Radio, Radio

“I was tuning in the shine on the light night dial.” Elvis Costello, “Radio, Radio”

I acquired my first radio when I was 14 or so, an antiquated amplitude modulation model.[1]  I’d listen to it for hours at a time until the radio’s vacuum tubes would overheat, which necessitated removing them with a damp wash cloth. I’d hold the terry-cloth-shrouded tube in my hand until it cooled and I could reinsert its delicate prongs into the semi-circular holes from which they’d been extracted. Although I possess the fine motor skills of an untrained seal, by necessity I became adept at removing and reasserting the tubes, sometimes having to adjust slightly a prong that had been bent in the operation. Usually, the radio was tuned to the Mighty WTMA – Tiger Radio – whose premiere DJ, the late great Booby Nash, entertained the Charleston area with his repertoire of monologues, skits, fictitious call-ins, and playlists.

Nash in the 60s (image via WTMA Pictures)

In fact, Booby Nash was the first person I heard employ the phrase “late great.” 

“And here’s an oldie but goldy,” he’d say in his easy-on-the-ears baritone, “the late great Sam Cooke’s ‘Chain Gang.’”

Click for a snippet of Sam singing “Chain Gang.”

Ignorant, I didn’t like most of the oldies; they were unfamiliar. I’d much rather hear Marvin Gaye’s contemporary 1967 cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” than the Shirelles’s 1961 rendition of “Tonight’s the Night.” In my estimation, WTMA played too many oldies. I wanted to hear the Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B” or Bobby Fuller’s cover of “I Fought the Law,” not Elvis’s or Chuck Berry’s antediluvian 1950s tunes.

Like I said, I was ignorant.

Milo Hamilton with Henry Aaron

In the summers, before there was such a thing as cable, I’d listen to the Atlanta Braves on that radio, the broadcasts fading in and out as competitive wavelengths waxed and waned, which could be, shall we say, a tad frustrating at times. The Braves’ play-by-play announcer Milo Hamilton might have Phil Niekro checking a runner at first when suddenly scratching static would avalanche over the play-by-play as some other station butted in with forty seconds of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”  By the time Milo’s voice reemerged from the deep, the runner at first had scored, and now runners stood at second and third. And, of course, the radio’s tubes could go on the fritz at the most inconvenient times during those Braves Baseball broadcasts.

Still, there were some stations like WNOX in Knoxville whose 50,000 watts provided better wavelength stability. That’s where I first heard “heavy” bands like Cream and Grand Funk Railroad.[2] In Chronicles, Dylan describes staying up in the wee hours listening to distant niche radio stations that provided him with an invaluable education in Americana music. By the way, I highly recommend Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour where he plays a DJ doing an old-time radio format. Although the program’s now defunct, you can still catch his whiskey-themed broadcast here. Dylan’s knowledge of the history of American music is encyclopedic, and listening to these broadcasts is highly educational if you’re into popular music.[3]

Eventually, alas, that old radio kicked the bucket, and I can’t remember if we replaced it or not. I think probably not. My father, though, rigged half a stereo system with an amp, turntable, and one speaker he encased in a fabric-façaded cabinet so I could listen to mono LPs. Thanks to my impatience and lack of fine motor skills, the mid-side songs I’d manually re-cue on the LPs would end up scratched and with their pop and crackle replicate the static of nighttime am radio listening.

I actually used to claim that a record doesn’t have character if it hasn’t been scratched. 


[1] Better known in its abbreviated form am.

[2] WTMA didn’t stray from standard Top 40 fare.

[3] Of course, he had a staff but still.

Charlie Stonecypher and Rik Cribbs at Songwriter’s Soap Box, Chico Feo, 23 November 2020

Rik Cribb

The festivities ran from six to ten, but in this “edition,” I’m only featuring two performances.* First, Folly Beach’s own Renaissance man, Charlie Stonecypher, bassist, uke thrasher, newspaper columnist, and for the seventh straight year, South Carolina’s Body Board Champion. Hit it, Charlie.

Next, Rik Cribbs, a Charleston legend, taking time out from his Honeymoon to perform.

Happy Thanksgiving, and this year I’m very thankful for George Alan Fox for doing such an excellent job of putting the show together each week. Bravo, George.


*It takes literally hours to upload these videos, hence the brevity. Youtube and I have had a falling out.

