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  • blechtram 12:51 pm am December 4, 2019 Permalink | Antworten
    Tags: Bob Ledbetter, , , , Goodnight, Irene, Lead Belly, , , , , , Ry Cooder, The Weavers, Tom Waits   

    Lead Belly’s "Irene" and its lyrical variants of the chorus: Kissing, getting, guessing and seeing. 

    Ramsey, Frederic Jr.: Liner notes for Leadbelly’s Early Recordings, Legacy Volume 3 (Folkways FA 2024, 1951).

    Let’s talk about Lead Belly and his song «Irene, Goodnight», alternatively called «Goodnight, Irene». I’ll just refer to it as «Irene» here.

    The question that interests us here is simple: What exactly does Lead Belly sing in the chorus’s last line? Is it: «I get you in my dreams»? «I guess you’re in my dreams»? «I kiss you in my dreams»?

    It is really hard to make out in some takes and online ressources don’t seem to have a great consensus. There are different recordings with different plausible outcomes, we’ll take a look at that and some prominent cover versions below.

    For those with little time, the «too long, didn’t read»-summary is this: Lead Belly mostly used «I get you in my dreams» for the early recordings (up until 1943), other times most likely an «I kiss(ed) you in my dreams». For later records (from 1944), he opted for something like «I guessed you in my dreams», which can be seen as a cleaned-up version of «I get» or «I kissed». Cover versions mostly use «I’ll see you in my dreams» (from the Weavers’s hit version) or, more in line with Lead Belly, «I get you in my dreams». For the fun details, read below.

    As for the song: This is nowadays a classic of folk americana, a weird waltz that doesn’t quite fit into Lead Belly’s repertoire of blues, field hollers or folk songs, but does fit very well into his habit of soaking up whatever good song he could find and modify to make it his own. There is a cute family story about its origins – he supposedly made it up on the spot as a lullaby for his little baby niece. But this story is debunked – first, by his own uncle, Bob Ledbetter, who is known to have it sung before Lead Belly (and who says he learned it from his brother Terrell – you can hear this statement and Bob’s 1940 version on Document Records DOCD-5579), and secondly by Wolfe/Lornell who trace the song back even further to a 19th century popular song – but there is no written record. Wolfe/Lornell note:

    There is evidence, nonetheless, that the chorus, at least, was circulating among other folksingers besides the Ledbetters. In November 1936 […], a Library of Congress field recording unit came upon Gilbert Fike in Little Rock, Arkansas. Fike was originally from Louisiana and sang a song called «The Girls Won’t Do to Trust,» [sic] which used a set of unusual misogynistic verses to set up a familiar chorus:

    The girls will chew tobacco, but she will raise a fuss
    The girls will dring good whiskey, boys, but they
    Won’t do to trust

    Irene, goodnight, Irene,
    Irene, goodnight, my life,
    I’ll kiss you in my dreams.

    While it is possible that Fike had heard Huddie sing a version of the song […], it is probable that both Fike and Leadbelly heard the song as it circualted among rural singers in Texas and Louisiana.

    (Wolfe/Lornell 1992, 53)

    Well, the story goes on (there’s even earlier textual evidence), but so far this is pretty standard fair as far as the creation and development of folk songs go (for this, see also Ek 2014, and for a short summary online, see Lornell 2003). Let’s turn to the lyrics. What does Lead Belly do in his dream? «Get» Irene? «Kiss» Irene? «Guess»? The problem is that – especially on the early field recordings – it is really hard to make out what Lead Belly sings – and even in later versions, he uses a dialectal phrasing that sounds a lot like «giss» (hard g), like a mixture of «get» and «kiss». I think this is where the «guess» version comes from, which, spoiler, will turn out to be the least plausible one in my view.

    Before we turn to the audio analysis, let’s get some clear textual evidence. As noted above, Wolfe/Lornell transcribe the songs origins as using the line «I kiss you in my dreams», and if you listen to Bob Ledbetter’s 1940-version, there is no doubt about it. This in itself stakes a strong claim for «kiss» instead of «get» or «guess» as an initial variant. Also, in the liner notes of the Folkways-LP Leadbelly’s Early Recordings, Legacy Volume 3 (Folkways FA 2024, 1951), Frederic Ramsey makes quite astute poetic observations about Lead Belly’s lyrical craft:

    There is one quality of Leadbelly’s song that is only partially touched on in the Lomax book, how ever, but if we piece together bits of the Lomax story and combine them with the text and mood of Leadbelly’s songs, it can be sensed. There is in certain of the songs a mood of sleeplessness; in others, of dream, and trance. […] Where no escape is provided through sleep or dream, it is through alcolhol as in Roberta. The sleeplessness complements the dream, for it is a waking dream. It is a state where real and unreal are mixed, seen and unseen come together.

    Ramsey 1951.

    Ramsey then goes on to quote several other songs that reference this escape or wish fulfillment through (day dreams) and, on the occasion, transcribes the bit from «Irene» as:

    «Irene, good night, Irene good night,
    Good night Irene, good night Irene,
    I kiss you in my dreams …» (Irene, FP 4)

    Ramsey 1951.

    Since Ramsey mentions Folkways FP 4 as the source, it is clear that he refers to the versions «SC-261» or «SC-261-1» from 1943, both on FP 4 (cf. my bio-discography of Lead Belly for such session-details). Now, Ramsey isn’t just anybody – he met and recorded Lead Belly in his late sessions. But apart from this supposed authority on the subject matter, I find his lyrical assembly of quotes about dreamy wish fulfillment persuasive: This again makes a stronger claim that Lead Belly dream-wishes that he «gets» or «kisses» Irene, rather than the line not fitting in this logic: «I guess you’re in my dreams».

    But Wolfe/Lornell go on to say this:

    The first time he recorded the song on disc, in 1933, he sang only two verses and two choruses, including the slightly ominous refrain «I’ll get you in my dreams». A year later he recorded it with four verses and four refrains.

    Wolfe/Lornell 1992, 56.

    I agree with their assessment that it sounds most like «get» in the 1933-chorus (version 120-A-1) which is the only complete chorus from that year that includes the line. Very generally, it coud be heard as «kiss» with a mumbled «s» in the end. But «get» is what they decide on, so let’s take that as corroborating evidence.

    Now, if we turn to what is audible on Lead Belly’s own recordings, there is little doubt about one thing: On several occasions, he clearly sings «I get you in my dreams». If you compare my harmonisation below, you see that I think there is no doubt about him singing this line on the versions 124-A-2 (1934) – starting with the second chorus, as the first is unclear to me –, 124-B-1 (1934) and SC-261-1 (1943). As opposed to SC-261-1, version SC-261 (1943) gives you this weird «get/kiss»-mixture, so that must have been the one Ramsey refers to in his transcription above.

    If we now take a close listen to his other versions, we most of the time end up with a word that sound like «giss» or even «gass». At one point I though this might be a dialectal version of «catch» (as in «I catss you in my dreams»), and it also occured to me that it could simply be a dialectal «I gets you» – because Lead Belly pretty systematically uses this conjugation on all other verbs in the song, «I lives», «I loves», «I haves», but I don’t know enough about the nature of Lead Belly’s idiom to know if this is even remotely plausible from a linguistic perspective. American dialectologists, please let me know if «I gets» was a plausible form.

    Anyway, if you are primed by textual knowledge about the «kiss»-version, most of these can pretty reliably sound like «kiss». The version where I’m really struggling to hear a difference between «kiss you» and «guess you’re» is version 44-A (1935).

    Two last points on the «I guess you’re in my dreams»-variant: First, I must say I can hear «guess(ed)» on some occasions, but I have to force myself to hear «you’re in my dreams», it is usually a clear «you in my dreams» to me. Also, in later versions (from 1944 onwards), it becomes a more clearly pronounced «I guessed you’re in my dreams». The past tense makes even less poetic sense to me – it seems like a bowlderized versions of «kissed» to me.

    This is also why I don’t quote more of Lead Belly’s numerous later Irene-versions because even though he clearly gravitated to what sounds like «I guess you in my dreams», the problems fundamentally remain the same: Even with better and clearer recording (and Lead Belly having adapted his singing for white audiences), it is hard to know whether we’re dealing with a dialectal «kiss», «gets» or «guess» (compare especially version 413-3A, 1944). But more importantly: Folk lyrics change. At this point of Lead Belly’s career, we’re dealing with lyrical adaptation by Lead Belly for the audiences he played for. In the version FC 7533 (1945), I hear a clear «I guessed you in my dreams», but at that point he had also changed the lyrics of «take morphine and die» to «run away and fly». As in the Weavers’ version (see below), «getting» and «kissing» maybe wasn’t deemed suitable for mainstream (and children) audiences, so «guessing» might have become a valid option from 1944 onwards.

    Taken all of this together, I’d say we end up with the following for the versions up until 1943:

    1. There is clear textual evidence for «I kiss you in my dreams», clear auditive evidence for it in Bob Ledbetter’s version and plausible auditive evidence in Lead Belly’s versions
    2. There is clear auditive evidence for the variant «I get you in my dreams». Some of Lead Belly’s versions leave no doubt.
    3. There is clear «poetic» evidence for both these variants, that is to say: they simply make sense, even in a larger thematic context of Lead Belly’s lyrical motifs
    4. There is some auditive, little poetic and no textual evidence for «I guess(ed) you(’re) in my dreams»

    As corroborated evidence goes, I’d say Lead Belly sings a dialectal «I kiss» on some, and «I get» on other versions. Having said that, none of this disproves the «I guess you’re in my dreams»-version which remains plausible, why not? But it remains the least supported version by corroboration. As a last resort, I’d propose a dialectal «I gets», until an expert tells me that this form didn’t exist in the idioms spoken then.

    Cover versions

    The story could but doesn’t have to end here. How did prominent cover versions handle this textual unclarity? To spoil the harmonisation of lyrics I made below: There is a strong preference to use the completely different line «I’ll see you in my dreams» – this is easily explained as this stems from the cleaned-up version by the Weavers which was a 1950-hit that made the song as famous as it is nowadays in the first place. No kissing or «getting» in this mainstream folk context (cf. Ek 2014)! Even Mississippi John Hurt uses this line in his 1966-version – he announces it as «Lead Belly’s song» in the spoken intro, says that he «learned it off the record» and then continues to sing a song that structurally uses the lyrics from the Weavers’, not Lead Belly’s, version. So hilariously and wonderfully for folk authenticity and pop history, Mississippi John Hurt most likely learned this song from the Weavers’ hit record. Eric Clapton’s 2013 also shares this approach of using the song in the form it first entered the mass audience’s mind: as the Weavers-version.

    Then, more reconstructionist artists like Ry Cooder (1976) and Tom Waits (2006) both opt for lyrical structures the pretty much exactly resemble one of Lead Belly’s version. Ry Cooder clearly goes with «I’ll get you in my dreams» in the chorus, while Tom Waits, in typical fashion, sort of recreates Lead Belly’s «kiss/get» mixture as «giss». Waits gives no lyrics in the liner notes for this song.

    As an example of continued oral folk permutation, Dr. John’s version from 1992 just uses general musical and lyrical elements of the earlier version to come up with something very different. He turns the music into a big-bandish boogie and the song is not about yearning, scrounging, suicide and loss (with a dream as escape), but about desire, sex and partying, balling down the river while screaming «I wanna get you into my dream!» Of course, Dr. John pays his dues as a reconstructionist as well, at one point introducing a female choir which sings the exact lyrics of the Weavers’ chorus.

    Well, that was fun, wasn’t it. For what I’ve exactly heard, uncertainties included, compare below harmonisation of the different versions I mentioned. Sources are below.

