Monday, August 31, 2009

Picture This - The Late Chris Connor In St. Louis

From Alan Eichler Publicist


Legendary jazz vocalist Chris Connor, who first came to prominence with the orchestras of Claude Thornhill and Stan Kenton and went on to record dozens of successful albums and singles, died on Saturday evening, August 29 at the Community Medical Center in Toms River, NJ following a long bout with cancer, according to her publicist Alan Eichler. She was 81. Among her many hits were “All About Ronnie,” “Trust in Me” and “I Miss You So.” Nearly her entire recorded legacy has been reissued on CD, including such classic albums as “The George Gershwin Almanac of Song,” “Witchcraft” and “Lullabys of Birdland.”

Chris Connor was among the most popular '50s vocalists, famous for altering rhythms on ballads, using little vibrato except on special occasions, and a husky, lush sound and she continued to record and perform successfully throughout the world for the next 50 years.

Born Mary Loutsenhizer in Kansas City, MO on Nov. 8, 1927, Connor studied clarinet for eight years as a child, then began singing in her late teens. She was the vocalist with a large band at the University of Missouri led by Bob Brookmeyer modeled after the Kenton band. After working with a group in Kansas City, Connor moved to New York in 1949. She sang with Claude Thornhill, Herbie Fields and Thornhill again in the early '50s, performing with Thornhill's vocal group the Snowflakes.

An admirer of Kenton singers Anita O’Day and June Christy, Connor recalled, “I had my sights set on singing with Kenton.” While appearing with Jerry Wald’s band, she got her wish, receiving a phone call to join Kenton in 1952, with whom she recorded her biggest hit, “All About Ronnie.” Connor went solo in 1953 and signed with Bethlehem Records for two years. She then moved to Atlantic, and enjoyed worldwide success as one of their biggest album sellers, having two chart singles in the late '50s. They were the songs “Trust In Me" and the title cut from the album “I Miss You So.” Connor switched to Roulette and ABC-Paramount and was highly praised for her 1966 appearance at the Austin Jazz Festival. Following a period of semi-retirement, Connor made a comeback in the mid-70's, cutting albums with Kenton and Maynard Ferguson. She continued recording into the '80’s, 90’s and 2000’ for such labels as Progressive, Contemporary, High Note and Enja, and touring throughout the world, including Carnegie Hall in New York, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and top venues in Japan, where she was hugely popular. Her last appearance was at the Iridium jazz club in New York City in 2004 in a split engagement with her idol Anita O’Day.

She is survived by a nephew and her longtime companion and manager Lori Muscarelle. Services will be private. Further details at

These photos were taken here in St. Louis by photographer Bernie Thrasher between 1956 and 1958.

These rare unpublished images are from the Euclid Records Archives and cannot be replicated without the consent of Euclid Records LLC St. Louis, MO

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Let's Go Back In Time

Today, he would have been 100 years old.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ads From the Metronome 1956 Yearbook

Monday, August 24, 2009

Albums of My Life - 1985 - The Beat Farmers "Tales of the New West"

by Steve Pick

If you ever saw the Beat Farmers live, you remember Country Dick Montana. This giant bear of a man would periodically step out from behind the drums, and proceed to drunkenly steal the show by walking on bartops (narrowly avoiding ceiling fans), guzzling beer and bellowing out crazed nonsense lyrics in that deep baritone. I loved him, even if the circus he created took away from what I thought was one of the most seriously great bands of the second half of the 1980s.

In retrospect, the Beat Farmers never came close to topping their debut album, Tales of the New West. Montana's two bits of insanity serve as palate cleansing contrast to the ten other songs of classic roots rock delight. Whether covering the Velvet Underground, Bruce Springsteen, or John Stewart, or introducing the world to one Paul Kamanski, whose "Bigger Stones" opened the album, or performing originals by singer/guitarists Jerry Raney or Buddy Blue, the Beat Farmers took no wrong turns on this record.

"Bigger Stones." Holy moley! What a great song. The Beat Farmers were a little older than most of us listening to them - they were all around 30 when this album came out - so they had already begun the process of mythologizing the past and wondering what the heck was wrong with the present which seems so common a part of the aging process. "Seems like we rolled bigger stones back then" could be the best way of encapsulating the thoughts of those growing old since "Hey, you kids, get off my lawn." And set to the most invigorating rock'n'roll melody and a typically powerhouse performance from the band, with Raney belting out the lyrics like they're punching him in the gut.