A Paean to Warren Zevon, Hivah!

I went home with a waitress the way I always do
How was I to know she was with the Russians, too?

I was gambling in Havana, I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns, and money
Dad, get me out of this, hiyah!

An innocent bystander,
Somehow I got stuck between a rock and a hard place,
And I’m down on my luck.
Yes, I’m down on my luck.
Well, I’m down on my luck.

I’m hiding in Honduras, I’m a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns, and money
The shit has hit the fan.

                                                “Lawyers, Guns, and Money”

image from Britannica

I miss Warren Zevon, his catchy tunes, his erudite cynicism, his geo-political obsessions. The first Zevon song I heard came blasting from an AM/FM radio in my cramped three-brother bedroom in 1977 when I had moved back home as a place to crash before getting married. I had just dropped out of grad school, didn’t have a job, and even though my wife-to-be was relatively wealthy, my mother insisted that every day I drive fifteen miles to the Temp Agency on Rivers Avenue to see if I could cop some sort of stopgap gig in construction, a trade I had never plied. It was, in a word, depressing.

And, of course, no one ever chose me, lacking both construction boots and biceps.[1]  

The song blasting from that radio on that autumn evening was “Werewolves of London,” a joyous, literate, tongue-in-cheek send-up celebrity society.

Well, I saw Lon Chaney walking with the Queen
Doing the Werewolves of London
I saw Lon Chaney, Jr. walking with the Queen
Doing the Werewolves of London
I saw a werewolf drinking a piña colada at Trader Vic’s
And his hair was perfect.

Those lyrics are perfect – slyly allusive, absurd, funny, like the howling ah-hoos of the chorus. With Warren I had a pal, someone I could relate to, a hip, literate compadre who employed humor to keep chase away the darkness that stalked him like an obsessive spurned lover.[2]

The majority of my hometown Summerville pals had moved on, and most of the ones who had stayed fell into the demographic of “white males without a college degree,” hard drinkers and pot smokers who wouldn’t know Lon Chaney, Jr. from Zeno of Elea.[3]

And as the years passed, I continued to follow Warren’s career and was lucky enough to see him twice, once in a bar called the Music Farm with a Canadian backup band in 1992 and a couple of years later in a solo acoustic show at Mynskens on Market Street. 

Although we would never have a conversation, he would continue to be my pal up to the very end when he accepted his death sentence of Mesothelioma with characteristic good humor. 

Warren Zevon is sitting at a table in a Hollywood hotel cafe, patiently waiting for someone to bring him a menu. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes seep by. “At a time like this,” he says with an arched eyebrow and a low, rumbling laugh, “you really get the feeling of time marching on.”

David Fricke, “Warren Zevon and the Art of Dying”

I’m writing this on 15 November 2020 in the interregnum between Trump’s concession and Biden’s inauguration and could use a new Zevon name-dropping record to drop, something rhyming “Kayleigh” and “Tiffany,” “Giuliani” and “Proud Boy Army,” something with a resonant bass line, emphatic drumming, and lively guitar licks that would provide me the opportunity to show off my gold-capped molars in a wide ass sardonic grin.

Guess I’ll just have to settle for “Boom Boom Mancini,” “Desperado’s Under the Eaves,” and “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.”


[1] I did do some substitute teaching, though it was more like babysitting than pedagogy, and eventually through a set of divine missteps seemingly ordained by Tyche herself, landed a job at a community college teaching in one semester English 101, Technical Report Writing, and Business English. Obviously, they were as desperate as I was.

[2] In fact, a hade-sporting skull bogarting a cigarette became Zevon’s trademark. 

[3] Yes, I am a card-carrying elitist. Check this out: 


Return of the Singer/Songwriter Soapbox

Image by George Alan Fox

After a week off, Chico Feo’s Songwriter’s Soapbox returned in fine fashion. George Alan Fox, our inimitable host, bookended the extravaganza with a sampling of original tunes. This one’s my favorite, the brilliant “Figurin’ It Out,” performed at the end of the evening.

Pernell McDaniel laid down some country tunes he had recently written:

Alas, I didn’t get to record an outstanding set by Captain Philip Frandino, whose song “Compromise” speaks to our times. I promise to get him next time he performs.

Here’s a second or to of my occasional poem on Georgia flipping Democratic:

What an easy act to follow, especially for a talented songwriter like Gracie Trice, who, believe it or not, just started writing songs last month.

