Posts Tagged ‘Al Hirt’

Saturday Single No. 560

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

In the spring of 1964, when I was ten and in fifth grade, a kindly, older gentleman came to Lincoln Elementary School and asked if anyone wanted to learn to play a band instrument. I was interested, and when I met with that gentleman, he looked at my teeth – which would never need braces – and suggested that I might want to play a brass instrument. He suggested trumpet.

Not long after that, my folks took me on a Friday evening to Weber’s Jewelry & Music, a store on the further downtown reaches of St. Cloud’s St. Germain Street, and we looked at horns. My folks opted to buy me a cornet. It had the same fingering and same scale as a trumpet, but with a slightly different construction, which made it shorter but taller than a trumpet. It also may have made it slightly cheaper; I’m not sure.

My folks laid out $165 for my cornet, which – considering the things that it brought me over the years – was a small investment for a very large return. Actually, it wasn’t such a small investment. Although $165 might not seem like much now, an online inflation calculator tells me that spending $165 in 1964 was like spending a little more than $1,300 today. Nevertheless, the return over the years has been huge.

The kindly gentleman turned out to be Erwin Hertz, the band conductor at St. Cloud Tech High School, and during sixth grade, he stopped by Lincoln School once a week to give me (and the other Lincoln students who’d chosen to play band instruments) lessons, and once a week, as well, we all went over to Tech to be members of a district-wide sixth grade band.

I played my cornet – playing parts written for trumpet, which was in practical terms, the same thing – in band from sixth grade through my sophomore year of high school. I also played in the district’s orchestra program, starting with summer orchestra after eighth grade and continuing during the school year for all three years of high school. I was pretty good, with a good ear, but I didn’t practice near enough, so when I headed to college, I learned after one quarter in band that, like a minor league pitcher moved up to the bigs, I wasn’t good enough anymore.

But that was okay. Those seven years of playing in those large groups had been enough. And along the way, I’d gotten some gifts I’d not at all anticipated. One of them was the music of Al Hirt. His only Top Ten hit, “Java,” went to No. 4 in Billboard in early 1964 and was No. 1 for four weeks on the magazine’s easy listening chart. My appreciation for “Java” led my sister to give me Hirt’s Honey In The Horn for my eleventh birthday in September 1964, when my work on the cornet was only a few months old.

And that album is one of formative albums of my musical life. Among its tracks were the first tunes I remember hearing from what we now call the Great American Songbook: Gershwin & Duke’s “I Can’t Get Started” and Bart Howard’s “Fly Me To The Moon,” along with other tunes like Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On,” Ray Charles’ “Talkin’ Bout That River,” Boudleaux Bryant’s “Theme From A Dream” and more. The next Hirt album I got – That Honey Horn Sound from 1965 – brought me, among others, Rogers & Hart’s “You Took Advantage Of Me,” Chip Taylor’s “Long Walk Home,” Tchaikovsky’s “None But The Lonely Heart” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Star Dust.”

From there, I dug into the rest of that mythical songbook and then into film scores, learning songs that kept me largely out of step with what my peers were listening to during the mid- to late 1960s. I didn’t always like being out of step at the time, but now – looking back fifty years – I wouldn’t change it.

Playing my horn also brought me a sense of melody that I think informs my songwriting to this day, and it brought me something I didn’t quite understand at first, even as I embraced it: I realized as I listened to Hirt’s records (and others’), that as a melody played, I knew how to finger it on my horn. It wasn’t perfect pitch, but it was close, a gift of relative pitch that I also use to this day.

So all of that is what my 1964 Conn cornet brought me. Now it has the chance to bring its gifts to another student. I took my horn – unplayed for many years – over to St. Cloud Tech yesterday and gave it to the band conductor there, a man named Gary Zwack. He said – confirming something my sister told me last week – that Tech, like almost all high schools in the state, often has students who want to play but who cannot afford an instrument. One of those students will now have a cornet to play.

When I arrived at Tech, Gary took me on a tour of the building. Renovations and additions made portions of the campus unfamiliar, but some doorways and corridors were recognizable. I carried my horn with me through the hallways, as I had done hundreds of times so long ago, and then I left it in the band office, giving its case a final pat and thanking it silently for the gifts it brought me.

And here’s one of those tunes I first heard long ago from the horn of Al Hirt. It’s Tchaikovsky’s “None But The Lonely Heart” from Hirt’s 1965 album That Honey Horn Sound, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘You Done Your Daddy Wrong . . .’

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Back when I was a little horn-playing sprout, listening to my Herb Alpert and Al Hirt records on our RCA stereo, I found myself wanting to dance every time the needle got to the last track on Hirt’s 1963 album, Honey In The Horn. With its rapid tempo, its lip-rippling horn riffs, and its background singers chants of “Go along, go along,” I loved Hirt’s cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On.”

Of course, at the age of twelve or so, I had no idea it was a cover. I had no idea who Hank Snow was. And I had no idea that Snow’s 1950 original had topped the country chart for a record-tying twenty-one weeks, matching the performance of Eddy Arnold’s 1947 release, “I’ll Hold You in My Heart (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms).” (In 1955, Webb Pierce tied Arnold and Snow when his “In The Jailhouse Now” was No. 1 for twenty-one weeks, and in 2013, notes Wikipedia, the three records were dropped from their record-holding positions when “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line spent twenty-four weeks at No. 1.*)

I’m not sure when I learned about Snow’s original – sometime between 1965 and 2000, I guess – but it’s without a doubt one of the classics of country music:

The record came to mind the other day when I heard a version of “I’m Movin’ On” by Johnny Cash with Waylon Jennings that was recently released on Out Among the Stars, a collection of recently discovered Cash recordings from 1981 and 1984. And I wondered what other covers might be out there, expecting the list to be lengthy.

And I was right: Second Hand Songs lists more than fifty covers of the Snow song, and there are others at Amazon (though many of those listings are the Rascal Flatts song with the same title). And Wikipedia references a few other covers. I don’t entirely trust that list, however, as it cites covers by Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin, and I can find no indication that either Dylan or Zep recorded the song. (Dylan’s official website does note that he performed the song in concert nineteen times between 1989 and 1993.)

Some of the covers have hit the various charts. On the country chart, Don Gibson took the song to No. 14 in 1960, and a live version by Emmylou Harris went to No. 5 in 1983. (The Harris version linked here is from an anthology, and I believe it’s the single version from the live Last Date album, though I imagine the single might have had the introduction trimmed. If it’s the wrong performance, I’d appreciate knowing about it.)

Three versions of the tune have also hit the pop chart: A jaunty cover by Ray Charles went to No. 40 (and to No. 11 on the R&B chart) in 1959, singer Matt Lucas took the song to No. 59 in 1963 in his only appearance on the chart, and John Kay saw his Steppenwolf-ish cover of the tune go to No. 52 in 1972.

And that’s enough for today. We’ll be back later this week with some more.

*Based on what I read at Wikipedia, I have some reservations about “Cruise” holding the record for most weeks at No. 1, as some of those twenty-four weeks belong to the original release and some of them belong to a remix by hip-hop artist Nelly. If there’s a remix, is it the same record?

‘I’ll See You In My Dreams . . .’

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

As noted in a couple of recent posts, the lovely Isham Jones/Gus Kahn song “I’ll See You In My Dreams” first showed up in 1925, recorded by Jones with the Ray Miller Orchestra, with Frank Besinger handling the vocal. According to Joel Whitburn in A Century Of Pop Music, the record was No. 1 for seven weeks starting the first week of April and wound up as the No. 3 record for the year (behind “The Prisoner’s Song” by Vernon Dalhart and “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” by Gene Austin).

Covers naturally followed. While I don’t think that “I’ll See You In My Dreams” is necessarily one of the most-covered songs of all time, it’s nevertheless a song that’s stayed in the public ear: The list of covers at Second Hand Songs – a listing that’s not necessarily comprehensive but which probably provides a good cross-section and starting point – shows versions of the song from every decade since but the 1940s, and I’m not sure if there’s a reason for that gap or not. Add to those versions the other covers I’ve found at YouTube, and the song is clearly one that’s remained popular.

Since the middle of last week, I’ve been wandering through many versions of the song, and I’ve found quite a few I like. My pal Larry, who hangs his hat at the fine blog, Funky 16 Corners, recommended the 1930 cover by Ukulele Ike, otherwise known as Cliff Edwards. (Edwards, perhaps better known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Disney’s Pinnochio, covered the song again in 1956 on his album, Ukulele Ike Sings Again.) Another early cover that caught my ear was the 1937 version by Guy Lombardo. And jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt  gave the song a whirl in 1939.

Perhaps the most surprising of the covers I found was the nimble-fingered instrumental version by Jerry Lee Lewis, recorded during a session for Sun Records in 1958; the take was finally issued on a Sun collection LP in 1984 and since then on CD. Other versions I generally like from the 1950s and 1960s included covers by Henri René & His Orchestra (1956), the Mills Brothers (1960), The Ray Conniff Singers (1960), Cliff Richard (1961), the Lettermen (1963) and my man Al Hirt (1968).

The only version of the song to hit the modern charts was an unsurprisingly bland take from Pat Boone, whose 1962 cover went to No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 in and No. 9 on what is now called the Adult Contemporary chart.

Some versions baffle me (and you can easily find these – and others mentioned but not linked – at YouTube). I mean, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (1980)? Then there’s some very odd percussion and production in a 1965 effort by Vic Dana. And in 1975, the Pearls took the song to the disco.

There were some other interesting versions. I found a cover by the Paul Kuhn Orchestra that was released on LP in 1980, but it sounds very much like something Bert Kaempfert would have released in 1965 or so. (Kuhn passed on in September, and his death inspired one of the great headlines: “Paul Kuhn, German jazzman who lamented Hawaii’s lack of beer, has died.”) Chet Atkins, recording with Merle Travis, did a nice cover for the 1974 album, Atkins-Travis Traveling Show, although the linked video offers what seems to be a shorter version of the tune, as included on a later compilation.

Howard Alden did a very nice guitar version of “I’ll See You In My Dreams” ghosting for Sean Penn’s character Emmet Ray – a 1930s jazz guitar player – in Woody Allen’s 1999 film, Sweet and Lowdown.

And finally, one version that I like among the more recent covers is the faux-vintage and slightly rough-edged take from 2005 by folk singer Ingrid Michaelson along with singer (and ukulele player) Joan Moore.

Systems Breakdown

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

My body wants to be anywhere else except in this chair this morning. My brain wants to slow things down, tamp the furnaces down to maintenance level to check the fittings and to repair deteriorated components. The past ten days of anxiety about my mother, and the accompanying increase in activity required to help care for her, seem to have taken a toll. I cannot type except slowly and with great effort; the same holds for writing. So I’m taking a day mostly for me.

So here’s a tune to mellow out the day. As long-time readers might suspect, it’s a performance by Al Hirt. Taken from 1963’s Honey in the Horn, here’s “Night Theme”

I’ll see you tomorrow, I hope.