Then comes "There She Goes Again." If the Beat Farmers are often thought of as key players in the evolution of country music meeting punk rock, this song may be as big a reason why as anything they ever did. While the Beat Farmers definitely infused their rocking with a country-derived twang, for the most part they weren't doing anything more revolutionary than what Creedence Clearwater Revival had done back when the bigger stones were being rolled in the late 60s. But it sure felt like something major was happening when this Velvet Underground song was played with country flavored licks and a rip-roaring back beat. I remember feeling positively giddy back when this came on, as if my attempts at the time of creating a grand unified theory of musical everything was coming to fruition right before my ears. It didn't even bother me that they changed Lou Reed's disturbing lyric "You'd better hit her" to "I just don't know what to do." Because now the frustration of the song was wedded to such an exhilarating sound, that didn't matter.

Speaking of exhilarating, I don't think I ever got the spirit of Bruce Springsteen's "Reason to Believe" until I heard the Beat Farmers cover it. Buddy Blue's slide guitar gives it the warmth it needs. Here, we can feel the hope that Springsteen tried so hard to imply in the lyrics. Raney flies through the words as the band kicks his butt, and Blue's guitar sends out sparks of positive energy.

I've long thought those three songs were as good an opening to any album as I'd ever heard. Blue and Raney turn in some pretty nifty originals, as well, especially Blue's "Lost Weekend" and "Goldmine." Kamanski wrote "California Kid," which Montana delivers with ironic gusto. John Stewart's "Never Going Back" rocks up a delirious storm, as does Raney's magnificent "Selfish Heart," on which Blue goes especially wild.

Buddy Blue left the band the year after this record, and his replacement, Joey Harris, never offered the same level of invention. Montana, who had started the band, became a bigger and bigger focus of attention. I saw them play many times, and always enjoyed it, but I'll be damned if I can remember any of the songs that weren't on either this album or the EP which followed it (which is now appended to the CD issue of Tales of the New West). The Beat Farmers produced the perfect record for a time when the roots of rock'n'roll needed to be reinforced - it remains one of the most uplifting albums I know.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bop Glasses

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cover Me - Home Made Folk Art

by Joe Schwab

Like the guy that trips on a curb and accidentally dips his chocolate bar into another guys peanut butter jar, this post is my Reese's moment.
I love records and I love folk art. The book by Dori Hadar on the albums and career of Mingering Mike (yes, that book is in stock at Euclid)is fascinating, beautiful, amusing and mildly disturbing all at the same time.

Anyway, on to my find. I've bought a lot of collections over the years, so I'm not too sure which collection these came from, but these home made LP covers depicting the actual albums by Sarah Vaughan and Teddy Wilson could only have been done as replacements for water damaged covers. From experience, I've found more water damaged records are from artists whose last name starts with the letters T thru Z. The end of the alphabet and the bottom shelf in a basement. So here are folk art versions of 4 older Columbia Jazz records, three by Sarah Vaughan and one by Teddy Wilson, followed by the originals. I think I have more of covers by the same artist, and I'll post them on a future blog as I dig them up.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Albums of My Life - 1984 - The Bangles "All Over the Place"

by Steve Pick

"If we had the time I would run away with you to a perfect world. We'd suspend all that is duty or required." Few lyrics have ever hit me with such an eloquent sadness, a total devastation of the blockage between life's meticulous circumstances and the romantic aching of unrequited love. I know, the song is probably about love perfectly requited except for the inability to avoid what keeps the lovers apart, but heck, when I was 25, every song that touched me was because some woman or another wasn't seeing how much happier she would be if she'd be my girlfriend.

That feeling is long gone, but "Dover Beach," the song in question from the end of side 1 of the Bangles debut full-length LP, continues to hit me hard in the gut no matter how many times I've fallen under its spell before. It's got such a delicious melody, a meandering up and down the scale and hopping across chords with perfect collusion, ultimately performing my favorite trick in the musical scheme, a modulation which brings further delight to the dream world being described, before fading down on an endless iteration of the same chord, growing dimmer and dimmer as instruments drop out one by one, leaving only the faint click of the drums and then nothing. Abandonment. "But now I only hear / Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar /Retreating, to the breath / Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear / And naked shingles of the world."

I always figured at least Vicki Peterson or Susanna Hoffs was an English major in college, as I had been, because the sonic allusion to the Matthew Arnold poem which gives the song its title, combined with the lyrical allusion to T.S. Elliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" was the kind of thing we students of literature totally dug back in those days. Heck, it still gives me a little thrill when the line "We can come and go and talk of Michelangelo" drops in, even though it completely functions in the way of the subject of Elliot's ironic attack on those who discuss art frivolously. It still feels like something two soulmates might do - though I know for a fact there are plenty of other things soulmates have in common besides their opinions.

"Dover Beach" has the eternal note of sadness of which Arnold speaks, and it rejects the use of irony in Elliot's modernism. "There will be time, there will be time / to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet / There will be time to murder and create / And time for all the works of days and hands / That lift and drop a question on your plate." Meanwhile, "If we could steal away / Like jugglers and thieves / But we could come and go / And talk of Michelangelo," set to that soaring rise in the melody, with Hoffs and Peterson's luxurious harmony, and the swirling guitar lines of Peterson - if you can't swoon to this, you can't swoon to popular music at all, I think.

All Over the Place
has ten other songs, of course, every one of them a gem. The Bangles never again got a chance to simply make a record without commercial aspirations cutting their natural sound. Oh, they recorded great individual tracks on their next two albums (and even on their comeback a few years back, Doll Revolution), but they always tried too hard to fit whatever was going on around them. All Over the Place is rooted in their love for 60s pop / rock (the Beatles, the Merry-Go-Round whose "Live" is covered here) and contemporary early-80s updating of such things (the dB's, R.E.M., Katrina and the Waves whose "Going Down to Liverpool" is covered here). There is no blatant attempt to sound like records of the past, nor equally to try to sound like what was on commercial radio (especially since, in 1984 as in 1983, there was no single sound dominating the Top 40 - that would come just about a year later, as big giant gated drums and keyboard twinkles become de rigeur in an attempt to make everybody sound like Genesis).

All four of the Bangles could sing (though Michael Steele, who had only just joined on bass, was relegated to only small harmony parts) with distinctive styles, and all four could really play their instruments. Steele's bass lines dominate so many of the songs, while Vicki Peterson's guitar lines are smart updates on classic 60s influences. Hoffs played rock solid rhythm guitar, and Debbi Peterson was an incredibly powerful and assertive drummer, creating parts which fit the songs as intimate connections. This would be somewhat modified to the band's detriment in future, as click tracks and sonic tricks held back some of her subtleties.

In early 1990, I remember sitting down and compiling a list of my favorite 80 songs of the 1980s (and counting them down on two episodes of my KDHX radio show at the time, "The Pop Quiz.") The fog of time has me confused as to whether "Dover Beach" was number one or number two - "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners is right in there somewhere, too. I still consider it to be as perfect a pop song as has ever been written or recorded, and with the ten richly melodic numbers which accompany it, All Over the Place becomes easily one of my all-time favorite albums, and a no-brainer for my choice to represent the year 1984.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cover Me - Gems From the Antique Malls

by Joe Schwab

I travel all over America, driving hundreds of miles searching out cool records and cool collections. Usually I can deal with any kind of drive - if I get bored or tired, I stop at a rural antique mall and piss away my time sifting through Eddie Arnold, John Gary and Vaughn Meader records. My least favorite route is St. Louis to Chicago. I've done it over 100 times, it's flat, it's boring and worse yet, the antique malls blow!

Ah, but my last trip through the plains of our President's home state yielded a few gems. No, not the kind of gems that will fetch us hundreds of dollars in auction. No, these are the kind of gems that only true record collectors with very warped minds can find solace in. Wresters, puppets and a precursor to Brokeback Mountain. Enjoy!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bye Bye Les Paul

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Albums of My Life - 1983 - Def Leppard "Pyromania"

by Steve Pick

In 1983, I landed the gig I'd been dreaming of capturing for years. I became a stringer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and was one of three people assigned to review concerts. The first show I reviewed included Mel Torme, Woody Herman, and Natalie Cole, and I was way too young and uninformed to realize that I was seeing two legends that night. I don't remember what came next, though I know the horrific Al Jarreau was to follow soon thereafter. After three or four negative reviews, I knew I was skating on thin ice, as my editor was convinced I didn't like anything.

Then he sent me to see Def Leppard, and I was ecstatic. Though it meant for the next few years I would wind up reviewing virtually every hair metal band that passed through town, I raved over this concert as if I were seeing the Ramones for the first time. It was energy, excitement, and hooks galore that won me over.

1983 was a good year for albums, but a magnificent year for singles. This was the last great year for the Top 40 - filled with Michael Jackson, the Police, Prince, Cyndi Lauper, and Def Leppard, not to mention a whole host of MTV-fueled lesser chartmakers. You could listen to commercial radio and expect to hear something you liked - it never occurred to me that this would never happen to me again.

was fueled by three Top 40 smashes - "Photograph," "Foolin'" and the magnificent "Rock of Ages." These three tracks alone are enough to make this my choice for representative album of 1983. It wasn't the best - I'll grant Tom Waits Swordfishtrombones its place in that role - but it was the one that defines the year in my memories. (Michael Jackson was there, too, but his record came out the year before.)

