Friday, 31 May 2013

Behind the Mask

Here’s a nice slice of bad country and western I picked up recently, courtesy of the otherwise unknown Frank And TomPort Griffith, PA.

I know so little about this record it’s embarrassing! I can’t even tell you when it was issued, although the Knox Coal Mine cave-in which is documented on the A-side and in which 12 people died occurred on January 22, 1959, and the Airy Music Company (credited as publishers of this masterpiece) seem to have been most active around 1961-62, so it’s safe to assume that the disc appeared at some time around the beginning of the 1960s.

Put out by Mask Records, with writer credits Frank M – Tom M on the A-side and Frank M on the flip (maybe Frank and Tom Mask?) the B-side is a straightforward piece of Hillbilly Christian inanity - titled I Wish I’d Been on Earth - with little to recommend it apart from the flat vocals, but I particularly like the percussive effect on Port Griffith, PA, which sounds to me exactly like one of those ill-fated miners chipping away at the cave wall with a pick as his life slowly ebbed away.

If anyone out there has any more info on this awful record please do let me know.



Friday, 24 May 2013

Life is Just a Bowl Of Cherries

First up, an admission. I do not own a copy of this record (although I wish to God I did); I originally found it when scuffing around eBay recently looking for oddities to purchase on your behalf (it went for $86…well out of my price range!)

Issued in 1972 on the obscure Pennsylvania-based Country Boy Records (as CB-102) by Donna Kramer, the Velvet Underground-esque Bowl of Cherries was backed with the country ballad My Memories of You. The backing band is woefully out of tune on the B-side but it’s just a dull slice of standard-fare country: it doesn’t have the wonderfully inept, garage band joie de vivre of the lead track.

Country Boy Records was owned by one Howard Vokes; the company appears to have issued a handful of 45s (the only other ones I’ve found listed are CB-103 by Bill Beere and CB-106 by Mel Anderson). Vokes had been a recording artist himself, his first 45s were issued in 1960 credited to Cowboy Howard Vokes and the Country Boys, and the Vokes’ canon includes the brilliantly-titled It Takes Six Men To Carry A Man To His Grave (But Only One Woman To Put Him There), issued on his own Vokes Records in 1970. That same year he launched his second imprint, the short-lived Country Boy label, named after his own backing band.

Little is known about Donna Kramer. I can tell you that she hailed from Hyde, Pennsylvania, and that she performed live on at least one occasion with Vokes and his band: Vokes held a residency at the Griltz Hotel, Verona (PA, not Italy) and three years after her debut 45 she sang as part of his regular Sing, Neighbor, Sing review. Kramer told the Clearfield Progress newspaper that she hoped to sign with Vokes’ other label, the previously mentioned (and nationally-distributed) Vokes records, but it appears she would never record again. That’s all I’ve got. There are a number of Donna Kramers still living in Pennsylvania, but I’ve no idea if any of them is the same Donna Kramer who wrote and performed this brilliant little disc.


Friday, 17 May 2013

Disco Jesus

Today’s tracks come from Tammy Faye Bakker, the late, over made-up kabuki doll wife (well, for more than three decades, anyway) of the disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker (pronounced Baker, apparently, not Backer).

We’re lucky here in Great Britain; we’ve never had to suffer (well, unless you’re a fan of the 50 or so religious channels available on Sky) the evil, pseudo-religious diatribe that spews across America’s cable television network day after day: poisonous preachers demanding money with menaces from gullible idiots who believe that they can pay their way to salvation. In the Bakker’s case it was the Praise the Lord (PTL) network and their ridiculous Christian theme park – Heritage USA - that systematically emptied the pockets of its parishioners and landed a tearful (and now, surprise, surprise, wholly repentant) Jim in jail. No wonder that many people insisted that PTL actually stood for Pass the Loot.

Jim and Tammy met when they were students at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis. The couple married on April Fool’s Day 1961 and, the following year, moved to South Carolina, where they began their ministry before heading off to Portsmouth, Virginia, where they became the hosts of Jim and Tammy, a children's Christian puppet show. Their success led to the pair joining Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in 1964, bringing their puppets with them. which they left in 1973 to form the PTL Club, an hour long Christian chat and variety show, which made its on-air debut in 1974.

