Thursday, June 24, 2010

Forgotten Music Thursday: Jimmy Dean (1928 - 2010)

Few people under the age of forty are familiar with Jimmy Dean the singer, actor, and TV host. If they're aware of him at all it's because they saw him hawking his sausages for many years on TV commercials. He left the music business so long ago that millions of people who grew up with his career totally forgot about him. Honestly, I haven't thought of Dean in a long, long time and it took the news of his recent passing on June 13, 2010 to trigger some pleasant memories.

The country star had one hit record during the 1950s ("Bummin' Around" in 1953) and is primarily known for his 1961 single "Big Bad John," a spoken word "song" about a huge, burly, coal miner. The record starts, "Every morning at the mine, you could see him arrive. He stood 6 foot 6, weighed 245. Kind of broad at the shoulders, narrow at the hip. And everybody knew you didn't give no lip to Big John."

The singer's other number one country hit was "The First Thing Ev'ry Morning (And the Last Thing Ev'ry Night)" in 1965. He also went into the country top ten with a Mother's Day tribute, "I. O. U."

Dean starred on his own radio show in the 1950s in Washington D. C. and because of it he is credited with discovering country icons Roy Clark and Patsy Cline. His down home charm, good looks, and business savvy allowed him to crossover to the pop charts and television. After becoming Johnny Carson's first guest host on The Tonight Show he was given his own weekly variety series on ABC-TV. It was rare that a prime time show featured country musicians and the hour long program provided huge assists to the careers of Buck Owens, George Jones, Charlie Rich, and Roger Miller. The latter eventually went on to star in his own weekly TV variety series.

Personally, I remember The Jimmy Dean Show primarily for one thing: early, weekly appearances of The Muppets first TV star, Rowlf the Dog. He performed sketches with Dean from 1963 to 1966, way before anyone had ever heard of Miss Piggy or Kermit The Frog. Dean said that Rowlf became so popular that the lovable, furry critter was receiving two thousand fan mail letters a week.

After his show left the air in 1966 Dean continued recording and added acting to his resume. He won a role in a James Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever, and became a regular on Fess Parker's Daniel Boone TV series from 1966 to 1970.

In 1969 Dean started his very successful sausage company and got into public service when the Governor of Virginia appointed him to the state's Board of Game and Inland Fisheries. He made his final recordings in the mid-70s and except for his commercials virtually disappeared from the media. Both his entertainment career and his food company made him a very wealthy man who could do whatever he wanted to for the rest of his life.

I'm not writing about Dean today because I'm a huge fan. As I said, he hasn't crossed my mind in years. Yet, he is worthy of a tribute because of his successful recording career, his radio and TV shows, and the huge influence he had on country music's then up-and-coming generation of stars, many who became more famous and influential than he was.

It's often been said that death is a good career move. However, despite his legacy, Dean's trip to the great beyond seems to have only generated minimal press coverage, suggesting that he will remain an artist who is not only forgotten by baby boomers and their parents alike but one who will continue to languish in near-obscurity forevermore.

Sadly, Dean was only recently elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. His induction is scheduled for October 24, 2010. Maybe The Muppets can send his good buddy Rowlf to the ceremony to accept the award on the star's behalf.

Here are two funny TV clips featuring Rowlf The Dog. The first one is from a 1964 episode of The Jimmy Dean Show. I'm not sure what the second one is but it appears to be a promo for the program.

Finally, we'll close with two of Dean's hit records. First, you can listen to "Big Bad John" followed by a scratchy 45 RPM of "The First Thing Ev'ry Morning (And the Last Thing Ev'ry Night)."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Beatles - Yellow Submarine Songtrack (1999)

The original vinyl release of this 1969 cartoon film soundtrack had one full side of orchestral music composed by legendary Beatles producer George Martin. The rest of the album contained a couple of previously released Beatles oldies that appeared in the film and only four new original songs.

Yellow Submarine Songtrack contains those four songs ("It's All Too Much," "Only A Northern Song," "Hey Bulldog," and "All Together Now") plus eleven previously issued tracks The Beatles recorded spanning the period of time from Rubber Soul through Magical Mystery Tour. All appear in the film, and for this disc, all have been remixed from their original versions. Except for restoring an additional verse to "It's All Too Much" that lengthens the song a bit, none of the re-mixes add anything to the superior originals. In many cases the differences are barely noticeable.

