Posts Tagged ‘Ian Whitcomb’

Saturday Single No. 538

Saturday, April 29th, 2017

Sometime around 1969, I was wandering around Mac’s Music in downtown St. Cloud, either checking out books of solos for trumpet or piano sheet music (if it was before the autumn of that year, it was horn music I was looking for, as I hadn’t yet resumed playing piano), and I came across a bin of odd little plastic thingies. I picked one up, white with a red sort-of speaker, and took a closer look.

It was called a Hum-A-Zoo, and it was basically a kazoo in altered form. HumaZooIntrigued, I spent fifteen cents or so and began a period of (most likely) annoying my friends, my family and our neighbors by humming random tunes into the toy as I went about my mid-teen days. (It wasn’t the only odd instrument I had cluttering the knick-knack bin on my bedroom table; I also had a couple of Jew’s harps, a nose flute and a box of what were called – if my memory serves me well today – Swiss bird whistles that I bought from a vending machine at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.) But the joy of the Hum-A-Zoo faded, as it does for most gimmicks and gewgaws, and it eventually sat ignored in the bin, its pristine white in time turning an ugly shade of yellow.

I’m not sure if the Hum-A-Zoo is still with me in one of the boxes of miscellany I’ve ported around through the years. If it is, I’m not sure the little membrane would still be flexible enough to produce the buzz that a good kazoo provides. No matter. Up until last autumn, I would have put long odds on needing either a Hum-A-Zoo or its ancestor, a kazoo, for any of my musical needs or impulses.

That was when I was working with my friends Heather and Lucille to put together our show, Cabaret De Lune. And we decided that my tune “Twenty-First Century Blues” needed an instrumental break on kazoos. I didn’t even bother to look for the Hum-A-Zoo but went kazoo hunting instead. I called a couple of music stores and came up empty, but my third call, to an establishment called Bridge of Harmony, was a success: The store had two kazoos. Either Heather or Lucille stopped by and bought them, and they were then used to good effect for that small portion of our show. And I assume that Heather and Lucille took their kazoos home for whatever use they had for them.

And I now have a kazoo, a blue and gold one – just like in the picture – from the Trophy Music Company of Cleveland, Ohio.kazoo

Earlier today, I was practicing with two of my fellow musicians from our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, preparing for the next few Sundays. This week’s program is a presentation by one of our members on Scott Joplin and his times. Earlier this week, that member asked Jane and Tom if they’d perform “I’m Certainly Living A Ragtime Life,” a tune recorded in 1913 for the Zoophone label by G.H. Elliot. (Was that the original? I’d guess so, but I’m not certain.)

So I listened this morning as Jane and Tom worked through the chords – he with his banjo and she with her guitar – and took a go at the melody. And when they finished a couple of run-throughs, I idly said, “You know what might be kind of fun in there? A kazoo.”

Tom jumped on the idea: “Oh, yeah, that would be great!” Jane nodded her head, and one of the two asked if I had a kazoo.

Well, I didn’t, but I knew where I could get one. So I joined them on the vocal and then faked a humming part as they ran through the chords for the chorus. And on the way home from practice, I stopped by Bridge of Harmony and picked up my Trophy Music kazoo. It cost a little more than four bucks, far more than my red and white Hum-A-Zoo cost me nearly fifty years ago. (Yeah, I could check the actual values with an inflation calculation, but never mind.)

I may never use the kazoo after tomorrow; the demand for a kazoo solo tends to be pretty rare, I’m sure. But that’s okay. Maybe twice in a lifetime is enough.

In any case, “I’m Certainly Living A Ragtime Life” is a fun song to do. It’s hard to make out the words in the 1913 recording, so here’s a modern version by British singer Ian Whitcomb. It’s from his 1972 album Under The Ragtime Moon (an album I must find), and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 190

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

By the time mid- June rolled around in 1965, I was enrolled in summer school, taking – if my memory is accurate – enrichment courses in Spanish and typing. The classes took place in a school new to me: South Junior High. So every morning, I’d get on the bus – most likely connecting with my pal Jeff, who like me had just finished sixth grade at Lincoln Elementary – and head across the Mississippi River and past the college, deep into the south side.