OMG, as the young people say, get a load of these spoken words by Brianna Stello:

Brother Fleming Moore did a set ending with a gospel tune.

Alas, I also failed to record Jeff Lowry, whom I also promise to video next time he performs, and, even though I did video Jason Chambers, I did so on his phone and don’t have access. It’s a big ass file, and I’ll add it if he can transport it. Lastly, several other performers were outstanding, but I didn’t catch some of their names.

What fun, y’all. Whitney Wienmann was there, celebrating her birthday, along with Caroline Tigner Moore. In addition, a Who’s Who of Folly illuminati made the scene: Surfer Phil, Tyler, Greg, Jesse, Matthew, Dan and Becca (who did a duet early in the evening with Becca on banjo) – the list goes on and on.

A shoutout to bartenders Rachelle, Katie, and Gavin. I also believe I saw a hatless Solly lurking on the periphery.

So if you’re in town, next Monday, head out to Chico Feo. Open Mike starts at 6PM.

Cheers!

Marvelous Night for a Moon Dance

brought to you by Foxy G’s Smoky Goodness!!

Here are some brief videos chronicling a bit of what went down at the Songwriter Soap Box last night on the Edge of America.

The first clip features singer/songwriter Fleming Moore accompanied by bluesman Robert Lighthouse on guitar and an unnamed percussionist.

Next, Robert Lighthouse solo, laying down some blues.

Here’s an excerpt of Jason Chambers reading one of his poems.

Too, too short of a clip of the incomparable Danielle Howle.

Sorry, I couldn’t provide videos for all of the performers who included George Alan Fox, Pernell McDaniel, Toomey Tucker, Charlie Stonecypher, Pete Burbage, Eric Barnett, Jeff Lowry, Jamime Crisp, George Honeycutt and Bobby Sutton, Eliza Novella, and Leon David.

Shagging Revisited

Early in July, my good friend and former college/grad school roommate Warren Moise wrote an article for the Charleston Mercury describing his former existence as a beach musician in the 60s and 70s. He admitted in the article that he had never learned to shag, which for me was a shocking revelation.

No, British readers, not that kind of shagging!

We’re talking about the venerable North and South Carolina dance known as “the shag.” According to the website NCPEDIA, the shag might trace its evolution back to early settlers of the Carolina in an attempt to preserve their European musical lineage. According to the article, in the 1920s and 30s, the shag evolved as dancers adapted it to swing music and jazz. However, the dance really came into its own in 50s and 60s with the advent of Beach Music, a genre made famous by such groups as The Drifters, Tams, and the Embers and performed at beach pavilions up and down the Carolina Coast.

Essentially,  the shag is a two person hand-holding shuffle that allows room for much improvisation. Knowing how to shag is almost a social necessity if you live in Charleston or Myrtle Beach. Nevertheless, like Warren, I, too, never learned how, essentially because I didn’t have the inclination.

Folly Beach, where I live, used to have a shag dance club on Center Street where old people attempted to keep the fires of their youth ablaze, and you can still see lots of shagging at the Sand Dollar Social club on weekends.

Curmudgeon that I am, I saw members of the old shag club as victims of their youth, incurable nostalgia-holics stuck, like a stylus on a scratched record, in a repetitive rut, so I wrote the following rather acerbic poem. 

If you look closely, you can detect the traces

Of teenagers drowned in the puddles of their faces.

Perhaps this is beauty’s curse, the clinging,

King Canute by the seaside singing:

Stop in the name of love. But the aging process

Stops for no one. There’s no recess

In decay’s school day, no stopping the seasons,

Even if you’re sockless and sporting Bass Weejuns.

Chuck Prophet, Under Appreciated But Still Cranking ‘Em Out

chuck prophet

Sometimes when you hear a song for the first time that’s really catchy, you end up getting sick of it all too soon. I’m thinking of songs like “Friday on My Mind” by the Easybeats or “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, two really tasty tunes that satisfy you for a second or two, but by the third serving, you’re not even paying attention.

