalia. Though not required, it is suggested.

One of the prime examples of the empirical evidence of the existence of the FSM, is the chart below, which clearly shows His unhappiness in the dwindling pirate population.

You can see clearly that global warming has increased in direct proportion to the decrease in pirate population. Conversely, "National Talk Like A Pirate Day" in September and the occurrence of people dressing as pirates for Halloween in October, is always followed by about 3 months of MUCH cooler weather. Proving He is pleased by our embracing His chosen peoples way of life.

Argue with THAT you disciples of Darwin and Newton! HA!


Sightings and "Representin'":

One way I have chosen to announce to the world my new found faith in a higher being is with a nifty chrome car emblem. If that doesn't make you closer to your God, I don't know what does! Look for 'em everywhere!

Me, my BMW and my Semolina Savior! Proud as punch!


For all my Facebook friends, you can even spot evidence of our carbo-loaded creator in Farmville! See below:



Heaven and Hell...how to spend your Fridays:

Pastafarian Heaven, as created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster is truly divine indeed, and show just how much His Noodliness loves all his children. Heaven is full of Beer Volcanoes as far as the eye can see, nourishing our everlasting souls for all eternity...or until His wisdom turns us over into the great cosmic colander of it all.

Oh...there's also a Stripper Factory. Sounds pretty sweet! I'd like to see YOUR God's Heaven compete with THAT!

Hell is just about the same. Except the beer is stale. And the strippers all have STD's.

FSMism or Pastafarianism, doesn't have any annual holidays like Christmas, Yom Kippur or Black Friday. EVERY Friday is a Holy Day and we worship by creating out own Heaven on Earth. Drinking beer and watching strippers and dreaming of the afterlife, when every day is Friday.


More to come next Friday:

I will use the next few Fridays to pass along more info about the FSM as I learn more myself.

Until then...may you all bathe in the spiciness of His sauce and nourish thyself in His divine Meatiness...May ye be touched and guided by His Noodly Appendage.

R'Amen.

I'm off to The Drink Hole to worship!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

Time to take stock in all things in our lives we are thankful for - and time to stuff our faces!

I am thankful for the turkey's giblets. I don't know what function they serve for the bird itself, but they sure make gravy taste good!

I am thankful for that green bean/cream of mushroom soup/french fried onion casserole that everyone serves and most only take a polite spoonful of, just because the good ol' American casserole is in need of a come-back and should be represented!

I am thankful for that can-shaped glob of gelatinous cranberry jelly that everyone forgets to put on the table until the meal's almost over. HINT: The real treat in this is the next day when you make a miniature turkey sandwich on a leftover biscuit. When sliced, this sweet/tart/canned/unnaturally red goo is the EXACT size of said biscuit and fits perfectly!

I am thankful for black olives on the relish tray that fit so perfectly on the ends of your fingers!

I am thankful for the first child at the "kiddie table" that spills his milk. It panics and embarrasses the mother of said child, but relaxes and relieves everyone else and lets us enjoy the get-together more!

I am thankful for giant balloons of cartoon characters in the Macy's parade! The only time I ever get to see Felix, Underdog and Bullwinkle anymore!

I am thankful for kids learning to trace their outstretched palm on tan construction paper and drawing a turkey!

I am thankful that gravy tastes good on EVERYTHING!

I am thankful for the one freaky vegetarian who shows up at every one's house every year with a dish of brussels sprouts. That just leaves more stuffing and gravy for me!

I am thankful for the official start of eggnog season! Make mine EXTRA nogg-y PLEASE!

I am thankful for the two or three at the table with repressed, pent-up aggression, who have too much wine and start a fight at the table. While every one's distracted I get more stuffing and gravy!!

I am thankful for the trytophan in the turkey that finally takes the winds out of the sails of the arguers and signals "time for pie!".

I am thankful that in my 46 years of Thanksgivings, I have always had good friends and family to spend this day with, and hopefully always will.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours...save some stuffing and gravy for me!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Charles Schulz - He Showed Us the Good in Grief!

Charles Schulz's birthday is tomorrow, November 26th, he was born in 1922.

Here's a guy who took the limits of the comic strip and made them limitless. He made truly simple looking lines on a page tell a complex and deep story. He gave 2 dimensional characters voluminous more depth, I'll wager, than that mook sitting in the cubicle next to you has.

But I won't get hoity-toity-artsy-fartsy on you.

Charles Schulz didn't approach his work on "Peanuts" in that fashion. He just wanted to draw a comic strip. He just wanted to make it the best he could. He did what all true artists do, and did what comes natural and the art comes through. Sadness and joy of his life all went in to making one of the best comic strips ever done.

I know a bajillion Schulz anecdotes I could pass on to you, but my favorite is about the "Little Red-Haired Girl".

There really was one, you know. I'll keep it short and simple. Like the lines drawn in "Peanuts".

As a young man Charles was dating a woman with red hair who he loved (as all young men do) with all his heart. Being young, the girl had two semi-boyfriends, Charles and another. Schulz, wanting to secure his future with the red-haired girl, proposed marriage. Weighing her options, she judged one boyfriend who had joined the fire department and was securing a future for himself, against the other, a guy who liked to draw cartoons but had no real prospects for making any kind of a living. She did what any sensible young lady would do and chose the fireman, breaking Schulz's heart.

Schulz went on to create a newspaper comic strip that lasted almost 50 years, was published in nigh every country on the planet, spawned Television specials, motion pictures, a Broadway musical, hit songs...Hell, "Charlie Brown" and "Snoopy" were the call signs for the command module and lunar module, respectively on the Apollo 10 mission. HE WENT TO OUTER SPACE FOR CHRISSAKES! Oh...and to put it in perspective to the women out there who aren't impressed by worldwide and galactic influence and don't see the "red-haired girl's" folly...he pulled down an 8 figure income.

I figured you'd understand that. Byatches.

Charlie Brown flew around the world and into outer space, and all he really pined for was to be able to fly his kite past the "kite-eating tree", win a baseball game or kick that damn football. Oh yeah, and the "little red-haired girl".

Don't misinterpret me. Charles Schulz had two long marriages and had a passel of kids. But that tiny rejection flowed in to his "little kid's strip" and pumped it full of real emotion and fodder for years to come.

He did what he did and the art came through.

The very first "Peanuts" strip. October 2, 1950.

Charles Schulz and the "little red-haired girl".

The last "Peanuts" strip. December 14, 1999.

Thanks Charles. For 49+ years of doing it the right way.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fine, Fine Lou Fine! Damn Fine, Indeed!

Thank you for your patience as I fight off the overflow of melatonin being produced in my brain as the winter solstice approaches. Now I'll treat you to some more work by Lou Fine!

As I said earlier, Lou was one of the premiere young men who jumped into the fledgling medium of the comic book in the 1930's-40's, comics Golden Age. He went to work for the Eisner-Iger studio as the packaged complete comic books for publishers. More on this long gone part of the field, as well as that particular studio on Will Eisner's post when we get to it.

The basic idea was, a studio (a group of kids with a penchant for writing and drawing adventure stories) would produce a full blown 64 pages of a comic book and sell it to a publishing company, therefore eliminating the need for the company to edit or manage any of the talent themselves. Eisner-Iger supplied most of the work done for "Quality Comics" and Lou Fine was one of the fastest artists working for them.

You'll notice that they worked under pseudonyms as well to add to the illusion of more artists working on the features. In the earlier "The Ray" story, Fine is billed as "E. Lectron" and in the following story of "The Flame" from Wonderworld Comics #6, he is Basil Berold.

Make no mistake about it though...lurking behind "Basil" and "E." was the skilled pencil of Lou Fine. Dynamic and clean composition, intricate knowledge of anatomy and poses. It's true eye candy.

Enjoy!











Just check out some of the great eye catching covers he did. Remember, if the cover didn't catch the eye of the reader, they were buying the next comic over.

Fantastic Comics #3 with "Samson". Just ogle the detail and dimension in those robots. Love it!


Hit Comics #5 with "The Red Bee". A superhero with a pink see-through shirt? It was a simpler time my friends.


Mystery Men Comics #3 with "The Green Mask". OK...they may have been running out of cool names by this time...but just drink in the layout and clean design of this cover. A master at work.


National Comics #11. America's truest WWII hero, "Uncle Sam". Captain America was just another nephew to him!


Planet Comics #42. Sexy and violent. What more could a kid ask for.


When Will Eisner (again, more on him soon) was sent off to fight in WWII, the Sunday Newspaper supplement that Eisner-Iger produced, as well as the comic book output, kept on.

Eisner himself wrote and drew the lead feature in this in-newspaper-comic-book, and ghosts were needed to keep up the weekly installments. Lou Fine and Jack Cole (creator of Plastic Man later...more on him on HIS birthday too) were the hand picked pencils for hire.

Here's a bonus for all you who waited so patiently, a "Spirit" story, ghosted by Lou Fine.







Lou later went in to advertising, as the 1950's slowed down comic book production, and his strong layout, composition and clean line all served him well.

Lou's comic book work has long been admired by his peers in the field as well as those who have come since. Jack Kirby said Lou was the best artist in the business way back in the 1940's as did Gil Kane. Today none other than super painter-illustrator Alex Ross has sited Lou Fine as being a major influence.

Thanks Lou, for making the comics look good!

- A Fine (Lou Fine that is) Place Holder -

I'm running a little behind today (just like I did all last week) as I am having trouble adapting to these short winter days. The caveman in me must be answering to genetic memory that it's time to hibernate.

I like the idea of posting in the morning though, so until I slap myself around and force myself to get into a groove, I'll give you a little teaser/appetizer for the post I'll finish after work today.

Thursday, November 26th will be the 95th anniversary of the birth of Lou Fine. More on him tonight, but for now here's a comic book story he did for the February 1942 issue #32 of Smash Comics for Quality.

Lou was an incredible penciller and draftsman who had a great sense of layout and human anatomy in the dynamic.









More to come this afternoon.

See ya.

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