     Lead Belly 120-A-1Lead Belly 120-A-6Lead Belly 120-A-7Lead Belly 124-A-2 (1934)Lead Belly 124-B-1 (1934)Lead Belly 44-A (1935)Lead Belly 44-B-1 (1935)Irene SC-261-1 (1943)Irene (SC-261) (1943)Bob Ledbetter (1940)Weavers (1950)Mississippi John Hurt (1966)Ry Cooder (1976)Dr. John (1992)Tom Waits (2006)Eric Clapton (2013)
    INTRO / CHORUSIrene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll get/kiss (?) you in my dreams
    ø Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll get/kiss (?) you in my dreams
     Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I kiss you in my dreams + Spoken Intro
     Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I get you in my dreams
    øIrene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Irene goodnight, goodnight Irene
    I kiss you in my dreams
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll see you in my dreams
    Spoken Intro + Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I will see you in my dream
    øøIrene goodnight, Irene, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I kiss you in my dreams
    ø
    VERSE 1One day, one day, one day
    Irene was a-walkin’ along
    Last word that I heard her say
    «I want you to sing one song»
    I asked your mother for you
    She told me that you was too young
    I wish dear Lord that I’d never seen your face
    I’m sorry  you ever was born
     Quit ramblin‘ and quit gamblin‘
    Quit staying out late at night
    Come home to your wife and your family
    Sit down by the fireside bright
     I asked your mother for you
    She told me you was too young
    I wish dear Lord that I’d never seen your face
    I’m sorry you ever was born
     Sometimes I lives in the country
    Sometimes I live in town
    Sometimes I have the great notion
    Jumpin‘ in, into the river and drown
    I asked your mother for you
    She told me that you was too young
    I wish dear Lord,that  I’d never seen your face
    I’m sorry you ever was born
    Last Saturday night I’ve got married
    Me and my wife settled down
    Me and my wife is parted now
    I’m goin‘ take a stroll uptown
    Last Saturday night I got married
    Me and my wife settled down
    Now me and my wife are parted
    I’m gonna take another stroll down town
    Sometimes I live in the country
    Sometimes I lives in town
    Sometime I take great notion
    Jump in the river and drown
    I asked your mother for you
    She told me that you was too young
    I wish dear Lord never have seen your face
    And I’m sorry that you ever been born
    Last night as I laid in my bed a-sleepin’
    Last night as I laid down across my bed
    Last night I had myself a nightmare
    I had a dream, I had a dream
    My little Irene was dead
    Last Saturday night I got married
    Me and my wife settled down
    Now me and my wife are parted
    I’m gonna take me a little stroll uptown
    Last Saturday night I got married
    Me and my wife settled down
    Now me and my wife are parted
    Gonna take another stroll down town
    CHORUS Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    (scrambled)
    (possible continuation of 120-A-6, scrambled)… in my dreamsIrene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll get you in my dreams
     Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I kiss you / guess you’re (?) in my dreams + Spoken Interlude
     Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I get you in my dreams
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I kiss (?) you in my dreams
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Irene goodnight, goodnight Irene
    I kiss you in my dreams
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll see you in my dreams
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I will see you in my dream
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll get you in my dreams
    I had to say now:
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I wanna get you, I wanna get you
    Wanna get you into my dream
    Irene goodnight, Irene, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I kiss you in my dreams
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll see you in my dreams
    VERSE 2  Stop ramblin‘ and stop gamblin‘
    Quit staying out late at night
    Come home to your wife and your family
    Sit down by the fireside bright
    Last Friday night, I got married
    Me and my wife settled down
    Now me and my wife have parted
    Gonna take me a stroll uptown
     Sometimes I lives in the country
    Sometimes I lives in town
    Sometimes I have the great notion
    Jumpin‘ into the river and drown
     Stop ramblin‘ and stop gamblin‘
    quit stayin‘ out late at night
    Go home to your wife and your family
    Sit down by the fireside bright
    Sometimes I lives in the country
    Sometimes I lives in town
    Sometimes I haves the great notion
    Jumpin‘ in, into the river and drown
    Quit ramblin‘, quit gamblin‘
    Quit staying out late at home(– at night!)
    Come home to your wife and  family
    Sit down by the fire[?]side bright
    Sometimes I live in the country
    Sometimes I live in town
    Sometimes I take a great notion
    To jump into the river and drown
    Stop ramblin‘, stop gamblin‘
    stop stayin‘ out late at night
    Go home to your wife and family
    And stay by the fireside bright
    Sometimes I live in the country
    Sometimes I lives in town
    Sometimes I have a great notion
    To jump into the river and drown
    Last Saturday night we got married
    Last Saturday night we sho’ got down
    Last Saturday night we went sailin’ down the river
    We swung that little boat
    And we almost drowned
    Sometimes I live in the country
    Sometimes I live in town
    Sometimes I take a great notion
    To jump in the river and drown
    Stop ramblin‘, stop your gamblin‘
    stop stayin‘ out late at night
    Come home to your wife and your family
    And sit by the fire so bright
    CHORUS  Irene goodnight, Irene (scrambled fade-out)Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll get you in my dreams
     Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I kiss you / guess you’re (?) in my dreams + Spoken Interlude
     Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I get you in my dreams (Fade out)
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I kiss (?) you in my dreams
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Irene goodnight, goodnight Irene
    I kiss you in my dreams
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll see you in my dreams
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I will see you in my dream
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll get you in my dreams (+ instrumental chorus)
    I had to say now:
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I wanna get you, I wanna get you
    Get you into my dreams
    Irene goodnight, Irene, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I kiss you in my dreams
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll see you in my dreams
    VERSE 3   I asked your mother for you
    She told me that you was too young
    I wish dear Lord that I’d never seen your face
     I’m sorry you ever was born
     You cause me to weep and you cause me to moan
    You cause me to leave my home
    The last words I heard her said
    „I want you to sing this song“
      Stop ramblin‘ and stop gamblin‘
    quit stayin‘ out late at night
    Go home to your wife and your family
    Sit down by the fireside bright
     Stop ramblin‘, stop your gamblin‘
    stop stayin‘ out late at night
    Go home to your wife and your family
    Stay there by your fireside bright
    øI loves Irene, God knows I do
    Loves her till the sea runs dry
    If Irene turns her back on me
    I’m gonna take morphine and die
    øI loves Irene, God knows I do
    Loves her till the sea runs dry
    If she ever loves another
    I’m gonna take morphine and die
    I loves Irene, God knows I do
    Loves her till the rivers run dry
    If Irene should ever turn her back on me
    Gonna take morphine and die
    CHORUS   Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll get you in my dreams
     Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I kiss you / guess you’re (?) in my dreams + Spoken Interlude
      Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I kiss (?) you in my dreams
     Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll see you in my dreams (Repeat + Fade-Out)
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I will see you in my dream
    ø(Female choir:) Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnigt Irene, goodnight Irene
    I will see you in my dream
    Irene goodnight, Irene, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I kiss you in my dreams
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll see you in my dreams
    VERSE 4   One day, one day, one day
    Irene was a-walkin‘ along
    Last words that I heard her say
    „I want you to sing this song“
     Last Friday night, I got married
    Me and my wife settled down
    Now me and my wife have parted
    Gonna take me a stroll uptown
      I loves Irene, God knows I do
    Love her ‚til the sea run dry
    If Irene turns her back on me
    I’m gonna take morphine and die
       Stop ramblin‘ and stop gamblin‘
    Quit stayin‘ out late at night
    Come home into your wife and your family
    Sit down by the fireside bright
    Sometime I wanna drink
    Sometime I wanna gamble
    Sometime I wanna stay out all night long
    Lord, but when I’m lovin’ my little Irene
    I wanna love the girl
    Love her on and on and on and on…
    Stop your ramblin‘, stop your gamblin‘
    Stop stayin‘ out late at night
    Go home to your wife and your family
    Sit down by the firelight
    ø
    CHORUS    ø (possible continuation of 124-A-2)Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I kiss you / guess you’re (?) in my dreams
          Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll get you in my dreams
    Yeah yeah
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I wanna get you, I wanna get you
    Get you into my dream
    (Everybody!) Irene goodnight, Irene, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I kiss you in my dreams (Repetition + Fade-Out)
    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll see you in my dreams
    VERSE 5    …And she caused me to moan
    She caused me to leave my home
    Last words that I heared her say
    „I’m sorry you ever was known“
     ø         
    CHORUS    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll get you in my dreams
     (possible continuation / re-start of 44-A) Spoken Intro         
    VERSE 7    I love Irene, God knows I do
    Love her ‚til the sea runs dry
    If Irene turns her back on me
    I’m gonna take morphine and die
     I love Irene, God knows I do
    Love her ‚til the sea run dry
    If Irene turn her back on me
    I’m gonna take morphine and die
             
