Friday, 28 December 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name

Welcome back, my friends. I trust that you all had a brilliant Christmas.

Here’s a little oddity for you: a 45 released on Film City around 1964 which, unusually, is actually performed (and I use that word loosely) by the composer.

Owned by musician Sandy Stanton, Film City was one of the most important of all the song poem companies, responsible not only for discovering Rod Rogers (aka Rodd Keith) but also for teaming the multi-instrumentalist, writer and producer up with the Chamberlin, a keyboard instrument similar to the Mellotron which used short tape loops to recreate the sound of other instruments.

Film City, like a number of other song-poem outfits, would occasionally provide budding singer-songwriters the opportunity to come in to the studio and perform vocals over an instrumental backing they had already created and, no doubt, charge them extra for the privilege. The vocalist would not get to meet the ‘orchestra and chorus’ listed on the label and therefor would never know that said orchestra was, in reality, just one man and a souped-up electric piano.

Although the vocals on the song-poem/vanity hybrid Portland Rose Song – and its B-side Voice of the Rose – are executed in flamboyant fashion by Bert Lowry, the Chamberlin work is clearly that of Rodd Keith. If Rodd had performed the vocals on these cuts chances are they would have ended up rather pedestrian (judging by the music he’s created in any case). Luckily Bert decided to do it himself – and his off-key caterwauling lifts this release from the mundane to the miraculous.  

According to the now-hibernating American Song Poem Music Archive two versions of this disc were issued, once as Film City 1096 (the version you find here) and again, later, as Film City 2085 with slightly different credits (this time Mr Keith was billed as the Film City Orchestra and Chorus) on clear blue vinyl. AS/PMA state that the sides were flipped and that the B-side was credited on this reissue as Pasadena Rose Song: my assumption here is that this is either a mistake or that the labels on the 45 were misprinted; it’s highly unlikely that Bert Lowry, a resident of Portland (the City of Roses) and a member of the city’s historical society, would suddenly be composing songs about Pasadena – almost a thousand miles away. As Bert’s home town was also home to the Portland Rose Society (established in 1889) I reckon I’m on pretty safe ground. Unless you know otherwise, of course!

Mike Donahue’s book Portland Rose Festival states that Bert (possibly credited as Burt Lowry) recorded the song For You a Rose in Portland Grows, written by local teacher Bertha Slater Smith, in 1960. However this seems to be exactly the same song as he performs here, albeit miscredited: the phrase is repeated several times during the song.

Still, whatever the truth of the matter have a listen to Bert’s histrionic performances of Portland Rose Song and Voice of the Rose. And enjoy!

Special thanks to Bob Purse, who first introduced me to this disc at WFMU

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