Producer Mutt Lange (last seen in this blog helming the 1980 album by AC/DC - he will turn up again later on) helped Def Leppard blend metal bombast with pop music hooks. He also crafted a meticulous sound for these young men, one which benefits more from cranking up than almost any of the bands which followed in their footsteps over the coming years. It's got supple rhythms in between the chunk of the gated drums; it's got grinding bass, delicate guitar arpeggios and bone-crunching guitar riffs. And, most of all, it's got vocal harmonies which sound more like the Bay City Rollers than any heavy metal predecessors.

"Rock of Ages" is such a masterpiece of popcraft. There's that nonsense opening vocal - "Gunter glieben glauchen globen." Then the Neil Young quote - "It's better to burn out than to fade away." Then the furthering of the metaphor of burning, deciding to light the whole town aflame. And all in the name of rock'n'roll. Long live rock'n'roll. They've got the power, they've got the glory, just say you need it, and if you need it, say yeah! All of this set to several of the most uplifting, ecstatic, and highly enjoyable hooks I've ever heard, all in one song.

The songs which weren't hits ain't half bad, though they tend to have less interesting lyrical concerns (except for the somewhat challenging "Billy's Got a Gun"). I've got nothing against horny young men looking to get laid - I was one of those once myself - but the urgency of desire in "Foolin'" or the bemoaning lost love of "Photograph" just tops a silly sex metaphor like "Comin' Under Fire" or the typical rant against teasing of "Action! Not Words." Still, the song constructions can enchant no matter what the songs turn out to be about.

I've seen Def Leppard four times over the years, and they've never failed to leave me beaming with satisfaction. They may have saved my writing career back in 1983 - if I wouldn't have liked them, I imagine I'd have been given the boot in favor of somebody with something positive to say. I wasn't lying about any of it, either - Def Leppard deserves all the success they've had. Their sound was massive, and for a while there, they were as big as anybody in the world.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Albums of My Life - 1982 - Richard and Linda Thompson "Shoot Out the Lights"

by Steve Pick

First, an apology for missing last week's installment - my laptop was out of power, and it took a week to get a new power cord to fire it up. I hate missing deadlines, so this 25th installment of the 51-part series detailing one album from each year of my life will begin a new streak of consistently appearing by Monday of each week.

I spent a lot of time in 1981 and early 82 at the apartment of my friend Tony Renner. I remember being frustrated that he refused to alphabetize his record collection, and I distinctly remember making fun of the fact that every time I browsed through his records, I'd find another album by this guy Richard Thompson, or by Richard & Linda Thompson. I had never heard of the man, but Tony taught me, aided by his roommate Tony Fafoglia, that this was a major oversight on my part.

In 1982, Richard and Linda Thompson played St. Louis, but I still hadn't realized how important a fact this was, and I missed their final tour. Shoot Out the Lights was the record they were promoting, but by the time of the St. Louis show, they were virtually divorced. In retrospect, most music critics can say the album pointed to irreconcilable differences, or at least a sense of misery in songwriter Richard's heart.

Well, yeah, but he'd been writing gloomy songs about the inability to love for years. "Walking on a Wire" wasn't even the first song about living on a tightrope - "The Great Valerio" had brought that metaphor to his repertoire a few years before. So, I don't know; perhaps he was ready to make his break, and songs such as "Don't Renege On Our Love" or "Just the Motion" were bringing some of his thoughts to light.

But then again, the album is entitled Shoot Out the Lights, which at least implies that staying in the dark is an option. This title song, and its exuberant counterpart "Wall of Death," are easily among the greatest works of art of the 20th Century. They speak of the need to be separated from the world at large, to either hide alone in a room or to push so far and so fast that nothing outside can touch you. Either way, seclusion or the whirlwind, emotions are as huge and unstoppable as Thompson's guitar.

And it's Thompson's guitar which ultimately makes the difference between a collection of excellent songs and a place in the pantheon of rock genius. The chords to "Shoot Out the Lights" burn slowly but furiously, and Thompson's solos are taut, furious, and profound. I remember the first time I heard him play this song live as one of the most powerful experiences of my entire life; it can still raise goosebumps just thinking about it.

Linda Thompson doesn't sing as if she thought these songs were about her; I guess she wasn't that vain. She sings lead on three out of eight songs, and delivers her usual clear, straight-forward delivery. Coming from the folk scene of England, Linda never pushes the emotions in her vocals; she lets the words tell the story not quite dispassionately, but far from overly animated. Richard came from the rock side of the fence, though he quickly mastered the folk styles of his day; at any rate, he can't sing as pretty as she can, but he always sounds more invested in the feelings of the songs. When he sings background on "Walking on a Wire," for example, the contrast between them creates a beautiful, cathartic tension.

I can't begin to do the justice this album deserves in these few paragraphs, but I can say that after 27 years, Shoot Out the Lights continues to enthrall and captivate me like few other records I know. It is haunting, devastating, enlightening, and exhilarating; it is quite simply perfection.