    CHORUS    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I’ll get you in my dreams
     Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
    I get you in my dreams + Spoken Interlude
             
           ø         
           Spoken Interlude + Hummed Chorus Ending         

    Sources:

    • Ek, Kirstin: «A Precipice Between Deadly Perils»: American Folk Music and the Mass Media, 1933–1959. Dissertation University of Virginia 2014.
    • Lornell, Christopher «Kip»: «Goodnight, Irene»–Leadbelly (1933). Added to the National Registry: 2003. Essay by Christopher Lornell (guest post). Library of Congress. URL: http://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-recording-preservation-board/documents/GoodnightIrene.pdf
    • Wolfe, Charles and Kip Lornell: The Life & Legend of Leadbelly. New York: Harper Collins 1992.
    • Ramsey, Frederic Jr.: Liner notes for Leadbelly’s Early Recordings, Legacy Volume 3 (Folkways FA 2024, 1951).
     
  • blechtram 10:41 am am November 26, 2019 Permalink | Antworten
    Tags: 5.0/10, , Art Rock, David Bowie, , of Historical Interest,   

    David Bowie: Lodger 

    Rating: 5.0/10
    Rated as
    : Album
    Album Status
    : for Fans, of Historical Interest
    Released: 1979
    Specific Genre: Art Rock
    Main Genre: Rock
    Undertones
    : Art Pop, Worldbeat, New Wave
    Label: RCA Victor

    1 Fantastic Voyage 2 African Night Flight 3 Move On 4 Yassassin 5 Red Sails 6 D.J. 7 Look Back in Anger 8 Boys Keep Swinging 9 Repetition 10 Red Money

    Can you hear it fall? Can you hear it well? Can you hear it at all?

    Thus, after all the Berlinnovation that was part neurotic pop overkill and part ambient art rock, Bowie’s back to albums where the single is the best thing about it. With „Look Back in Anger“ being by far the most captivating song on here (if only because it sounds like a left-over from Station to Station), the listener isn’t left with much else to admire. Lodger is an album filled with unwelcome leftovers of an overcharged party: So many quirky worldbeat ideas in the production, so many ways to subvert the usual verse-chorus-structure, just so much of anything: nothing here has a lively spark. This is what you get if you put the two brains inventing the sound of the 1980s in a jar.

    Surprisingly, there are two tracks that are blueprints for the sound of Blur. „Boys Keep Swinging“ is the (less exciting, but nonetheless) direct mother of Blur‘s song „M.O.R.“, and the eerie, driven „Repetition“ is like a submerdged sonic blueprint for the whole Parklife album. Bowie’s imprint on Blur is evident elsewhere anyhow, but who would’ve thought that of all his albums, this is the one Albarn had on the top shelf. Odd. This makes it an essential purchase for historically interested Blur fans like me. [Afterthought: It’s not as odd as I used to think, Bowie/Eno have now received writing credits after „legal intervention“.]

    Bowie is tired on this album and who can blame him after 1977. „Red Money“ is Bowie’s own irritatingly crummy version of the great „Sister Midnight“ he wrote and produced for Iggy Pop. It is basically the intstrumental base track with different lyrics, sounding limp and canned. „Red Sails“ is an inferior Neu! track with Bowie-vocals and less interesting guitars than any Neu! track ever had (hold your horses: I’m not saying Adrian Belew isn’t exciting, he’s one of my favourites. But he’s worse at being Michael Rother than Rother himself). Many things here, including the in a sense exciting and strange worldbeat innovations, simply sound very forced. It is squeezed, pressure-grouted Bowie, so to speak.

    Taking a look at the grand scheme of things for a second, one could say that Lodger is the ultimate transition album from the 1970s to the 1980s – in a rather backwards sense: It portrays what didn’t work as well anymore in the 1970s and foreshadows what wouldn’t be that great about the 1980s. Essential for historical reasons.

     
  • blechtram 9:15 am am November 19, 2019 Permalink | Antworten
    Tags: , , , of Zeitgeist Interest, , Skunk Anansie   

    Skunk Anansie: Stoosh 

    Rating: 3.7/10
    Rated as
    : Album
    Album Status: of Zeitgeist Interest
    Released: 1996
    Specific Genre: Alternative Rock
    Main Genre: Rock, Alternative Rock
    Undertones
    : Hard Rock, Grunge, Alternative Metal
    Label: One Little Indian

    1 Yes It’s Fucking Political 2 All I Want 3 She’s My Heroine 4 Infidelity (Only You) 5 Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good) 6 Twisted (Everyday Hurts) 7 We Love Your Apathy 8 Brazen (Weep) 9 Pickin‘ on Me 10 Milk Is My Sugar 11 Glorious Pop Song

    Naa-naa. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-Naaaa-Naaa.

    They do have sweeping choruses and angry anthemic songs like „All I Want“ and „Hedonism“ (a good, almost year-defining single of course) which are just made for big stages and a teenage crowd to chant along, they have pop instincts and they have a radio-friendly grungey hard-rock sound quite typical of the period – this is the politicized phase of grunge, after having gone through the horrors of adolescent angst, so to speak. Skin is a commanding singer with a supernova’s worth of charisma, but listen to this if you want to know what went wrong when the market dressed up anti-commercialism all fancy. Hard riffs and about two or three melodic ideas aren’t enough for nearly fifty minutes of music. About three songs stick – the rest gets washed down the drain by its own boring arrangement and lack of hooks.

    As far as the overall attitude goes, I’m all for Rage Against the Windmills, but the lyrics here do mostly tap into protest as a performance, not as a communicative, topical form. I mean, there’s a place for that, but when Skin belts out lines like „Yes it’s fucking political! / Everything’s political!“, it’s not much of a manifest – she’s right, of course, but the performance, stressing pure attitude over ideas, hasn’t really aged well. They put words like „The poorer you are, the better / that gives me more control“ into the mouth of whatever social or political entity you want to attribute this to – just make sure that entity is part of the „establishment“. Or – alas! – is it the establishment in YOURSELF!? Beware! This is self-conscious, but non-meta. If it riled up folks back then – sure, I’ll take it.

    For all the draining emotions of despair and rage here, in the very end, the band does something quite corageous by facing their actual musical forte: the fact that „Glorious Pop Song“ – no irony here – is exactly that.

     
  • blechtram 8:54 am am November 11, 2019 Permalink | Antworten
    Tags: 8.1/10, , , , Cannon's Jug Stompers, , , Decent Overview, Gus Cannon   

    Cannon’s Jug Stompers: The Complete Works 1927–1930 

    Rating: 8.1/10
    Rated as
    : Collection
    Compilation Status: Decent Overview
    Released: 1992
    Recorded: 1927–1930
    Specific Genre: Jug Band
    Main Genre: Blues, Acoustic Blues
    Label: Yazoo

    1 Minglewood Blues 2 Walk Right In 3 Going to Germany 4 Bring It With You When You Come 5 Bugle Call Rag 6 Prison Wall Blues 7 Feather Bed 8 Noah’s Blues 9 Wolf River Blues 10 Madison Street Rag 11 Viola Lee Blues 12 Cairo Rag 13 Last Chance Blues 14 Mule Get Up in the Alley 15 Pretty Mama Blues 16 Money Never Runs Out 17 Pig Ankle Strut 18 Jonestown Blues 19 The Rooster Crowing Blues 20 Hollywood Rag 21 Heart Breakin‘ Blues 22 Ripley Blues 23 Tired Chicken Blues 24 Big Railroad Blues

    Played around the little town, your head chock full of rum

    Jug band blues is an odd hybrid of folksy and urban, ragtime-y, jazzy and country blues elements. The reverbarting, murmuring sound of the jug, the rattling banjo and dominating harp make for an overall make-shift street corner atmosphere. Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers were among the most successful and – since some of their numbers became blues standards as well as pop hits for other, much later artists – endurig combos for this comparatively small and short-lived genre. It’s restricted, free-wheeling sound is removed from deep blues through the hustling, bustling city sound it had to dwell in – playful, hurried, sketchy, but always amiable and slightly mischievous. There’s little here in terms of melody or heavy emotion, but the shaggy underdog attitude makes more than up for it, at least when consumed in slight doses – this is about entertainment, presented by next-door-rascals – their lyrics often revolve around trouble with small town judges for petty crimes. As one of the quintessential outfits of this sound, the Jug Stompers are among the quintessential roots of urban blues, there is a strict need to have their material, even if you mostly find yourself listening to the odd grumbling of «Viola Lee Blues» or the tumbling, hungover «Minglewood Blues» every so often. Good stuff.

    As for this particular collection, here’s from my series of «consumer guide reviews», so to speak:

    Gus Cannon recorded 26 sides (as in 13 singles) with the Jug Stompers. While the vinyl version (Yazoo 1989) of this CD contained all 13 sides plus the solo material Cannon recorded as Banjo Joe, this CD-reissue only contains tracks by the Jug Stompers and is even missing 2 of their sides («Riley’s Wagon» and «Springdale Blues»).

    If you want to avoid tedious holes in your collection and get the real deal (that is, Cannon’s solo stuff plus the Jug Stompers catalogue), you’ll need to get Gus Cannon’s Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order: Volume 1 and theComplete Recorded Works in Chronological Order: Volume 2 (credited to Gus Cannon & Noah Lewis) by the Document Records label: They have all of it and some more side stuff, so they are the definite CD-picks. If you then get Cannon’s revival record Walk Right In from 1963, you’re about set.

    Having said that, when this came out, it was the most complete Jug Stompers compilation on a single CD – which it remains until today. All the other single disc compilations claiming to be complete have less track than this one. If you want an overview of how to acquire the complete recordings of Cannon and his Jug Stompers, compare my list Complete Blues Discographies: What to Get.

     
  • blechtram 11:26 am am November 1, 2019 Permalink | Antworten
    Tags: , , , ECM Style Jazz, , Keith Jarrett, Newbie Baiting   

    Keith Jarrett: The Impulse! Story 

    Rating: 3.7/10
    Rated as
    : Anthology
    Compilation Status
    : Newbie Baiting
    Released: 2006
    Recorded: 1973–1976
    Specific Genre: ECM Style Jazz
    Main Genre: Jazz
    Undertones
    : Avant-Garde Jazz, Post-Bop, Bebop, Piano Jazz
    Label: Impulse!

    1 De Drums 2 The Rich (and the Poor) 3 Blue Streak 4 Treasure Island 5 Introduction and Yaqui Indian Folk Song 6 Victoria 7 Everything that Lives Laments 8 Konya 9 Bop-Be 10 Mushi Mushi 11 Silence

    Good music, very questionable reason of existence as a compilation

    Problems first: This compilation is called „The Impulse Story“, so the title suggests a sort of narrative for Jarrett’s American Quartet recordings for that label (1973–1976) – or it should, anyway. More complete compilations and box sets of Jarrett’s Impulse output had been issued before this (occupying both in name and completeness the „Impulse Years“ tag), and the question arises to what end there has to be a single disc compilation of that period. A plot? Sure. But there is no plot here, so let’s take a look.

    Academically (and moronically) reconstructing the track choice, you‘ll be left with the knowledge that seven of the eleven tracks (make that ten actually – „Victoria“ wasn‘t issued on Jarrett‘s original Impulse albums – but it was first released on The Impulse Years: 1973–1974, so there is no point to view it as the selling point here) stem from just two of the eight albums while three albums aren’t represented at all. You‘ll also notice that the chronology hasn’t been touched (leading to the fact that the four tracks of Treasure Island come in a row). And you‘ll notice that the track choice as well as the liner notes were done by jazz expert Ashley Kahn. I was hoping to find an answer to the choices he made in his liner notes, and he only hints at it by mentioning that the last four albums for Impulse stem from roughly the same sessions Jarrett did in 1975/76. As there is no other information directly relating to the track choice, we’re left with a bunch of questions (why is it called story? Why such a stress on Treasure Island? Why a single disc compilation about a guy whose work has been documented excellently and comprehensively, and whose specialty were 20-minute-suites?), we‘re left to construct a) the scheme that this was called story to imply a personal and artistical ‚development‘ of Jarrett‘s Impulse years and b) the suspicion that the last four albums didn’t contribute so well to represent that arc (as they were part of temporarily close sessions as opposed to long evolution processes). Suspicion also arises this is a cash-in to lure in newbies. Who needs this?

    Call me picky, but I simply expect better from the normally unerring Impulse!-label.

    Economics aside, let’s take a look at the material. Like the albums it’s taken from, it is quite alright to excellent, a particular stand-out is the opener „De Drums“, with its swinging, swirling, breezy and moving pattern, akin to cape jazz, followed by some shorter tunes that all share the same airy and weightless atmosphere – an overall summer feeling permeates this. Things get a bit edgier in the last third, when the group shifted its sound away from the acoustic improvs from the beginning, and went for a less free-flowing, harder bopping approach once again (very sneaky by calling that last album Bop-Be). I prefer to listen to the first half, excellent for mornings and sunny afternoons, very laid-back music. Maybe that was the point, to lounge-ify Jarrett‘s Impulse output, possibly cross-financed by Starbucks. A thin plot: Good music, very questionable reason of existence as a compilation. As I said, I can’t imagine anyone seriously interested in this who wouldn’t want the albums in the first place.