It was about a two-mile trek, and it felt longer, as we were heading into foreign territory, an area of the city we didn’t know at all well. That made us a little nervous, of course, but we would be starting seventh grade at South in the autumn, so summer school across town was only one of the myriad new experiences ahead of us in a very short time.

Being incoming seventh-graders, we were among the youngest kids on the bus that summer – as we would be come September – and we were a little intimidated by the high school kids. One of those older kids usually had a radio, so the soundtrack for the rides to and from school was Top 40. Looking back, not much of what I heard was familiar at the time. Here’s the Billboard Top Ten for the week ending forty-five years ago today, June 19, 1965:

“I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops
“Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds
“Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs
“Crying in the Chapel” by Elvis Presley
“Back In My Arms Again” by the Supremes
“Wonderful World” by Herman’s Hermits
“Help Me, Rhonda” by the Beach Boys
“Engine Engine #9” by Roger Miller
“For Your Love” by the Yardbirds
“Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” by Patti Page

That’s a pretty good Top Ten with a couple of interesting things in it: The Herman’s Hermits record was a cover of the Sam Cooke song (“Don’t know much about history . . .”). Roger Miller’s record was a country-ish love song. And “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” was a lush treatment of the theme from a movie, a romantic song with a few subtle hints that the movie was, well, not your standard love story.

As I looked this morning at the Hot 100 from that week forty-five years ago, I thought about a game of Jump, looking for the record in the Top 40 that had moved the most in the chart from the previous week. It turns out that there was a clear winner: Jumping forty-one places from No. 67 the week to No. 26 was a little ditty titled “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. As there seems to be no point in posting a video of one of the world’s best-known records, I thought I’d see if the runner-up was interesting. It was, and we’ll get there in a bit.

Two records shifted six places from the Hot 100 the week before: “Nothing Can Stop Me” by Gene Chandler went from No. 24 to No. 18, and Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” rose from No. 31 to No. 25.

Moving seven places were three records that I do not recall at all: “Voodoo Woman” by Bobby Goldsboro rose from No. 37 to No. 30; “Give Us Your Blessings” by the Shangri-Las went from No. 42 to No. 35; and “Oo Wee Baby I Love You” by Fred Hughes rose from No. 45 into the Top 40 at No. 38.

Chad and Jeremy’s “Before and After” rose eight spots, from No. 25 to No. 17, while the Animals’ “Bring It On Home To Me” dropped eight spots from No. 32 to No. 40. “Concrete and Clay” by the Unit Four Plus Two fell nine places, from No. 28 to No. 37, and Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” jumped from No. 46 to No. 36.

Ten records moved more than ten places in that week ending June 19, 1965, and some of those shifts were large. The leap by “Satisfaction” was the largest, but it wasn’t the only impressive performance.

Dropping twelve spots from No. 21 to No. 33 was “Just Once In My Life” by the Righteous Brothers, and moving up thirteen places was the very middle-of-the-road instrumental “A Walk In The Black Forest” by Horst Jankowski, His Orchestra and Chorus.

Barbara Mason’s “Yes, I’m Ready” rose seventeen slots, from No. 40 to No. 23, while “Laurie (Strange Things Happen),” a ghost story song by Dickey Lee, moved up eighteen places, from No. 47 to No. 29. And taking a leap of nineteen spots up was “What The World Needs Now” by Jackie DeShannon.

“Cara, Mia” from Jay and the Americans made an impressive leap from No. 54 to No. 28, but three records – including “Satisfaction” – did better. “Seventh Son” by Johnny Rivers vaulted from No. 43 to No. 15, and then a tune I do not remember ever hearing until this morning had the week’s second-largest jump forty-five years ago, moving from No. 51 to No. 21.

The record, which peaked at No. 8, was the only Top 40 hit for English singer-songwriter Ian Whitcomb, who was backed on the disc by a group called Bluesville. So here, courtesy of “J.D.’s Lost 45’s,” is the rather odd “You Turn Me On (Turn On Song)” [Tower 134], today’s Saturday Single: