Why Did I Tell Ya I was Going to Shanghai? (Peggy Lee)
Ridin’ on the Gravy Train (Jo Stafford)
I can guarantee you no one has been playing these great numbers for a loooooong time….
This is the forgotten hit, “Why Did I Tell You I Was Goin’ to Shanghai.” Doris Day had a lot of success with it, but, much as I love Ms. Day, I prefer the lesser known Peggy Lee rendition, here sung live in 1951 on CBS radio and fortunately preserved. Bob Hilliard, who wrote the lyrics to “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” wrote these as well.
It’s real cute, so I’ve added it to my repetoire. I first heard it when I was singing in Japan ages ago, on a cassette tape of American jazz I bought in a tiny cassette tape shop in East Osaka (really). Try finding some Japanese enka recordings in Houston…
I’ve a new project on the near horizon, in addition to the jazzy quartet work and my forthcoming album of originals. The new project is an album of classic Nashville covers from the 1960s, solo voice and steel-string guitar.
Initial demos sounded good to those who listened and, most importantly, I did, too. Something has changed in my delivery of vocal material.
The twist is that none of the songs on this album will have been very well-known, even when they were issued. But they are gems, every one of them. As you probably already know, I love to mine the American back catalog and have come up flush every time.
In my performing life, I’ve sung Japanese enka on Japanese TV and Taiwanese pop songs in Mandarin on Chinese state television, but I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I would be asked to sing 1950s Bollywood songs in Hindi in Houston, Texas.
I just did, to wonderful reception. And I have a witness!!
All I can say at this point about our session last week at Wire Road with Tony LaVorgna, Ernesto Vega and Thomas Helton is that it was fantastic. I can’t share any audio of it yet with you because there is more writing and recording to come in this project in 2018. But let me share my favorite picture of the day. Tony and Ernesto in the studio. I love this image very much. (I think they’re talking about reeds, funny enough…)
In the studio today, mixing quartet tracks with Tony LaVorgna and Andy Bradley (engineer Wire Road Studios in Houston) and recording a few new originals with my Bedell Guitars Revolution prototype. I’m recording voice into a Neumann U87. The guitar is going into a stereo pair of Schoeps Mikrofone CMC641. Great sound! Can’t wait to share it with the world and all of our friends.
My dear friend and colleague, Alice Schweitzer, who passed away last year, was a member of the Woodside Sisters. She was also friend and colleague of my recording/writing partner Tony LaVorgna.
We’d heard stories that the trio was competition for The Chordettes, but neither Tony nor I had ever seen the sisters in a live performance because they’d disbanded decades before we worked with Alice.
Until today, when I discovered this routine in a YouTube video.
You’ll see them introduced by the great and wonderful Fred Allen, filmed in 1953. The routine starts at about 19:01. Alice starts the routine, center stage. They really were the tops. And to think, just 65 years ago, the land was teeming with acts at this level of variety performance.
Missing also in the young person’s musical diet is a love of (or even mere exposure to) classical works. No allusion to the classics can be found in any — and I mean none at all — pop or jazz or showtune since 1968. This is something that must be remedied.
Sure you might find an exception to prove this generality technically wrong, like Disco Beethoven in 1976. But the point is this: the older writers of sophisticated popular music listened and learned extensively from great tradition.
Here is an example of wholesale copying! The music is ascribed to Paul Weston, but it’s clear where it comes from. When it was issued, I think most laymen who considered themselves musically literate would have known it is Chopin. And of course, the musicians, the composers, well, surely they did.
Funny, but, forgive me for saying so, it seems like a foreign country. Like Lapplanders celebrating the coming of spring.
Aside from his singing, which I adore, here is what I admire in this performance: its modesty, the lack of pretence, the unassuming rhythm, its regularity and certainty, the melody easy to sing and to follow, the simple but essential harmonies, clarity in the lyric and superb diction, the joy with which it is delivered and received by the audience. So much to learn from.
I admire the song with a seemingly simple lyric that can be sung “away from” its plain meaning, because there is, between the lines, something not obvious at first glance. This is what the singer can bring out in his delivery.
Since I’m listening to a lot of Waylon lately, let me use “Sandy Sends Her Best” (1973) as an example. The singer writes his former lover (who has, in his own words, waited “faithfully” for him) to tell her he’s running off with Sandy. The letter, which is the entire lyric, is a cruel, selfish, unapologetic statement of abandonment, which the cad who wrote it did not dare make face to face.
Perhaps the most faithless line, kicking sand in the face of one you’ve knocked down is this:
“Sandy sends her best and she and I both wish you well.”
Can you imagine the gall? But Waylon, with that very subtle masculine charm has a way of singing it, that one may even sympathize with this rotten S.O.B. Quite a chanteur he was, bold and daring, without much flexibility in his vocal tone or command, but a real master of exposing subtle intention in song.
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