James Baldwin’s record collection

March 15, 2018

Interesting Tweets from an organization in France, Les Amis de la Maison James Baldwin (The Friends of the House of James Baldwin), showing off his collection of records. They are recordings of music, on vinyl. Baldwin died in 1987, when it was still possible to avoid music on compact discs.

I love our old vinyl records. They have great works of art on the covers, often, and they have real notes in a readable font. We turned to CDs when some releases stopped coming on vinyl, after 1987.

Now it’s difficult to get CDs, and the tech magazines talk about the death of medium.

But in this short series of Tweets, more photos than words, Les Amis de la Maison James Baldwin take us back into his mind and art, and give us a glimpse of what could have been a wonderful time, sitting in his home in Paris, listening to great music on his record player — stereo I presume, though there is no information on what equipment he had.

He played some of it loud.

Good.

A photo of the vinyl record albums of James Baldwin, from the group that takes care of his home in Paris.

A photo of the vinyl record albums of James Baldwin, from the group that takes care of his home in Paris.

Diana Ross, Carmen McRae, Patti Labelle, more Carmen McRae, more Diana Ross, Donna Summer. Brenda Lee, Nina Simone and more Nina Simone. The Pointer Sisters. Deborah Brown Quartet (bet you don’t have that one in your collection). Aretha Franklin, “Here Comes the Sun” by Nina Simone, and more Aretha. One of the jazz albums produced by Creed Taylor (you have some of that, certainly). “From a Whisper to a Scream;” Allen Toussaint?

It’s a great collection in that first photo. We might expect polemics from Baldwin, but the polemic comes only from the entire field of artists and material. It’s the art he collected, and that carries a deeper, more powerful message than any one song or one artist.

Les Amis de Maison James Baldwin said,

Les Amis de Maison James Baldwin said, “Neighbors and friends recall music played at volume from the Baldwin villa.”

In the case of Aretha Franklin, “at volume” is a good thing, easily understandable. Heck, that’s true of every record in that collection.

Tweet caption: Well lived, well loved

Tweet caption: Well lived, well loved

Lou Rawls, Frank Sinatra, the Platters, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. Dinah Washington. Solid stuff.

Les Amis de Maison James Baldwin said:

Les Amis de Maison James Baldwin said: “James Baldwin occupied the villa on Chemin du Pilon from 1970 to 1987.”

Les Amis de la Maison Baldwin captioned this photo:

Les Amis de la Maison Baldwin captioned this photo: “He was reportedly entranced by gospel singer Sara Jordan Powell. He played her Amazing Grace again and again and again.”

Shirley Bassey, Bill Withers, Ray Charles, Otis Redding.

James Baldwin appears not to have had a very large collection of records in his home in France. But what he had, was great. A lot of artists are missing that we may wish Baldwin could have heard, and heard often in his own home. Perhaps he was just building up.

What a firm, great foundation.

More:

Advertisements

Did William McKinley’s assassination start the “White House Blues?”

January 31, 2018

Charlie Poole with the North Carolina Ramblers - Monkey on a String / White House Blues

Record label of the 1926 recording of “White House Blues,” by Charlie Poole with the North Carolina Ramblers

We noted the birthday of William McKinley on Monday, January 29.

Long-time reader Ellie commented with the lyrics to a song called “White House Blues,” starting out with a lament about McKinley’s being shot. The song was new to me, so I asked about it. Ellie gave us a good encyclopedia entry.

Ellie’s first comment:

The pistol fires, McKinley falls
Doc says, “McKinley, I can’t find that ball”
In Buffalo, in Buffalo

Zolgotz, Zolgotz you done him wrong
You shot poor McKinley while he was walking along
In Buffalo, Buffalo

Well, Doc had a horse and he threw down the rein
He said to that horse, “You better outrun this train”
From Buffalo to Washington

Yeah, Doc come a-running and he tore off his specs
He said, “Mr. McKinley, done cashed in your checks
You’re bound to die, you’re bound to die”

McKinley he hollered, McKinley he squalled
The doc say, “McKinley, I can’t find that ball”
In Buffalo to Washington

Look here, little rascal, just look what you’ve done
You shot my husband with that Ivor Johnstone gun
He’ll be gone a long, long time.

Well hush up, little children, don’t you fret
You’ll draw a pension off your poor papa’s death
He’s gonna be gone a long, long time.

Roosevelt in the White House, he’s doing his best
McKinley’s in the graveyard, he’s taking his rest
He’s gonna be gone a long, long time

Roosevelt in the White House he’s drinking out of a silver cup
McKinley’s in the graveyard, he never will wake up
He’ll be gone a long, long time.

White House Blues – one of many versions

After I asked, Ellie elaborated:

I believe this is the oldest recorded version of the song:

But, there are many others. I first came across it back in the late ’60s – early 70’s, but I can’t remember where. I thought it was in Sandburg’s American Song Bag, but I just checked, and it isn’t. There have been many recordings, including Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, all with slight differences in the words. The first one I learned had a reference to Ida’s children having another Papa on another railroad line, but that was a later addition stolen from other songs. Ida and William appeared to have loved each other. Note the misspelling of Czolgosz. That was from the version I learned, and not my mistake. :-)

Here’s a slightly more contemporary version, but quite different.

This is the latest version I’ve found (hope I haven’t overloaded with links)

Nice “talking” to you.

Dear reader: Do you have a different version you recommend? Tell us in comments.

More:

 


Typewriter of the moment: Stevie Wonder’s Underwood

December 24, 2017

From Pinterest, The Antikey Chop:

From Pinterest, The Antikey Chop: “Photo of legendary musician Stevie Wonder typing on an aptly named Underwood Rhythm Touch typewriter.” (Is it a Rhythm Touch?)

I actually ran into Ray Charles once, in the Concorde Lounge at Dulles Airport, back in the days when one could accompany friends to the gates. Charles was famous for singing and leading a great band, for great piano playing, and for doing things most people would think blind people can’t or don’t do. Like drive a car.

Should we be surprised that a blind musician would use a typewriter? Is Stevie Wonder a good typist, putting down lyrics so others can sing his songs? Or is this a set-up shot for fun?

There is a series of typewriters by Underwood listed as “Rhythm Touch.” The machine pictured may well be one. Can anyone tell? The image seems to have originated from Greg Fudacz at the Antikey Chop.

The image shows up several times on Pinterest, but nowhere else I can find. Anyone got details on it?


Rare, Alternative and New Christmas Music: Sufjan Stevens, “Christmas in the Room”

December 22, 2017

Sufjan Stevens lists 100 of his Christmas song performances, 100 to 1; “Christmas in the Room” is #1.

Stevens’ catalog of Christmas is so large it’s a wonder any list can be made without some of his performances on it, and a major piece of work to run a radio station’s Christmas play list without several of Stevens’ recordings included (but somehow they pull that off).

Interesting artist, interesting work.

The Verge lists all 100 of the songs, and explains Stevens’ work on the seasonal stuff.

He’s the kind of guy who would record an album of songs for every state in the union. And yes, he did set out to do that (but slowed down after a few releases, and it is an uncomplete project).

Hey, confess: How much have you listened to Sufjan Stevens’s work?

You may benefit from Stevens’s other songs:

Sufjan Stevens released a 5 EP set of Christmas songs in 2006.

Sufjan Stevens released a 5 EP set of Christmas songs in 2006.


Rare, Alternative and New Christmas music: Pogues, “Fairytale of New York”

December 19, 2017

Cover for a version of The Pogues,

Cover for a version of The Pogues, “Fairytale of New York. Wikipedia image

If you think Joni Mitchell’s “River” represents a turn to blue for Christmas songs, what does “Fairytale of New York” show?

I must admit, this is one I was not familiar with — I’d heard it before, but not paid much attention. Surprised to learn it was written and rewritten 1985 to 1987, with a first recording by the Pogues in 1987. Judging by its popularity in the UK, it’s a song we all should be familiar with.

Fairytale of New York” is a song written by Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan and first released as a single on 23 November 1987[1] by their band The Pogues, featuring singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl on vocals. The song was written as a duet, with the Pogues’ singer MacGowan taking the role of the male character and MacColl the female character. It is an Irish folk-style ballad, and featured on The Pogues’ 1988 album If I Should Fall from Grace with God.

Originally begun in 1985, the song had a troubled two year development history, undergoing rewrites and aborted attempts at recording, and losing its original female vocalist along the way, before finally being completed in summer 1987. Although the single never reached the coveted UK Christmas number one, being kept at number two on its original release in 1987 by the Pet Shop Boyscover version of “Always on My Mind“, it has proved enduringly popular with both music critics and the public: to date the song has reached the UK Top 20 on fourteen separate occasions since its original release in 1987, including every year since 2005, and was certified platinum in the UK in 2013.[2] The song has sold 1.18 million copies in the UK as of November 2015.[3] In the UK it is the most-played Christmas song of the 21st century.[4] “Fairytale of New York” has been cited as the best Christmas song of all time in various television, radio and magazine related polls in the UK and Ireland.[5]

Is it a downer of a song? Voices in the lyric do not appear happy, but rather angry with each other for imagined slights that put each of them where they did not wish to be, when they met years ago.

But still the bells ring out on Christmas Day. (Remember that, if I get around to posting the Chieftans’ recording I have in mind for this series.)

I found the song this year on Twitter, improbably, in something called the World Cup of Christmas Songs, sponsored by UK radio guy Richard Osman (@RichardOsman). It’s not a serious competition, and it excluded most Christmas music we all know, which tips the scales a bit, it seems to me. But here it is, and the vox populi rings out.

More:

 


Rare/Alternative Christmas music: Macy Gray’s call for social justice

December 14, 2017

 

Cover sleeve for Macy Gray's

Cover sleeve for Macy Gray’s “All I Want for Christmas.” Amazon image

This one speaks for itself, I think. From experience, I can tell you that playing this song can weed out the Trump supporters in your party attendance rather quickly.

Oddly, I think, it also brings out the dangerous elements of American society to complain about it, judging by comments at the site (go see; there are a lot more):

Grotesque comments at YouTube on Macy Gray's Christmas wishes.

Grotesque comments at YouTube on Macy Gray’s Christmas wishes.

Those thought zombies walk among us. Our cross to bear.

Gray didn’t include it on any album I’ve found.

More:

 


Rare, new and alternative Christmas songs: Joni Mitchell’s “River”

December 9, 2017

Joni Mitchell skating away on a river. Photo by Joel Bernstein.

Joni Mitchell skating away on a river. Photo by Joel Bernstein.

Washington Post picked up on it: A lot of musicians make great performances of non-standard Christmas tunes.

Joni Mitchell’s “River” has picked up covers by quite a few artists as a Christmas tune.

Does it just mention Christmas, or is it really a song of the season?

For example, Sam Smith:

In a discussion of Joni Mitchell back in April, here on Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub (with Paul Sunstone), I noted how people appreciate Joni Mitchell as a songwriter more as time goes on, including the use of “River” in Christmas collections:

Joni Mitchell’s fans are superappreciative, including such people as Judy Collins, who covers Mitchell on several songs.

But generally, yes, I think she’s not considered a great composer by those who compile lists of great composers, and she’s not considered a great singer by those who compile lists of great singers.

Part of the issue is that Mitchell came out of Canada as folk-rock took off. When I first bought her albums they were in the folk section; later they moved to the “pop” section (go figure). Her later albums stayed in rock or pop, even as her love of Mingus and Jazz pushed her work solidly into jazz. I’ve never seen her work listed as jazz in any recording sales store.

So she’s tough to categorize. Is she as strong or influential in folk as Joan Baez or Bob Dylan? Is she as strong in Rock as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (at least half of whom she had affairs with)? Is she as good at jazz as Ella [Fitzgerald] or Tony Bennett? Is she as good a poet as Leonard Cohen?

I think one can make a solid case that Joni Mitchell’s work is as poetic as Paul Simon’s, deserving as much attention for that reason as his. Simon won the Gershwin Award from the Kennedy Center; has Mitchell ever been considered? Is she less deserving than Billy Joel?

One of my criteria: I think every party I attended as an undergraduate, someone put on the album “Blue.” In graduate school, in a hotter climate, Maria Muldaur made a run (time to get away when “Midnight at the Oasis” came on); but “Blue” has stayed a turntable hit for decades. When our oldest son was at the University of Dallas, on one visit I was struck that “Blue” played out of three different apartments in his complex, at least 40 years after its release. It’s not Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” but I think it lasts longer on the play list of people who play them both.

In the past three years I’ve been impressed at the appearance of her song “River” on Christmas song compilations. “I wish I had a river I could skate away on,” she and her covering artists sing. She captured a feeling of Christmas much as Irving Berlin did, with a more beautiful melody, if not quite as hummable. Has anyone ever compared her to Irving Berlin?

Long post required. I’m not musicologist enough to do it justice, I think.

See these:

“River” has become a movement!

This one is odd; I wonder if someone did a mashup of Charlie Brown and Joni Mitchell, or if the Schulz cartoon organization really did use Mitchell’s tune.

“River” is not ready for use in churches, I think. Still a good song for the time of year, if not the actual religious celebration.

Any other good versions of “River” you like? Any on Christmas albums? Tell about them.


%d bloggers like this: