Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Thoughts while reading Teachout's new biography of Duke Ellington

At the recommendation of a friend I recently purchased a new biography of Duke Ellington. Written by Terry Teachout, the book was released a couple of months ago. I was surprised to find, while perusing the "Select Bibliography," my own book, I Went Down to St. James Infirmary, listed. In all humility I have to mention that this was one of close to two hundred books that Teachout listed. But he did write this: "No biography of (Irving) Mills has been written. The best short treatment of his life and work is in Harwood (I Went Down to St. James Infirmary)." Irving Mills, of course, was central to the early career of Duke Ellington, as he was for Cab Calloway and other black musicians of the era.

It is a shame that there is no detailed biography of Mills. Information about him comes in dribs and drabs; what is unearthed often requires considerable effort. And, of course, the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to write accurately or honestly about the man. A surprising amount of what we do find takes the form of critical opinion, rather than biographical fact, and that opinion is often scathing.

Let me try to explain. Irving Mills was intimately involved in the popularization of what the world thinks of as "American music" - music that arose out of the black culture of the 1920s and 1930s (as well as popular standards from the pens of white tunesmiths). He was foremost a businessman, though, and one who saw opportunity where others - because of the intense prejudices of the time - saw nothing. With the black artists he represented, Mills would take up to 50% of their earnings, rather than the 10% or 15% common between managers and white artists. But in return Mills worked hard. He made Ellington (for instance) into a star, and that could never have happened without a white manager; it might be surprising that it could have happened at all. In other words, Mills charged a lot for his services, but he did not take the money and run, and every indication suggests that he treated his clients with respect. Much of the criticism leveled at Mills is based upon contemporary notions of fairness and racial equality. From the perspective of nearly a century ago, things take on a different sheen.

If you're interested in Duke Ellington, this is a good book to read. Teachout takes an even-handed approach with Mills, and that is refreshing.

A side-light here: none of the three Ellington biographies I have read make any mention of "St. James Infirmary." This even though his band recorded it twice in 1930 - as The Ten Blackberries (with Mills assuming lead vocals under the pseudonym Sunny Smith), and again as The Harlem Hot Chocolates. But, really, it's not surprising. SJI is little more than a small footnote in the history of a man responsible for such standards as "Sophisticated Lady," "Black and Tan Fantasy," "Mood Indigo" and seemingly countless other significant compositions.

Friday, December 6, 2013

From the hand of the puppeteer: Blair Thomas on St. James Infirmary

Photo from a recent performance of Blair Thomas' puppet show "Moby Dick."
Contrast the style of these puppets with the ones shown in the previous post.
In the previous post I wrote about master puppeteer Blair Thomas, and his show based upon "St. James Infirmary." I wrote to Mr. Thomas, asking "what was it about the song that attracted you sufficiently to create a puppet show around it?" He was kind enough to respond:

"I'm a puppeteer. I make solo shows such as this one, as well as larger shows where I act as the designer/director. I've known the song "St. James Infirmary" for about 20 years. I worked on developing a puppet show based on the song for a long time, and produced this version in 2009. "St. James Infirmary" has a great untold story lurking in between its few short verses. My interpretation of the song uses the visual medium of the single rolling paper scroll and a few puppets. The scroll is motorized so I can run around and do other things. I use a digital loop station to record the music live - usually while the scroll rolls and then it can loop while I use the marionettes and sing the song. I really enjoy playing the music on this - the scroll works well over the music.
"For this show I use wooden rod marionettes - a style of puppetry that is more folk in its origin than the customary string marionette. In a rod marionette the puppet is held up with a single rod to the hand-control, and then just a few strings to move its arms and legs. The result is a more primitive performance style - a rawness that goes well with the song. There is an intimate relationship between puppetry and death, and I see this song as a form of mourning or grief at the loss of a loved one.
"Denial has famously been called a stage in the grieving process. What happens with carnal desire when the body of the one you so desired is now rotting in the ground? Repulsion probably, but I would also imagine emotional incomprehension; where has it gone? A practice for Buddhist monks seeking to free themselves from carnal desire was to meditate in the charnel grounds, where bodies of the dead were decomposing. I am also playing off the New Orleans tradition of the brass band funeral march, mixed in with a heavy dose of sadness and grief."

(For more on Blair Thomas, see here and here.)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

SJI as a puppet show!


Imagine attending a concert in which a "master puppeteer" presents three shows in an evening. One, based upon a script by Federico Garcia Lorca, one based upon a poem by Wallace Stevens, and one based upon the song "St. James Infirmary." The latter featuring string-marionettes, a hand-painted scrolling backdrop, and a puppeteer who manipulates his characters while belting out the song as a one-man band.

You can find out more about Blair Thomas at his web site: http://www.blairthomas.org/ The photos I have included here to illustrate this post might be misleading - Thomas performs with puppets of many forms and sizes (some as large as the people animating them).

Look into it. This is fascinating!


(For more on Blair Thomas see here and here)

Monday, November 18, 2013

A cappella SJI: performance video

A couple of months ago, I posted an article about, and a link to, sheet music for an a cappella version of SJI. The composer, Everett Howe, with the JUUL Tones, recently performed this at a church in San Diego. So, first we had the sheet music, now an actual performance (clicking here will take you directly to the video on YouTube; the embedded version below is unfortunately truncated). Enjoy!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Porter Grainger: Sheet Music

Some time back I posted both an MP3 and the lyrics to a 1927 Porter Grainger song called "Song From a Cotton Field." You can see those postings here. The MP3 features Grainger as both pianist and vocalist.

A couple of months ago the sheet music for a number of Grainger songs came up for sale. I could only afford to bid for one of them, and this is it.

There are a few things about the cover that catch my attention. First, of course, is the photograph of the performers. "The Record Boys" (good luck trying to find them in any music database today) are dressed in tuxedos, looking very sophisticated, in order to represent a song with lyrics like:

All my life I've been makin' it
All my life white folks takin' it
This old heart they jus' breakin' it
Ain't got a thing to show for what I've done done

(Of course, in those days publishers would design these covers with an empty frame where the photograph of a performer could be inserted before reprinting the music sheets. It could very well have been another performer of the song, Bessie Brown, who was pictured there. What I mean is, the photograph of The Record Boys was probably their standard publicity photo, and was not chosen with the theme of the particular song in mind. Even so, I still find the contrast jarring.)

The second is the subtitle. "A Southern Classic." There was nothing classic about this song. It was written by Porter Grainger not long before this sheet music was released. But its lyric hearkens back to the cotton fields, and I guess the publishers felt this was a good marketing ploy. I doubt Grainger would have objected; he wrote songs in order to make a living.

And then there is the publisher's stamp at the bottom of the page. None other than Gotham Music Service - the publishing arm of Mills Music, of which Irving Mills was vice-president; his brother Jack was president. (For those new to this subject, Irving Mills was Joe Primrose, the fictional - in more than one way - composer of "St. James Infirmary.")

So, back in 1927 Mills was actually publishing the music of Porter Grainger. This is the same Porter Grainger who, at about this time, wrote "Dyin' Crapshooter's Blues," which was long considered a Blind Willie McTell composition and a tribute of sorts to "St. James Infirmary," but which was not written by McTell and was recorded before "St. James Infirmary."

The images here should enlarge if you click on them. Pay attention to the small advertisements on the bottom of the pages - which are kind of like intrusive Internet ads. For instance one of them features songwriter Rube Bloom, who had a hit for Mills with "Soliloquy" and who was one of the many who recorded SJI under the Mills umbrella in 1930.




Saturday, September 21, 2013

American roots music in Belgium: The Golden Glows

The Golden Glows (image from their website)
A few months ago I was doing some research on the song "Willie The Weeper." In my most-recent-entry-but-one you can read how "Willie The Weeper" became "Minnie The Moocher" which retained the instrumentation of "St. James Infirmary" while becoming Cab Calloway's signature song at The Cotton Club, and how parts of "Minnie The Moocher" have sometimes become embedded into renditions of "St. James Infirmary." Anyway, while doing this research I stumbled upon a contemporary version of "Willie The Weeper" on YouTube by a Belgian trio called "The Golden Glows." Consisting of two female vocalists and a male vocalist/guitarist, the Golden Glows lean heavily on vocal harmony, and this has been their mainstay through successive CD releases. They do it well. One of their members, Bram Van Moorhem, recently suggested that if I listen to their three CDs in succession, I shall be able to detect an evolution in their musicianship and sound. I did so, and discovered a second connection between The Golden Glows and "St. James Infirmary."

"Willie The Weeper" is from their first CD, titled A Songbook From The 20s. Their most recent CD, A Prison Songbook, is a tribute to the prison songs collected by Alan Lomax at Parchman Farm (aka Mississippi State Penitentiary) in Sugar Land, Texas in 1947. (The Golden Glows call these Lomax collections "the holiest of holies," and their treatment is both innovative and reverent.) It was 13 years earlier that Alan and his father, John, recorded James "Iron Head" Baker singing "St. James Hospital" - a song that Alan himself recorded and, through some reasoning that I would describe as weird, declared it to be the link between "The Unfortunate Rake" and "Streets of Laredo" and "St. James Infirmary."

In a way, that's beside the point. I can only describe The Golden Glows most recent CD, A Prison Songbook, as a remarkable accomplishment. These songs, while sparsely orchestrated, emphasize - in fine European style - the melodic underpinnings of these songs while incorporating a strong percussive drive that represents the pounding of spades and hoes on the hard ground that the prisoners had to work, without respite, day after day, year after year. While I am fond of all their re-creations I think this, A Prison Songbook, is a wonderful achievement. You can see some videos of their work by clicking here.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A cappella SJI: sheet music from Everett Howe

From E. Howe's a cappella version of SJI
(Click to enlarge)
Many years ago I worked with a woman whose son was a math prodigy. When he was in grade school he and a friend would spend recess (for example) determining the height of a pole by calculations based upon the length of its shadow. This is what they preferred to do, what they enjoyed doing, while other kids played baseball or tag. One year he wanted to go to summer camp, to math camp. The questionnaire he had to fill out asked the question "What musical instrument do you play?" Note, the question was not "Do you play a musical instrument?" but "Which instrument do you play?" Which, of course, suggests an intimate correlation between mathematics and music.

Still, there are many mathematicians who are not particularly interested in music. There are those who are interested only in the mathematical problems presented by music, not in the music itself. And there are those who are both born mathematicians and natural musicians.

Which brings me to Everett Howe. Mr. Howe is a mathematician, a graduate of Caltech and of the University of California in Berkeley, who has written papers with titles like, oh, "Characteristic Polynomials of Automorphisms of Hyperelliptic Curves," or "On the Distribution of Frobenius Eigenvalues of Principally-polarized Abelian Varieties." He plays the piano. He is starting to learn clarinet. He sings in an a cappella group. He writes music.

"St. James Infirmary" has been a touchstone for Mr. Howe. He wrote, "My interest in 'St. James Infirmary' led me to arrange a choral a cappella version of the song . . . and, surprisingly enough, the a cappella group that I belong to will be singing this arrangement in October as part of a church service."

Mr. Everett Howe has been kind enough to share the link to his 2013 arrangement of this song, which was first recorded 86 years ago, which is Lord-knows-how-old, and which continues to shift and change well into the 21st century. So, to read the sheet music, here is the link to: Everett Howe's a cappella arrangement of St. James Infirmary. Thank you, Everett.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Minnie the Moocher: the "controversy" over the Hi-De-Hos

I have a few posts waiting in the wings, so you will be seeing them in close succession. I have chosen this one as the first of these because it refers to the previous post, about a rambunctious, startling, and thoroughly captivating modern New Orleans version of SJI. In that post I wrote that this version by the New Creations Brass Band contains "nods to the 1930s Cab Calloway with the call and response and the Hi-De-Hos."

So, about these Hi-De-Hos (or Ho De Hos . . .). I have written about these before. And I shall add a few more words about them here. But I do want to emphasize that, when I talk about the controversy, I am only talking about a pop song, and that the word "controversy" resides within that realm.

So here we go:

First, "Minnie The Moocher" was based upon two or three other songs - one being SJI (Calloway used SJI as his signature tune in his early days at the Cotton Club and insisted that its replacement should stay close, in the instrumental arrangement, to SJI) and another being an old song from the Wild West, "Willie The Weeper" (from which Calloway and Irving Mills borrowed very heavily). In Cab Calloway's autobiography, "Of Minnie The Moocher And Me" (1976) Cab (with his co-writer Bryant Rollins) said:

"The 'hi-de-ho' part came later, and it was completely unexpected and unplanned. ... During one show that was being broadcast over nationwide radio in the spring of 1931, not long after we started using 'Minnie the Moocher' as our theme song, I was singing, and in the middle of a verse, as it happens sometimes, the damned lyrics went right out of my head. I forgot them completely. I couldn't leave a blank there as I might have done if we weren't on the air. I had to fill the space, so I just started to scat-sing the first thing that came into my mind.
"'Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho. Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho. Ho-de-ho-de-ho-de-hee. Oodlee-odlyee-odlyee-oodlee-doo. Hi-de-ho-de-ho-de-hee.' The crowd went crazy. And I went right on with it - right over the live radio - like it was written that way. Then I asked the band to follow it with me and I sang, 'Dwaa-de-dwaa-de-dwaa-de-doo.' And the band responded. By this time, whenever the band responded some of the people in the audience were beginning to chime in as well. So I motioned to the band to hold up and I asked the audience to join in. And I sang and the audience responded; they hollered back and nearly brought the roof down. We went on and on for I don't know how long, and by the end the rafters were rocking and the people were standing up and cheering."


That sounds pretty straight forward. But, in his introduction to the same book Calloway also wrote, referring to Minnie:
"I don't know how it got started, really, the scat singing. I think one night in the Cotton Club I just forgot the words to a song and started to scat to keep the song going ..."


Hmmm. His manager and co-writer (Irving Mills), on the other hand, was adamant that he, Mills, wrote most of the song, basing it upon "Willie The Weeper," and that the call-and-response had always been an integral part of it, as it had been with "Willie The Weeper." From the link above: "Irving Mills claimed he wrote 'Minnie the Moocher' himself. He completed it in a couple of hours, using one of the Mills Music house musicians to transcribe the melody." Calloway then, according to the 1933 newspaper interview with Mills, “injected his catching musical personality into the piece.”

The image accompanying this post is from one of the first sheet-music covers for "Minnie The Moocher." (Sheet music sales were still a major commercial enterprise.)  The date is 1931, the year Calloway started performing the song and, as you can see in the image below, the scat-singing was already integrated into the song sheet. (Clicking should enlarge the image.) Calloway became known as "The Hi-De-Ho Man," audiences loved responding to his Hi-De-Hos and - from the perspective of his career - "Minnie The Moocher" and its call and response were very important.

This doesn't, by any means, settle the "controversy." But it might help to give it an outline.



Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Brushing the borders of anarchy: SJI in today's New Orleans. Wow!

Michael Ward-Bergeman, a musician about whom I have previously written on this blog, will soon be moving to New Orleans, and he sent me a link to a current New Orleans performance of "St. James Infirmary." Of course SJI has long been associated with New Orleans, and one might be tempted to consider the song a kind of city anthem. The only time Louis Armstrong mentioned the song in his writings was in relation to a funeral in New Orleans. A member of his club, the Tammany Social Club, had died and Louis was one of the pall bearers. This was around 1917 (he mentioned that "Livery Stable Blues" had just been released) so Louis would have been about sixteen.

He wrote: "The funeral left from the corner of Liberty and Perdido Streets. All the members had to wear black or real dark suits, and I had been lucky enough to get my black broadcloth suit out of pawn in time for the funeral. In those days we did a good bit of pawning. As soon as a guy got broke the first thing he thought of was the pawn shop. All out of pawn that day. I looked like a million dollars. . . . It had been raining all morning; the gutters were full of water and the streets real muddy. I had on a brand new Stetson hat (like the one in St. James Infirmary), my fine black suit, and patent leather shoes. Believe me, I was a sharp cat."

In Louis' case the funeral didn't go quite as planned. His girlfriend Daisy saw him chatting with another girl, and in a jealous rage chased him down the street with a razor. His Stetson fell off, and she cut it to ribbons. (From Armstrong's "Satchmo, My Life in New Orleans," 1954)

Which might be a round-about way of introducing this contemporary version of "St. James Infirmary." But even before Louis' time, SJI had been played at New Orleans funerals, and the singer we are about to encounter works within this venerable tradition, being employed in his off-hours at a New Orleans funeral parlor.

Malcolm "Sticks" Morris is the lead vocalist, and also plays a fine bass drum and cymbal on this song. The group is called the New Creations Brass Band, and they can be found on this Facebook Page. Their musicianship is a wonder. The percussive drive here threatens, at all times, to turn the song into a runaway train, but the group is tight and incredibly energetic, and somehow everything holds together. Well, of course it holds together; this is a rehearsed and polished performance, and its effect is deliberate. There are nods to the 1930s Cab Calloway with the call and response and the hi-de-hos. But this 2013 interpretation is its own creature, lurching down the streets, scraping against buildings, staggering through the lyrics, blasting clouds out of the sky, before finally succumbing to the (inevitable) funeral march, but never giving up the ghost.

This is a "St. James Infirmary" for the 21st century. Wow! As you will soon hear, this song just keeps getting better.

I recommend turning up the volume for this. At 192 kbps and clocking in at 6:22, here is the New Creations Brass Band and St. James Infirmary Remix. (Many thanks for your permission to post this!!)

The New Creations Brass Band have a new CD coming out - as soon as I hear more, I shall let you know where to find it.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Golden Grail - found! Gambler's Blues (aka St. James Infirmary), the first sheet music


Ahhhh.

I have been looking for this sheet music for years. Dare I say, for at least a decade?! And it escaped me. It was as if the object did not exist. I mean, I read about it, and I even found evidence that it was locked in the archives of the New York State judicial library, as evidence in a 1930s lawsuit. But it was rare as the Dickens and I could never find the actual thing.

But two months ago I did.

I found it on ebay. The starting price was ninety-nine cents (plus postage), and there were two weeks left in the bidding. "Oh dear," I thought, "this is such an important historical document, one that has eluded me for a decade, and I am sure many people will be bidding for this. There is no chance that, with my meager resources, I shall be able to actually get my hands on this item." But, as you can see, I did win it. For ninety-nine cents (plus postage).

What an odd thing!! This was something of considerable importance to me. And I was the only one to enter a bid. Nobody else in the world cared. It was my golden grail. And nobody else cared. There were no other bids. And so I now possess (what I thought to be) a great historical document at a cost of ninety-nine cents (plus postage).

I must be deluded. I have been pursuing this story, this history of "St. James Infirmary," for over a decade. One of the critical links in the saga of this song appeared for sale, and . . . well . . . it sold for ninety-nine cents.

I shall have to ponder this.

Maybe history depends upon who writes the story.

The year on this music sheet is 1925. It was published by Phil Baxter in Little Rock, Arkansas. My research had informed me that "Harry D. Squires, Inc." was the original publisher of this song, and that Squires was the person who convinced Fess Williams to record it. So it is possible that Baxter released this edition before finding a bona fide publisher. Also, I had noted that Baxter and Moore neglected to copyright the song (thereby leaving the way open for "Joe Primrose" to take ownership of it). But "International Copyright Secured" is printed on these pages. I had found no evidence of this when I contacted the U.S. copyright offices, so I am not sure what this means.

The sheet music with lyrics is below - the pages should expand when you click on them. I leave it to you to compare this music with the versions of this song in Carl Sandburg's "American Songbag," published in 1927. Whatever this comparison tells you, it will be clear that neither Phil Baxter nor Carl Moore nor Joe Primrose nor anybody else wrote "St. James Infirmary."




 




Wednesday, April 24, 2013

St. James Infirmary for Solo Accordion

Photo by Gerson Matos
I recently wrote about a gypsy version of SJI, featuring Michael Ward-Bergeman on accordion. This time, there's no gypsy band. Just MWB.

Okay. St. James Infirmary. For solo accordion.

Here, from Toronto's Ideacity concert hall, which has as its motto "The Smartest People - The Biggest Ideas . . . a constellation of top talent in the world," is accordion wunderkind Michael Ward-Bergeman performing "St. James Infirmary."

Enjoy.
ps You will get a fuller video view  by going directly to the YouTube site.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

MP3 Monologue 10 - The Hokum Boys 1929

"St. James Infirmary" was first recorded in February 1927, as "Gambler's Blues," by Fess Williams And His Royal Flush Orchestra. The composer credit on the record's label went to Carl Moore and Phil Baxter. It was next recorded as "Gambling Blues" in January, 1928 by the, uhm, hillbilly Kentuckian Buell Kazee. There was no composer credit. The third recording occurred in December 1928. This time it was titled "St. James Infirmary," the recording artist was Louis Armstrong and His Savoy Ballroom Five, and the composer credit went to Don Redman. Until, that is, the second pressing of the record; that's when Joe Primrose made his first appearance on a record label. The fourth and fifth recordings, October 1929, were by The Hokum Boys. The songs were called "Gambler's Blues 'St. James Infirmary Blues'" and "Gambler's Blues No. 2." There was no composer credit. There were at least 23 recordings of "St. James Infirmary" released in North America up to the end of 1930, and most of these bore the composer name "Joe Primrose." Mattie Hite attributed her version to "Nobody," meaning it was in the public domain - but that was challenged, and Primrose appeared on later pressings of Hite's version, which was really a combination of the two songs Carl Sandburg documented as "Those Gambler's Blues" in his book American Songbag.

The Hokum Boys, though. These were quite different songs. I sometimes think of them as the last vestiges of a folk process that, before the copyright took firm hold, was still evolving the song. The one you will hear below, "Gambler's Blues 'St. James Infirmary Blues,'" initially follows the commonly known lyric, and then veers off into strange territory. The musicianship is, I think, extraordinary, and the song is a real pleasure. The second version, "Gambler's Blues No. 2" is odder, and well worth a listen - these songs can be found by clicking here.

To listen to this monologue (less than two minutes), with music (more than two minutes), click here: The Hokum Boys, Gamblers Blues 1929 MP3


Many thanks to Document Records for keeping all these songs available and alive.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

St. James Infirmary - the gypsy version!! MP3

"GIG 365" CD cover by Kate Mayfield
Okay. After that last entry we're back on the SJI track. This one is important.

When I was a young lad, a very young lad, in Belfast, I remember looking out the window of a double-decker bus at the people walking on the sidewalk, and being astonished at the notion that every single one of those people were as aware of their own existence as I was of mine - and yet, none of us could sense or deeply feel each others' realities. This is one of the  memories that has haunted me through my life

Now, here we are in 2013, fifty-five years later. Michael Ward-Bergeman has recorded a selection of songs he performed during a year in which he pledged (to himself) to perform publicly at least once every day. I sit at my desk with headphones on and I feel as if I am listening to those people on the Belfast sidewalk.

In 2011 master accordionist Michael Ward-Bergeman undertook a "GIG 365," in which he vowed to play at least one gig a day for 365 days. He performed throughout North America, in Europe, and in Venezuela, often on the streets. He recorded many of these moments, including conversations with spectators; some of these are available on his blog GIG 365.

Michael has just released a CD of a few of these performances (and conversations). I can say that the first question one might ask oneself after listening is, "What a pity he did not include more selections!" Because this CD is a marvel. AND, to make it even better, it contains a six minute interpretation of "St. James Infirmary," recorded with a gypsy band in Bucharest (cimbalom, violin, clarinet, saxophone, bass, and a second accordion). More about that a little later.

He's a difficult fellow to keep track of, is Michael Ward-Bergeman. While a charter member of the roots music trio Groanbox, he also  performs with symphony orchestras, writes classical compositions, has been contracted to write a piece for the Silk Road Ensemble, and performs wherever the opportunity arises, from the back streets of New Orleans to the concert halls of America and Europe. He wields an accordion like Jimi Hendrix wielded his guitar, like Wilhelm Kempff played his piano. And – as the CD "GIG 365" will attest – he is able to adapt to just about any music genre and make it sound as if he was born to play it. One example from this CD is the song "Mississippi," which he wrote (and sings), but which could belong to a post-Stephen-Foster world of American roots music. This is one song on the album that features the percussionist Jamie Haddad, and Haddad's performances are as much a revelation as are those of Ward-Bergeman's accordion. That is, Ward-Bergeman has teamed up with some remarkable musicians on his travels, and you can hear the sharp focus of their collaborations. This is magical stuff.

But this site's primary concern is "St. James Infirmary," so let me focus my attention there.

Michael wrote to me that "when I started doing 'St. James' I always felt there was a gypsy music connection both spirit and music wise." In earlier postings I have included YouTube videos of the Groanbox trio performing "St. James Infirmary" as well as a song that Ward-Bergeman wrote, based upon SJI, called "Darling Lou." Both are dazzling performances.

And now, on this GIG 365 undertaking, Ward-Bergeman has added another dimension to a song that continues to offer itself to us in surprising ways

I listen to this, and I am back on that Belfast bus, looking out at the people strolling on the sidewalks as we drive past. This time, though, it is different. I can hear them, I can almost touch them, almost understand them. The music on this CD communicates such a sense of collaboration, such a sense of us all that it starts to dissolve the boundaries that separate us. One cannot help but wonder at the mystery of our lives.

Here, then, is a real treat. At 6:38 and 256 kbps (anything of a lower resolution would be sacrilege) is Michael Ward-Bergeman and friends with "St. James Infirmary" MP3 - the gypsy version.

The CD can be purchased here:
amazon.ca 
amazon.com
emusic.com
As well as on iTunes, and elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Look Out Mama - MP3 (Happy New Year)

Illustration by Pam Woodland
Here is an entry entirely divorced from the usual theme of this blog. But I write this in the spirit of the New Year.

Pam and I, since October 2010, live in a fairly remote area of southwest Saskatchewan. The village we live in has a population of under a hundred people. The nearest population centre, of 15,000, is a ninety minute drive away, and the nearest large book store or movie theatre is a four hour drive from here. We have had snow since late October, and the morning temperature this December averages about -20C (or about -5F).

What does one do in these circumstances? Among other things, I belong to a musical trio that practices weekly for about four hours. Our lead guitarist is the noted nature photographer James Page, and our multi-instrumentalist (rhythm guitar, ukelele, accordion, tin whistle, etc.) is the painter Colleen Watson. I play hand percussion (African drum, bongos, sticks, rattles, and so on).

The name of our trio was derived from the opening lines of Neil Young's song "Powderfinger." So, we are known as "Look Out Mama." I have been writing quite a few songs, too, of which we now include three in our regular practices. What I want to do here is include one of those songs.

I wanted, early this summer, to write something that was based both upon our trio's name, and upon  the history of the area we live in. So, the song "Look Out Mama" was born. While I wrote the lyrics and the melody, Page helped me work out the musical structure, and of course "Look Out Mama," the group, worked out an arrangement.  The only similarity with SJI is the fact that the song has no chorus. The link here is to a recent practice, pretty darned crude, with James Page on electric guitar, Colleen Watson on rhythm guitar, and me on percussion and lead vocal. And so, as the clock turns over from 2012 to 2013,  I present it to you with no further ado, "Look Out Mama" by Look Out Mama. Happy New Year.


Look out mama
The sun is sinking low
Look out mama
The sun is sinking low
I can hear Blackfoot calling
And pounding hooves of buffalo


Look out mama
The water is rising fast
Look out mama
You know the water is rising fast
Wolves are in the river
Don't know if they're gonna last


Look out mama
The wind is blowin' strong
Look out mama
The wind is blowin' strong
Hawks circlin' up above
I fear we done something wrong


Look out mama
The moon is high in the sky
Look out mama
The moon is high up in the sky
Y'can see those tepee circles
Remnants from a long lost time


Look out mama
Coyotes are on the prowl
Look out mama
Coyotes are on the prowl
When that evenin' sun goes down
Whoa whoa listen to them howl