    1: Fort Yawuh (1973)
    2–5: Treasure Island (1974)
    6: from the Backhand (1975) sessions, but first released on The Impulse Years: 1973–1974 (1997)
    7: Mysteries (1976)
    8: Byablue (1977)
    9–11: Bop-Be (1977)

     
  • blechtram 8:27 am am October 16, 2019 Permalink | Antworten
    Tags: 4.6/10, , , , Tok Tok Tok,   

    Tok Tok Tok: 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover 

    Rating: 4.6/10
    Rated as
    : Album
    Album Status
    : for Fans
    Released: 1999
    Specific Genre: Vocal Jazz
    Main Genre: Jazz
    Undertones
    : Soul Jazz, Pop Soul, Soul
    Label: Einstein

    1 Monkey-See and Monkey-Do 2 Alone Again 3 Day Tripper 4 I’ll Never Fall in Love Again 5 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover 6 Crime of Crimes 7 The Jack 8 Straighten Up and Fly Right 9 I Wish 10 Her Majesty 11 Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child 12 Hallelujah 13 Boogie Woogie Bossa Nova

    Love is monkey-see and monkey-do

    A stylish little combo somewhere between soul and jazz, consisting (almost) exclusively of a vocalist, a double bass and a saxophone, with an occasional human beatbox serving as percussion. Tokunbo Akinro’s vocals are smooth and convincing, the resulting minimalist sound being the concept here works surprisingly well. They do covers of jazz, jazz-pop, pop and soul standards, with a heavy focus on the 1970s. Highlights are Paul Simon’s title track and Stevie Wonder’s „I Wish“, still pretty funky even in this stripped-down arrangement. This low-key, acoustic approach makes for a quite consistent quality of the different performances, their smoothified-funk-sound really only goes awry on „Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child“, where spark and soul are tossed aside. But overall, this is pleasant and heartfelt background soul jazz by a talented band. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that all moments of these 59 and a half minutes, feeling like cover-song warm ups here and there, are all equally exciting.

     
  • blechtram 11:04 pm am October 14, 2019 Permalink | Antworten
    Tags: , , , , Schlägels   

    Die Schlägels 

    Diskographie

    Mach mir bitte ’ne Freude (1963)

    Ich hab sie da drüben stehen sehen
    Trübsal
    Anna (geh zu ihm)
    Ketten
    Jungs
    Frag mich wieso
    Mach mir bitte ’ne Freude
    Na hopp, sei mein Schatz
    P.S. Ich liebe dich
    Baby, du bist es
    Soll ich dir ein Geheimnis verraten?
    Ein Hauch von Honig
    Es gibt einen Ort
    Zappeln und schreien

    Mit den Schlägels (1963)

    Dauert nicht mehr lang
    Ich muss nur
    Nerv nicht
    Kleines Mädel
    Dann kamst du
    Bitte, Herr Briefträger
    Stück mal’n rück, Beethoven!
    Halt mich fest
    Du hast mich in der Tasche
    Ich will dein Kerl sein
    Die ist von Grund auf böse
    Kein zweites Mal
    Knete

    Eine Nacht aus hartem Tag (1964)

    Eine Nacht aus hartem Tag
    Hätte ich besser wissen sollen
    Wenn ich mich
    Ich find’s schon toll, nur mit dir zu tanzen
    Und ich liebe sie
    Sag mir warum
    Kann mir keine Liebe kaufen
    Rund um die Uhr
    Dann heul ich halt
    Was wir heute gesagt haben
    Wenn ich nach Hause komme
    Das kannst du nicht machen
    Ich komme wieder

    Schlägels im Ausverkauf (1964)

    Keine Antwort
    Ich bin eine Null
    Meine Flamme trägt schwarz
    Sexmusik
    Ich wende mich nach der Sonne
    Herr Mondlicht
    Südwindstadt / Hejo!
    Acht Tage die Woche
    Worte der Liebe
    Honigmaus, hör auf
    Jedes kleinste Ding
    Ich will hier nicht die Spassbremse sein
    Was du da machst
    Alle wollen meine Honigmaus sein

    Hilfe! (1965)

    Hilfe!
    Letzte Nacht
    Du musst deine Verliebtheit überspielen
    Ich brauche dich
    Ein anderes Mädel
    Du wirst dieses Mädel verlieren
    Fahrschein
    Sei einfach du selbst
    Es ist nur Liebe
    Du magst mich zu sehr
    Sag mir, was du siehst
    Ich hab grad ein Gesicht gesehen
    Gestern
    Irre Fräulein Ira

    Gummi-Seele (1965)

    Sei mein Chauffeur
    Norwegisch Holz (Diese Maus ist raus)
    Du willst dich nicht mit mir treffen
    Nirgendmann
    Denk dir’s selbst
    Das Wort
    Michaela
    Was geht?
    Mädel
    Ich durchschau dich
    In meinem Leben
    Wart mal!
    Wenn ich wen bräuchte
    Renn um dein Leben

    Drehpistole (1966)

    Steuerinspektor
    Eleanor Bergkammdorf
    Ich schlafe doch nur
    Unbedingt, dass du
    Hier, dort und überall
    Gelbes Unterseeboot
    Hat sie gesagt, hat sie gesagt
    Guter Tag Sonnenschein
    Und dein Vogel kann zwitschern
    Für niemanden
    Doktor Robert
    Ich möchte dir erzählen
    Muss dich in mein Leben kriegen
    Morgen weiss nicht

    Oberfeldwebel Pfeffers Tanzorchester der einsamen Herzen (1967)

    Oberfeldwebel Pfeffers Tanzorchester der einsamen Herzen
    Mit ein wenig Unterstützung meiner Freunde
    Lucia im Himmel mit Diamanten
    Wird besser
    Ein Loch stopfen
    Sie verlässt Heim und Herd
    Zugunsten von Herrn Drachen gibt’s
    Selbst in dir, ausser dir selbst
    Wenn ich vierundsechzig bin
    Schöne Rita
    Guten Morgen Guten Morgen
    Oberfeldwebel Pfeffers Tanzorchester der einsamen Herzen (Zugabe)
    Ein Tag im Leben

    Magische Mysteriösitätentour (1967)

    Magische Mysteriösitätentour
    Der Narr auf dem Hügel
    Fliegen
    Blauhäherweg
    Deine Mutter sollte das wissen
    Ich bin das Walross („Nein, bist du nicht!“ sagte die kleine Nicole)
    Hallo, und tschüss
    Erdbeerfelder für immer
    Pfennigschneise
    Schatz, du bist Krösus
    Alles, was du brauchst, ist Liebe

    Die Schlägels (1969)

    Zurück in der UdSSR
    Liebe Umsicht
    Glasszwiebel
    Hoppe Hoppe Reiter
    Wilde Honigmaus
    Die Fortsetzungsgeschichte von Plattenbau-Didi
    Während meine Gitarre sanft wimmert
    Glück ist eine warme Knarre
    Martha mein Liebling
    Ich bin so müde
    Amsel
    Schweinchen
    Wolfi Waschbär
    Lass mich nicht links liegen
    Wieso machen wir’s nicht mitten auf der Strasse?
    Ich werde es tun
    Julia
    Geburtstag
    Dein Blues, wa?
    Mutter Naturs Sohn
    Alle haben etwas zu verstecken ausser mir und mein Affe
    Maharishi
    Rutschbahn
    Lang, lang, lang
    Umsturz Eins
    Honigmaus
    Savoyer Trüffelpraline
    Weine, Baby, weine
    Umsturz Neun
    Gute Nacht

    Gelbes Unterseeboot (1969)

    Gelbes Unterseeboot
    Nur ein nördliches Lied
    Jetzt alle zusammen
    Hey Bulldogge
    Es ist alles zu viel
    Alles, was du brauchst, ist Liebe
    Pfefferland
    See der Zeit
    See der Löcher
    See der Monster
    Marsch der Miesepeter
    Pfefferland geschrottet
    Gelbes Unterseeboot in Pfefferland

    Everest (1969)

    Gleichzeitig kommen
    Ein gewisses Etwas
    Alfreds Silberhammer
    Oh! Liebling
    Tintenfischs Garten
    Ich will dich (sie ist so krass)
    Hier kommt die Sonne
    Weil
    Du gibst mir nie dein Geld
    Sonnenkönig
    Fieser Herr Senf
    Polyethylen Paula
    Sie kam durchs Badezimmerfenster
    Goldener Schlummer
    Die Bürde schultern
    Das Ende
    Ihre Majestät

    Lass es werden (1970)

    Wir beide
    Ponies pudeln
    Durchs Universum hindurch
    Ich Mir Meins
    Lass dich gehen!
    Lass es werden
    Cornelia Kramer
    Ich hab so’n Gefühl
    Der nach dem Neun-nach-Neuner
    Die lange und gewundene Strasse
    Schmoll dir nach
    Zurück

    Dies ist die komplette (offizielle) Diskographie der bekannten Band Die Schlägels (Friedrich, August, Wilhelm und Ringo).

     
  • blechtram 9:49 am am October 10, 2019 Permalink | Antworten
    Tags: 6.6/10, , , Free Jazz, , Live Album, Sun Ra   

    Sun Ra: Disco 3000 

    Rating: 6.6/10
    Rated as
    : Album / Live
    Album Status
    : for Fans
    Released: 1978
    Recorded: 1978
    Specific Genre: Free Jazz
    Main Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz, Jazz
    Undertones
    : Free Improvisation, Jazz Fusion
    Label: Saturn

    1 Disco 3000 2 Third Planet 3 Friendly Galaxy 4 Dance of the Cosmo-Aliens

    A straight line through a Pollock-painting

    A live album by the Sun Ra quartet, taken from a reportedly busy time in Italy 1978 – there are more complete versions out there, but this LP (with a side-long jam and three shorter freak-outs) was the initial form of its release. It is not an essential release, but that doesn’t mean it’s not thoroughly entertaining for people drenched in carefree free jazz.

    There is a brittle trumpet dominating the first part of the jam, sound volume shifts up and down (intentionally, I think, it sounds as if Sun Ra phases his keyboards in and out as an effect) and although there are some grooves and soloing, this is not the kind of free jazz that sounds as if its creators are constantly inspired and incessantly hit by ephiphanies – this is more like a bored toddler rummaging around the attic, finding a million little things to keep her entertained for a moment, only to shift attention the next second. With Sun Ra, this approach works. In true improv-manner, Sun Ra messes with the then brand-new Crumar DS-2 synthesizer which could produce programmed rhythms – he turns those beats on and off, each of them like a straight line through a Pollock-painting. They give you the illusion you can groove for a second – but then it’s gone! Sun Ra wants to chant „Space Is the Place“ (after the five-minute mark)!

    The second side is a bit more groove-oriented, with some tribal stuff and recognisable patterns – there even is something like a song, since ‚melody prop‘ of the weird and fun jungle groove that is „Dance of the Cosmo-Aliens“ is based on „Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child“. This becomes obvious about four minutes into the track. Also, check this out if you’re looking for stuff that heavily influenced Jimi Tenor.

     
  • blechtram 9:25 am am October 4, 2019 Permalink | Antworten
    Tags: 7.1/10, , Ambient, Brian Eno, Eno   

    Brian Eno: Ambient 1: Music for Airports 

    Rating: 7.1/10
    Rated as
    : Album
    Album Status: Defining Classic
    Released: 1978
    Specific Genre: Ambient
    Main Genre: Ambient
    Undertones
    : Minimalism, Experimental, New Age
    Label: Polydor

    1. 1/1 2. 2/1 3. 1/2 4. 2/2

    He told you: As ignorable as it is interesting

    While no obsession drives me towards the ambient-genre – I’m casually interested, so maybe the worst kind of ambient listener – there is an appealing pull to the presentation and personality of this record. It’s not the concept, it’s not its mythological history of invention. It’s the determination and the simplicity. The music here glides on a sheet of air-cooled velvet offering the least amount of friction while still being material. Piano loops, vocal „Ohs“ sampled to structure the silence – all harmony, all assembled to give you nothing to hold on to for more than a few moments. I like this. It may well be the best of its kind, sure – but nothing more (and nothing less). And he told you: As ignorable as it is interesting. Either way, a must-have.

     
  • blechtram 2:17 pm am September 30, 2019 Permalink | Antworten
    Tags: American Federation of Musicians, , , Musicians Union   

    Moments of Plunder: American Federation of Musicians vs. Musicians‘ Union 

    Hennessey, Mike: Klook. The Story of Kenny Clarke. London: Quartet Books Limited 1990, 121.

    In the late 1940s and 1950s, Paris was the European hotspot for American jazz musicians, the place to go if you were looking for jobs and admiration by European jazz lovers. As Paris had been associated with jazz eversince the 1930s through Django Reinhardt and the likes, this seems somewhat commonplace today, but it does beg some questions: What about London? Why did American jazz greats like Sidney Bechet or Kenny „Klook“ Clarke (among many, many others) opt to regularly perform and settle down in the French-speaking world after World War II as opposed to an English metropolis?

    There are a few more factors, but the main answer, it turns out, lies in one of the oddest factoids of musical history I encountered for the 20th century: American musicians were, with few exceptions, banned from performing in the UK for almost thirty years,from 1933 until the late 1950s.

    It comes down to what is at its core a protectionist conflict of unions. Turns out, the American Federation of Musicians (AMF) and the British Musicians‘ Union (MU) were at each others throats eversince the beginning of the century or even before that. Without going into details, the quibbling was mostly about expectable things: copyrights, anxiety that foreign musicians flood the market and put local musicians out of jobs (this was especially a growing concern in the 1930s considering jobs for the „Talkies“, as jobs for muscially accompanying silent movies became superfluous). So for instance, the Musicians‘ Union had tried to establish quite early that for each American playing in the UK, there had to be a British musician playing in the US:

    The law which underpinned the restrictions was the Aliens Restriction Act, originally a wartime measure introduced in 1914 and revised in 1919. In 1920, the Aliens Order was introduced, an amendment to the Aliens Restriction Act of the previous year. Specifically, the part concerning foreign musicians was the Aliens Order, 1920, Part 1 (3) (b), which stated that any foreign musician must „if desirous of entering the services of an employer in this country, produce a permit in writing for this employment issued to the employer by the Ministry of Labour“. In 1923, the Prince of Wales helped to ensure that Paul Whiteman was able to tour Britain. Whiteman was allowed to perform provided that for every American musician employed, a British musician was employed. This became know as ‚the Whiteman clause‘, designed to protect the work of the British musician from the importation of the American musicians.

    The application of the Aliens Order was the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour, not the MU. The supposed ban is often referred to as an MU ban, but this is slightly misleading.

    (Hodgetts 2017, 65)

    Anyhow, the American Federation of Musicians seemed quite comfortable to simply ignore these kinds of quid-pro-quo-requests and seemed to be quite a bit more protectionist than its British counterpart (or at least that is how the Musicians‘ Union perceived it), and with jazz emerging the American art form per se, they probably felt they had some leverage considering demand/supply over the Europeans.

    In 1935, as the popularity of touring US jazz bands grew, the MU managed to get the Ministry of Labour to agree that it would not issue work permits for foreign musicians without Union approval—which was routinely refused. This situation lasted until 1955 and is often referred to as a “ban” on US jazz musicians entering the UK.

    (Cloonan 2014, 35)

    This led to some straight-up absurd situations, like the AMF pushing through deals that the Britons had to financially compensate American musicians that didn’t even perform, just so English orchestras were even allowed to play on American ground, as in 1932:

     Louis Armstrong visits the UK and plays shows in London, while [English musician] Jack Hylton broadcast to the USA, via. arrangement with NBC. However, while this broadcast was taking place the AFM had struck a deal that the same number of American musicians would sit in a New York studio and receive the same fee as Hylton’s band without playing a note. This typified the bizarre nature of reciprocal deals between the UK and US unions, which returned in the 1950s and 1960s.

    (University of Glasgow, URL: https://www.muhistory.com/contact-us/1931-1940/ )

    The climax of these petty fights came in 1934, and of course we need another historical name for this event: Duke Ellington.

    [In 1933], Duke Ellington plays a series of shows in London and is quoted as saying “if it doesn’t become an annual trip, I’ll be most disappointed.” However, the protectionist policies of both the MU and the AFM, meant that he would be unable to return until 1958. This was the last major performance by a US dance band in the UK until the 1950s.

    (University of Glasgow, URL: https://www.muhistory.com/contact-us/1931-1940/ )

    The Ministry of Labour (technically not the MU, but they pushed for it) refused Ellington re-entry in 1934, when the orchestra was scheduled to play. The Ministry is quoted in Hodgetts (2017, 67) as stating that they were „becoming more and more alive to [the] entire absence of reciprocity“ from the AMF. This procedure was repeated in 1935 for Duke Ellington and became the standard attitude towards American performers for the coming twenty years.

    What can I say? All this kerfuffle didn’t really start to change again until 1955/56, with some penny-pinching, intercontinental swapping of British and American acts, but the weirdness didn’t stop immediately. My favourite anecdote about the ongoing quarrelling is that British skiffle-star Lonnie Donegan was indeed allowed to tour the US in 1956 – but he was refused to play his guitar (in order to ensure the hiring of an American backing band). By the way, according to Billy Bragg’s book Roots, Radicals and Rockers (2017), Donegan was ‚exchanged‘ for what the English newspapers announced as a certain „Elvin“ Presley.

    Anyway, back on topic: American jazz and its new developments from 1930 to 1960 were basically banned from being performed in the UK for the probably most seminal three decades of its development (in stylistic and commercial respect). This not only made Paris the jazz-capital of Europe, with no truly relevant jazz scene in London (sorry). It also made sure that young people in the UK couldn’t witness any of the transformations of jazz from swing to bop to cool jazz to hard bop first-hand. Let’s think about this in terms of what happened: For instance, Bragg puts forward the thesis that this ‚ban‘ basically created the British Invasion in the long run, as rock&roller Bill Haley’s UK tour of 1957 was greeted by young UK-audiences as a sort of big bang or messianic event, and, since there had been no fancy jazz going on, young folks flocked to the simple guitar- or banjo-based skiffle style à la Lonnie Donegan – there simply wasn’t anything else nearly as cool and American. Skiffle bands (instead of, I don’t know, a Liverpool-bebop scene – dibs on the genre name „liverbop“ for my alternate history novel about this. I know „merseybop“ is more obvious, but liverbop sounds cooler) led to Beat music, voilà: British Invasion of the US as soon as the ban was loosened in the early 1960s. By the way: The quid-pro-quo-approach for performing musicians was technically in place until the 1980s.

    There’s another scenario in which the ban never happened. Imagine a young Paul McCartney growing up in a world surrounded by jazz giants having relocated to England instead of France. «Yesterday» becomes his «Body and Soul» on the saxophone. Or let’s say the ban had stuck around in its severe form until much later. No British Invasion at all, the Beatles being refused to perform in the US for the entire decade, just like Duke Ellington during the 1930s in the UK. And so on. There’s a number of alternate history-novels here.

    Sources:                                                    

    Bragg, Billy: Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World. London: Faber & Faber 2017.

    Cloonan, Martin: Musicians as Workers: Putting the Uk Musicians‘ Union into Context. In: MUSICultures 41:1 (2014), 10–29.

    Hennessey, Mike: Klook. The Story of Kenny Clarke. London: Quartet Books Limited 1990.

    Hodgets, Andrew: Protection and internationalism: The British Musicians‘ Union and restrictions on foreign musicians. In: Fagge, Roger and Nicolas Pillai (eds.): New Jazz Conceptions: History, Theory, Practice. London/New York: Routledge 2017, 63–89.

    University of Glasgow: The Musicians‘ Union: A History (1893–2013). Timeline 1931–1940. URL: https://www.muhistory.com/contact-us/1931-1940/

     
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