If you still need the four songs that were first released with the film to complete your Beatles collection buy it. Otherwise this collection is a waste of money.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Raul Midon - State Of Mind (2005)

After seeing Raul Midon perform a brief live set I was impressed enough with him to plunk down $10 for his debut studio CD, State Of Mind. Unfortunately, after a few listens this has turned out to be a mixed blessing.

Vocally Midon can be described as a cross between Stevie Wonder and George Benson, and that is good news. He also plays very nice acoustic guitar in a very rhythmic and aggressive style that, when you close your eyes, gives you the impression you are listening to a full band.  Midon can also do an uncanny vocal impression of trumpet playing that he calls "mouth trumpet" in the liner notes of his CD. It is a very cool gimmick that enhances his sound.

You can tell that EMI’s Manhattan Records took Midon seriously as a talent. The CD was produced by veterans Arif and Joe Mardin. Stevie Wonder played harmonica on "Sittin’ In The Middle" and there is a duet with Jason Mraz on the jointly penned "Keep On Hoping."

The problems arise when you listen to the lyrics. Obsessively singing the lines "I wanna be rich" on the title track just smells of greed and is a complete turn off. On "Waited All My Life" Midon sings the awful line "I have waited all my life for you but I didn’t know it" and "Baby we were meant to be." Haven’t I heard lines like the latter one hundreds of times before? On "Everybody" he sings "Everybody Can Be Somebody, Everybody is free to make a difference" and "You don’t have to be a big celebrity to feel the power." It sounds like an old hippie anthem from Woodstock.

Musically there is a lot to like, and therefore you have reasons to pay attention to Raul Midon in the future, but he has to learn to write better songs. I can only marginally recommend this disc.

Midon released World Within A World in 2007 and recently switched labels for this year's release of Synthesis.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Corrs - Little Wing (Unplugged) 2007)

Normally Bloggerhythms writes about entire CDs and rarely about one specific song. However, today is one of the few exceptions.

The Corrs have always been one of the more mainstream, radio friendly, Irish bands. Even though their music has sometimes bordered on sappy they never forgot, nor totally abandoned, their musical heritage. The siblings are at their best, and are often outstanding, when they fuse the more traditional sounds of their homeland with rock 'n roll to create a unique hybrid. Here they use tin whistle, fiddle, acoustic guitar, dobro, and bodhran (the Irish percussion instrument that looks like a giant tambourine) on a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" (also famously covered by Derek and The Dominoes). Here, the three sisters, their brother, and guests give a terrific performance of the song that, in this version, sounds as if it could have had its roots in Irish folk music.

The video below is not the version of "Little Wing" from the group's Live In Dublin CD featuring Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones. That concert also had Bono helping out on two tracks. Listen to it now and enjoy on You Tube.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Sabrina & Craig - One Home.......One Heart (2010)

Craig Lincoln has released two CDs in a short period of time. His solo debut, Cats & Dogs, received a nice writeup from Bloggerhythms a few weeks back. He has also teamed up with another singer-songwriter, Sabrina Schneppat, and together they just issued One Home......One Heart. Much of this CD has the same personality as Lincoln's work that features just his voice and acoustic guitar. However, the band they use on most tracks adds fullness to the duo's music, giving it some color missing from his solo disc.

Schneppat, who wrote four of the eleven songs, has a really nice voice that blends well with Lincoln's. Her partner, a multi-instrumentalist who wrote everything else, includes four holdovers from Cats & Dogs: its title track, the title track from this CD, "Fall or Fly," and "Little White Lies."

Lincoln conjured up another tribute to his parents. "Call Your Mom" is a perfect companion piece to "My Father's Son" from his solo album. Schneppat takes the lead on Lincoln's "Help Wanted." She uses economic terms and the working world to describe her need for a lover. The song opens with the line "There's been a big recession in my emotional economy" and the song takes off from there. "Fall or Fly" is hook laden enough for radio and "Mine All Mine" is a girl's tribute to a '58 Cadillac that she's just "gotta have." The latter is as close as these sessions got to rock 'n roll territory.

Writers frequently overuse the word "intimate" in their reviews but it easily applies here. As the CD liner notes say, "In an effort to capture the authenticity and natural quality that we love so much, the core of this album...... was recorded nose to nose, LIVE in the studio."

My goal isn't to compare the two CDs but I find that task inevitable. If you are looking for something sightly edgier you may prefer Lincoln on his own. If you want the softening that often comes from a female perspective you may prefer Sabrina & Craig together. Either way you can't go wrong.