During the PTL shows (later renamed the Jim and Tammy Show) Tammy Faye would often lead the obligatory evangelistic singalong – and this section proved so popular that Tammy Faye would go on to release more than a dozen albums (Jim and Tammy Faye also issued ‘joint’ recordings) of her dreadful caterwauling. Tammy Faye became known for her schmaltzy stories, hideous makeup (her eyes were often caked in mascara which would run as she turned on the tears) and her histrionic vocals style. Unusually, for someone on her chosen career path, she was an early advocate amongst Christian broadcasters of gay rights.

The Bakkers' control of PTL collapsed in 1987 when it was revealed that reverend Jim had been a bit naughty with the company secretary, Jessica Hahn, and reportedly used $287,000 of the church’s funds to buy her silence (that was a waste of money!). Further investigations into the Bakker’s extravagant lifestyle questioned their dodgy, and vastly oversubscribed, Christian hotel time-share scheme and the funds they had poured into their Christian theme park, Heritage USA.

With the couple in disgrace and Jim facing a stretch in jail, fellow televangelist and friend Jerry Falwell offered a lifeline, but under his stewardship PTL soon went bankrupt. In 1989 Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in prison on 24 fraud and conspiracy counts. Falwell and the (by now divorced) Bakker’s fell out, primarily it seems because Falwell was only interested in using PTL to boost his own television career, but also no doubt because the equally self-absorbed Falwell had the temerity to call our Jim a liar, an embezzler, a sexual deviant, and “the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history”. Phew!

Jim and Tammy Taye divorced in 1992; a year later she married former PTL bigwig Roe Messner – the man who provided Jim with the cash to pay of Jessica Hahn and who claimed, during the bankruptcy hearing for PTL, to be owed $14 million by the church. Messner filed for bankruptcy himself in 1990 and, just like his former friend Jim, wound up being convicted of fraud.

Today’s first cut Jesus Keeps Takin’ me Higher and Higher is from the awful (and hideously-titled) Tammy Faye: Tammy Bakker sings PTL Club Favorites. Tammy Faye had an okay voice when it came to singing the country-inspired gospel she usually stuck to, but ramping it up on this track (fondly known to fans as Disco Jesus) she’s beyond awful. The second track – The Ballad of Jim and Tammy – is Tammy’s own countrified take on the whole Jerry Falwell/PTL/Heritage USA saga. Tammy Faye may have hated Falwell at this point (the song was released in both 7” and 12" formats in 1987) but, despite their very public falling out, she managed to find enough Christian charity to forgive him before his death in 2007, two months before Tammy Faye herself passed away after an 11-year battle with cancer.

And just because I’m feeling generous today, I’m giving you a third track from Tammy Faye – the ridiculous Run Toward the Roar from her 1980 album of the same name. Hideous.


Friday, 10 May 2013

Not So Groovy Baby

One of the few star DJs of the 70s not to be implicated in the Jimmy Savile sex scandal (so far), Dave Cash was born in Chelsea in 1942, although his family moved to Canada by the time he was seven.

While working as a copywriter for a Vancouver-based Men’s Wear Shop, Dave was offered the chance to record a radio voice-over when the original actor assigned to the job became ill. Cash was an instant smash and he was quickly signed up for more commercial work and the occasional presenting stint.

The burgeoning pirate radio scene brought Dave back to Blighty in the early 1960s, and he soon came to the attention of Radio London, where he teamed up with the late, great Kenny Everett for the Kenny & Cash Show, which became enormously popular and influential. The pair issued a 45, with the A-side confusingly titled The B-Side, on Decca in 1965.

Dave left Radio London to join the even more influential Radio Luxembourg before, in 1967 becoming one of the first DJs heard on the fledgling Radio One. And it was here that Cash perpetrated the audio crime I present for you today.

Radio DJs in those days had an endless stream of regular jingles and fictional characters which they used to fill airtime or simply to give them space to think whilst reaching for the next piece of vinyl to whack on the deck. Who can forget Tony Blackburn’s Arnold, Jimmy Young’s Raymondo and the endless cast of crazies which spewed out of Kenny Everett’s fertile mind? Amongst Cash’s repertoire was a winsome toddler known as Microbe.

The voice of Microbe was performed by Ian Doody, who was son of Radio 1 newsreader Pat Doody. A huge hit on the show, his catch phrases (the ‘Knock Knock’ joke about Doctor Who and his signature ‘Groovy Baby’) are still known today by a generation (people of my age) who grew up next to the radio.

But Cash and Doody weren’t satisfied with radio stardom for Microbe – they wanted something bigger so, in 1969, the three year old Ian Doody was dragged off into a recording studio – along with backing singers Madeline Bell, Leslie Duncan and (allegedly) Dusty Springfield (although this seems highly unlikely as her career had recently been revitalised and she was making it big in the States at the time) to record Groovy Baby. Issued by CBS in the UK, by May of that year the single had reached the heady heights of number 29 in the charts. The song’s B-side Your Turn Now was credited to the Microbop Ensemble and featured Cash himself offering listeners the chance to imitate Microbe for their own amusement.

Cash left the BBC for Independent Local radio (ILR) in 1973, first at Capital where, with Everett, he relaunched the Kenny & Cash Show, before resigning in 1994 to spend more time writing and to develop his other interests. After six years he rejoined the BBC, presenting programmes for Radio Kent, Radio Cambridgeshire, and Radio Essex.


Friday, 3 May 2013

Mummy, You're A Wreck

Released on Brunswick in 1959 – therefore predating Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s ubiquitous Monster Mash by three years – The Mummy by Bob McFadden and Dor was an early attempt to cash in on American obsession with horror movies, particularly the screen classics of the 1930s which padded out the late night line up of most TV channels. A silly little comedy song, The Mummy scraped into the Top 40 in September that year, but proved so popular that it spawned several cover versions and a note-for-note copy by Florida-based outfit Bob and Bobbi. It’s popularity also led to the song becoming attached to the Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee Hammer remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff classic The Mummy, with starlet Norma Marla touring the States with a sarcophagus, giving away copies to radio DJs, even though the track did not (and does not) appear on the film’s soundtrack.

The single’s popularity also led to Brunswick releasing a full-length album, Songs Our Mummy Taught Us, which appeared in the shops in February 1960.

Mcfadden, who would later provide the voice for cartoon characters Milton the Monster, Cool McCool and Snarf from Thundercats, was a well-known voice-over artist, famous for appearing on TV commercials for Wisk detergent and Frankenberry cereal. Dor would find fame under his real name; Rod McKuen (Dor is Rod backwards. Oh, how clever!) went on to earn a brace of Oscar nominations and a Pulitzer nomination for his compositions. McKuen's adaptations of Jacques Brel’s songs were instrumental in making the Belgian songwriter popular in the English-speaking world, whilst his own books of poetry sold millions of copies.

But there’s no way that Songs Our Mummy Taught Us would have ever earned the nascent poet and songwriter a major award. It’s just terrible. The haste in which this collection was thrown together is apparent throughout. The Mummy is ‘adapted’ (or, if you prefer, dicked around with) liberally; then-current dance crazes are sent up (poorly) and the rest of the album is made up of bad parodies – including two of the tracks I present for you today: The Children Cross the Bridge, a piss-poor piss-take of the Ingrid Bergman film Inn of the Sixth Happiness and the peculiar I Dig You Baby, which to me sounds like it was written by the bastard child of Jimmy Cross and Alan Titchmarsh.

Apparently McKuen later claimed that the uncredited backing musicians on the album were none other than Bill Haley and His Comets. Although the group were also signed to Brunswick this has never been confirmed. In 1961 McFadden and McKuen would regroup to record the single Dracula Cha Cha backed with Transylvania Polka – which, unsurprisingly, sank without a trace…an example of lightening resolutely refusing to strike twice.


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