On the other hand, some really catchy songs never get old. The first time I heard Zevon’s “Werewolves of London,” on the radio in 1977, I hopped into my parents’ VW Bug and drove fourteen or so miles to the Record Bar, the closest record store. Despite the song’s simplicity[1], I’ve never gotten sick of it. Of course, the lyrics help:

Well, I saw Lon Chaney walking with the Queen
Doing the Werewolves of London
I saw Lon Chaney, Jr. walking with the Queen
Doing the Werewolves of London
I saw a werewolf drinking a piña colada at Trader Vic’s
And his hair was perfect.

Anyway, Chuck Prophet’s 2002 album No Other Love I’ve never gotten tired of.  I first discovered Prophet via Salon back in the day when they’d offer free cuts you could download from just-dropped albums.

Just as in the case of ‘Werewolves,” the featured cut “I Bow Down and Worship Every Woman I  See” blew me away.  It’s a narrative. Here’s the first verse, which stands up remarkably well naked on the page:

Chloe was a neighbor girl

who walked round in a trance

A lot like Sissy Spacek

at that homecoming dance

Her father was religious

Mother was too

She yearned to be a model

Had issues with food

Last I heard of Chloe

someone saw her on TV

Preaching the power of hypnosis

and aroma therapy

Darby was my sister’s friend

a fashion paranoid

She wore a winter coat all summer long

and made a lot of noise

about conservites and demigods

and how we should be scared

We dropped LSD at Disneyland

She left me stranded there

I hitched back to the valley

with a Dr. Leopold

who sermonized computers

have come to steal our souls

ooh baby ooh baby

I bow down and pray to every woman I see

I bow down and pray to every woman I see

A song from the same album I like even more is “That’s How Much I Need Your Love.” Here’s a brief sonic sample:

 

So what you have here in LA noir music, sunny and creepy at the same time. I just discovered a new one yesterday. My wife Caroline asked if I wanted to hear “Jesus Was a Social Drinker.” The title sounded so Zevon. “Who’s it by?” I asked.

“Chuck Prophet.”

Obviously, I’d lost touch.

Now Jesus was a social drinker
He never drank alone
He never partied at a strip club
Keeping his woman up at home
Or overstayed his welcome
Or threw up in your sink
Nah, Jesus was never late to work, man
And he always pulled his weight

 

It’s off the album Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins, and he’s got a new one coming out in 21 August 2020.  I’m planning on checking it out.[2]


[1] D D (quarter note, half note, then a quarter rest), C C (quarter note, half note,

then a quarter rest), G G C G (the rest quarter notes with no rests), G G G G,

throughout the song

[2] BTW, I’m one of these old-fashioned cats you doesn’t stream his music. I buy the records.

An Aged Punk Is But a Paltry Thing: To Rage or Not to Rage

I remember going to a Warren Zevon show at a bar in 1992[1] and overhearing some kid say, “There’s nothing but old people here.”  He was talking about people like me, an overripe just turned 39.  As it turns out, coincidentally, the show took place a day after Zevon’s 45th birthday, and despite his semi-elderly status, he put on one helluva show. His encore cover of Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin,” actually stirred for an n-second the dead embers of my long extinguished revolutionary zeal. 

Of course, 39 or 45 might seem ancient to a 20-something, but to my mother, 60 at the time, or to my 92-year-old grandmother-in-law, I was only on the second leg of my TWC[2] flight to that undiscovered country from whose bourne no tourist returns.

[montage of calendar pages flapping and tearing off in a really stiff breeze][3]

Yikes! Seems just yesterday being a boomer meant you were young; now it’s a term of derision, a descriptor of someone in the market for a walk-in tub, someone whose gauze-wrapped brain is incapable of gazing beyond his own limited experience. In fact, aging is such an obsession that our local paper has a weekly column on how to handle encroaching decrepitude. 

I don’t usually read the column, but glancing at this week’s edition, I did a double take when I saw this headline: 

Aging for Amateurs: King Lear shows how to find freedom in limitations

WTF, my inner keyboard typed. Lear as role model? He ends up In Act 3 evicted by his fiendish daughters onto a heath during a hurricane. Earlier, the doddering king had disinherited his one decent child, Cordelia, and at the end of the play (spoiler alert) he carries her corpse in his arms as he intones, “Never, never, never, never, never?”

So I read the article, and what the author cites is a brief moment in Act 5 when Lear mistakenly thinks he and soon-to-be-hanged Cordelia are headed to prison. 

No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon.

The author of the article on aging, Bert Keller, concludes

The old king acknowledges the reality of his inevitable imprisonment. Looking beyond the literal, we know what the deeper meaning here is for us: not dungeon or detention center but the limitations and losses of advanced age. Our bodies weaken, our minds slow down, hearing fails and we move around with effort. And on top of all that, now we’re shut in by COVID-19. Yet here is 80-year-old Lear, saying “Let’s away to prison” with a willing heart! That is the amazing thing. He interprets unavoidable withdrawal in terms of inner freedom.

Then again, on the other side of the poetic ledger, there is Dylan Thomas, who suggests “[w]e rage, rage, against the dying of the light,”  like my man WB Yeats who asks:

Did all old men and women, rich and poor,
Who trod upon these rocks or passed this door,
Whether in public or in secret rage
As I do now against old age?

Well, all of this is a long-winded way to introduce a clever music video on the subject, which features for a second or two my brother, the musician and actor Fleming Moore, playing a punk who has made it to his golden years.” [4]  The songwriter Killjoy says, “The song is about growing old, obsolete, irrelevant, dying, nostalgia, and being OK with all of that.”

The band is Killjoy & the Cutthroats, and the song is “Golden Years for a Gutter Punk.”  


[1] 23 January, the Music Farm, Charleston, SC

[2] Time’s Winged Chariot

[3] I prefer this cliché to the fast-forwarding of clock hands doing the dervish, spinning like crazy as the sun rises-sets outside the window.

[4] He’s the bald guy with the rake.

A Man Called Adam, a Mensch Called Satchmo

Last night on TCM, Caroline and I watched the 1966 film A Man Called Adam. In the introduction, host Eddie Muller mentioned that the film’s protagonist Adam Johnston, played by Sammy Davis, Jr., was based “very loosely” on Miles Davis. Muller didn’t mention that in 1966 Miles Davis was alive (if not well)[1] and had started a relationship with Cicely Tyson, who interestingly enough, plays Adam Johnson’s love interest.

The movie features Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong portraying a fictional character, Willie “Sweet Daddy” Ferguson. Ossie Davis, and Frank Sinatra, Jr. also co-star. In addition, Mel Tormé bops in for a number, which, for me, is the highlight of several superb musical performances, including one featuring Satchmo himself. Benny Carter composed songs for the movie and served as musical director and conductor.

Although some of the acting isn’t exactly topnotch (Frank Sinatra, Jr. was not nominated for an academy award), those above-mentioned performances, interesting racial dynamics, and its pivotal place in the timeline of civil right make the movie worth watching.  It’s a period of transition: some characters look ‘50s with their skinny black ties, others ‘70s with afros and pointy sideburns. For the most part, white and blacks dig each other, whether they be musicians or audience members in the jazz clubs.

Adam, like Miles himself, is a demon-haunted trumpeter. Years before, he drunkenly crashed his car, killing his wife and child. In addition, society’s underlying racial injustice stokes his anger.  He alchemizes this heartache and rage, blows them out of his horn in soaring, anguished, increasingly frenetic solos, syncopated banshee wails that can raise the hair on your arms (if you haven’t waxed them away).

Oh yes, he’s harassed by the police who want to see his arms, because, after all, being black is a sure sign of heroin addiction. Adam doesn’t take shit from anyone – though he does dump bulldozer loads on his agents, friends, and fellow musicians  –  and for a diminutive man gives the cops a fairly good fight.[2]

Ultimately, though, I don’t dig Adam. Genius, in my book, doesn’t excuse you from treating non-geniuses like lesser beings, doesn’t give you a license to shatter time-honored traditions of civilized decorum, not to mention nearly full whiskey bottles.

No, give me Louis Armstrong, who rose from poverty, did delinquent time at the Colored Waif’s Home in New Orleans, rose to prominence, became an international ambassador for jazz, but was no Uncle Tom. He called President Eisenhower “two-faced” and gutless” during Little Rock’s desegregation and cancelled a State Department tour to the Soviet Union. “The way they’re treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell,” he said as he pulled out of the show.

Anyway, if you’re into jazz or civil rights history, check it out. 


[1] In ’66 Miles spent three months in a hospital because of a liver infection. 

[2] Perhaps not coincidentally, Philip Marlowe, the protagonist of the noir 1953 novel I’m now reading, also gets worked over by the cops. Hmmmmm.