Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday's Twosome # 16

April 9, 1966: Billboard announces the release of a certain Tune-Tone LP (about which more in a second). Several months later, in the October 22 issue of the same year, the Billboard announcement is repeated (for whatever reasons) and the said LP was awarded a mediocre 3-star rating; the album was categorised as »popular«. After that, we hear nothing more of the said LP.

Tune-Tone LP # 121 (04/1966)
The artists featured on the said LP are Bonnie & Clem, prominently billed on the cover as »The Aero-Dynamic Singers«. I really have not the faintest idea what this was supposed to mean, and if you search for »Aero-Dynamic Singers« using the various net ressources at our disposal you'll get a mere 0 results. However, the singers are familiar enough, maybe even household names to some aficionados: Bonnie Davis and Clem (Clement) Moorman, wife and husband at this stage of their career (they divorced only several years after in the early 70's).
Bonnie Davis (this being her stage name; for the law she was Gertrude Melba Smith) was born in New Orleans and grew up in Alabama. She met pianist Clem(ent) Moorman in or around 1942 when both worked in Newark. Clem was playing at the local Piccadilly Club, forming the house band, i.e. a trio made up of himself (piano), Al Henderson (bass), and Ernie Ransome (guitar). They soon became the Piccadilly Pipers, Al Henderson was replaced by Henry Padgette, and that's how they finally encountered Bonnie Davis. Bonnie on the other hand was around Newark as a singer with saxophonist Teddy Hill's band and in 1942, when the Piccadilly Pipers were looking for a female singer, all teamed up together. Early on, they also recorded as the »Bunny Banks Trio«. Their first sessions with Savoy produced a #1 R&B hit (»Don't Stop Now«), and their follow-up records during the 1940's were likewise more or less successful. But it was only in 1949 that the group appeared officially, for the first time, as »Bonnie Davis And Clem«. -- Well, this is just a digest of a much longer and more interesting story which was researched in detail by Marv Goldberg (read it here: »The Piccadilly Pipers«). Equally informative proved a long entry at Google Answers, read it here. There, reference is also made to the study of Barbara J. Kukla: Swing City: Newark Nightlife, 1925-50, Philadelphia 1991 (I haven't checked this reference).

The Piccadilly Pipers (feat. Bonnie Davis)
The Piccadilly Pipers (feat. Bonnie Davis) recorded into the mid-50's, after which Bonnie went to Decca (the group was by then already under contract with Coral, a Decca subsidiary) and started a solo career (of sorts; Clem of the Pipers was playing piano at all her sessions). This didn't lead anywhere, and soon The Piccadilly Pipers were back in business, with changed personnel. They continued to record until the end of the 50's before they finally disbanded. Bonnie & Clem went ahead as a duo, touring supper clubs and lounges, thus sharing the fate which the merciless 1960s had in store for many late-40's/early 50's artists who had lost, it appears, touch with the younger audience, were by now lacking overall success and in any case were regarded by many as relicts of the past; musicallywise they usually offered, or were forced to offer, the somewhat outdated tunes popular in the cocktail lounge circuit which still appealed to an elderly, white middle-class public.

Publicity shots of Bonnie Davis, from the 1950's
Their Tune-Tone LP, released only in 1966 (according to Billboard; Marv Goldberg mentions the earlier date of 1964), was hopelessly outdated when it was released (at least if measuring it at what was current on the charts of the time). In fact, even the portraits of Bonnie & Clem on the cover probably date to the 1950s, as becomes apparent if comparing Bonnie's photo with some of her former publicity shots. Weirdly, the back cover of the album has no complete song list but features, among other things, two short career sketches of Bonnie and Clem and a list of places »both have appeared as a duo«. All texts on the back cover focus heavily on their TV and concert appearances and downplay their former history as »The Piccadilly Pipers«; probably the LP was meant to be sold after their stints in the various clubs. The disc labels yield the following song list:
  • A1   No Man Is An Island
  • A2   Basin Street
  • A3   The Heart Of A Fool
  • A4   You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You
  • A5   Madeira
  • A6   All I Want Is You
  • B1   Just A Little Lovin'
  • B2   Exodus
  • B3   Capucciana
  • B4   Moonlight In Vermont
  • B5   When I Lost You
  • B6   It's Alright With Me
Several of these songs were recorded, I presume, in the years before 1966, but I cannot give any dates. »You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You«, for example, was recorded by Bonnie & Clem in 1959 for the first time. Moreover, Clem appears as a duet partner of Bonnie in only about five songs; the rest are Bonnie solos (with Clem on the piano). The two duets which, to my mind, stand out from the rest are »All I Want Is You« and »Just A Little Lovin'«. The first tune is an original Davis-Moorman composition, exhibiting much witty playfulness and even some features of a typical novelty song; the second tune, classically romantic, is much different in mood and performance as you will easily notice ... so in between these songs we can capture the wide range of musical styles Bonnie & Clem could cover with much charm and skill:

Bonnie & Clem: »All I Want Is You« / »Just A Little Lovin'« from the Tune-Tone LP # 121 (1966):

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Anyhow, there are still two things to consider here, one biographical and the other musical.
    The biographical bit: It may not be remembered generally that Gertrude Melba Smith (aka Bonnie Davis) is the mother of known singer Melba Moore. However, the surrounding details are somewhat unclear: Both Bonnie and Clem said later that they fell in love the moment they met in Newark, that is, in 1942 at the latest. Melba was born in 1945 while Bonnie was married still to Teddy Hill (the bandleader of her for- mer engagement), and Melba was nine when Bonnie remarried Clem Moorman. So was she married before to Clem, divorced him sometime before 1945 and remarried him in c.1954? Or maybe the mention of a remarriage is a mistake and Bonnie actually married Clem for the first time in c.1954, although they had been in love for a considerable time before. Melba, in any case, later acknowledged to have been much influenced by her stepfather Clem and even took her stage name »Moore« from Clem's family name »Moorman« (while »Melba« refers, obviously, to her mother). In the July 1970 issue of Ebony (p. 31), we read the following about Melba Moore:
As a child growing up in New York and Newark, she was "turned on" to show biz by her parents, both of whom performed with a group called the Piccadilly Pipers. "I met a lot of people through them," Melba relates, "for they have a great facility for making friends wherever they go. My initial impulse was to get into nightclubs singing and playing the piano, since that's what they do, and I thought I could get started in that most easily. My brothers, my sister and I were all musically inclined and we enjoyed taking lessons. At one time I was really heavy into jazz piano."

   The musical bit: There is one song on this LP, another duet, entitled »Capucciana« (which Bonnie & Clem consistently pronounce »Capuccina«). It obviously is meant to be a funny pun on cappuccino and is partly sung in Italian, one of the myriad of pseudo-Italian songs popular in the early 1960's and impossibly kitschy for my personal taste (but well-suited to a supper club audience which presumably had often its fair share of nostalgic Italo-Americans). Now, there is no such song, really, as »Capucciana«,and the song is little more than an adaption of Nicola Arigliano's hit single »Permettete, Signorina« from 1960. The Italian parts run, in case it is of interest:

          Permettete signorina
          Vi dispiace se vi chiedo di ballar
          Non c'e' bimba piu' carina
          Che mi possa questa sera far sognar   ... ... ...
          O mia bella signorina
          Baciami ancor
          Dammi dammi un bacio
          Un lungo bacio
          E ciao ciao ciao amor!

Bonnie & Clem: »Capucciana« from the Tune-Tone LP # 121 (1966):

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Still Reminiscing ...

... ah well, I am still thinking, with no little nostalgia, about my late summer trip to Greece ... while around here the golden leaves are falling on the ever colder ground and the sun, when she does appear through the misty haze of the autumn sky, struggles more and more every day to reach her meridian over the horizon. At night, the moon is often obscured by batches of dark clouds as if his silver disk is waylaid by a swarm of hungry bats. So best I can come up with today are two songs which dispel my gloomy autumn mood and bring back the memories of sunnier days ... and of places like this, on a lonely beach in southern Crete called Sweetwater:

(Click to enlarge)
When I looked through some of my records, summer songs proved less easy to find than I thought! At the end, I ended up with a version of Gershwin's classic »Summer- time«, by Brenda & The Tabulations (recorded in Philadelphia and released on their one-and-only Dionn LP # 2000 Dry Your Tears in May 1967). Following up their hit »Dry Your Tears«, Brenda & The Tabulations rushed out, as was common, an accompanying album which, for all the speed with which it was produced, contained many covers and known standards, among which the said song. A Billboard critic of the epoch (June 3, 1967 issue, p. 86) nevertheless stated that Brenda's mono version of »Summertime« gives an »excellent treatment« to the tune, so it did no go unnoticed. There will be some out there who have never heard Brenda's version before, and although I do not think that hers is the definitive version of that tune it strikes me as a particularly melancholic version, and the song in itself is essentially melancholic! (Thus it well fits my actual mood ...) Brenda's high-pitched voice, somewhat echoing and distant in the recording, confers an almost mystic atmo- sphere. And mind that at around 02:18 into the song, before the organ sets in, there is a noticeable break which must be due to bad cutting, I guess. In any case, it does not seem caused by the LP nor by the pressing.

As for the second tune, I took it from an album you all know, yet it arguably is - given that almost all songs from this album have become landmark recordings - the least remembered of them all: Aretha Franklin's »Hello Sunshine« from her 1968 Atlantic LP Now. The song was penned, in or little before '68, by King Curtis and Ron(ald/nie) Miller. As you know, Curtis was present in person at the December, 19, 1967 session which produced the track, and the backing vocals are due to none less than The Sweet Inspirations ... Like »Summertime«, »Hello Sunshine« is again a melancholic song, even if Aretha's room-filling powerhouse voice wasn't fitted to produce a version you could call »mystical«. As only she could (and, well, can), she effortlessly blasts the tune away into the blissful heaven of immortal recordings!

Brenda & The Tabulations: »Summertime« from the Dionn LP # 2000 (1967, mono) /
Aretha Franklin (feat. The Sweet Inspirations): »Hello Sunshine« from the Atlantic LP # 8186 (1968):

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Return of the Jedi

Oowee, ... about time to breath life again into this blog which I left sadly orphaned for two months!
Not that I was idle, really. Rather, I set out to purify my mind and soul, and fortu- nately I found some very beautiful places to do so. So, for example, I went here:

(Click to enlarge)
This spectacular lagoon is known by the name of Bálos and is situated on the northwestern tip of Crete. It is hard to reach, only either by boat or afoot, but the view (and, once descended, the turquoise water) is obviously worth the effort. And yes, during the weeks past I toured the island of Crete, leaving my hard discs, records and all the rest safely at home. I had never been to Crete before, and my first visit was truly a ravishing experience. Most parts of Crete, especially those near the sea, are equally lovely, so it doesn't matter much where you go. And it's more than an island, in many ways, not the least because of its size: its length exceeds 150 miles, yet there is but one motorway (mostly with one lane only!) and the rest of the isle is crisscrossed by more or less winding roads which often climb steep mountains in long serpentines ... and may, on occasion, give you cold sweats if you start looking into the abyssal ravines beside the road. A lot of places you can only (thanks God, for it keeps the masses away) reach on bumpy dirt tracks or by walking.
* * *
To give you a better idea, here are two more panorama views of this beautiful Mediterranean isle. The first shows Elounda Bay, near Spinalonga. It is situated to the north of Agios Nikolaos (and the reputedly chic VIP resorts of Elounda have lately seen the visits of Lady Gaga and Brad Pitt ... just saying). The second photo shows the view over Mokhlos (the shining white village below at the seaside, in front of the little island) and the Gulf of Mirabello (as the Venetians, the former lords of Crete before the Turkish conquest, called it). Both scenarios are in Eastern Crete:

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)
Now, this was a beautiful trip indeed. Back home, I then continued moving house ... and finished TODAY !! That is, today I finally relocated the last bits and pieces from my old apartment and left it, metaphorically speaking (but not much), more or less vacuum clean. Since this move from my old to my new home occupied me for the last five or six months, I can't tell you what I am feeling right now: exhaustion, joy, you name it. And a good day it is to »reopen«, as it were, this blog. Happy homecoming!