Thursday, 12th March

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

SaxesJust one window of Phil Parker’s extraordinary new brass and woodwinds store at the start of Hampstead Road.

OH NO, NOT THAT AGAIN…
The courage of my convictions gets a little weaker each time I read another review of Whiplash. This excellent, despairing, New Yorker review of how jazz is treated in the movies, by Richard Brody, points out, after retelling a much more accurate version of the Jo Jones v Charlie Parker incident: “Here’s what Parker didn’t do in the intervening year: sit alone in his room and work on making his fingers go faster. He played music, thought music, lived music. In Whiplash, the young musicians don’t play much music. Andrew isn’t in a band or a combo, doesn’t get together with his fellow-students and jam—not in a park, not in a subway station, not in a café, not even in a basement.” And Brody ends with this – “There’s nothing in the film to indicate that Andrew has any originality in his music. What he has, and what he ultimately expresses, is chutzpah. That may be very helpful in readying Andrew for a job on television. Whiplash honors neither jazz nor cinema; it’s a work of petty didacticism that shows off petty mastery, and it feeds the sort of minor celebrity that Andrew aspires to. Buddy Rich. Buddy fucking Rich.”

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
The BBC Timeshift programme, When Eating Out Went Exotic had a segment on Pizza Express and its relationship to music. When Peter Boizot wanted to change the use of a basement, he turned to his friend, designer Enzo Appicella: “He said, Enzo, I have this basement in Dean Street, can you design for me a nice jazz club? I said, How much do you want to spend. He said, Not much. I said, Do you have the money to spend on five gallons of black paint? He said, Yes, that’s ok. And that was the decor – almost like it still is now! I said, Peter, don’t pay me, but you must make a huge big party!”

TWO WORDS THAT COST A LOT
Found in M, the Performing Rights Society’s magazine, the story of Steve Miller and “The Joker”: “I remember it was late at night and I was at an open-air party, sitting on the hood of a Pontiac GTO convertible with my back against the windshield. I had a Martin D-28 guitar in my hands and I was playing around with a bassline. The lyric Some people call me the space cowboy just popped into my head and from there it only took me about an hour to finally come up with the chorus. When I took it to the band, there wasn’t much of a reaction. At the time we were cutting rhythm tracks with John King on drums and Gerald Johnson on bass and this was just one song out of nine we were recording that day. It was very simple, so no one thought it was a hit song – we got the basic track down in one take so the song you hear is actually the demo.

The whole thing was recorded at Capitol Records, Hollywood, in Studio B. I played the Martin D-28 six-string acoustic guitar with Gerald on a Fender bass and John on drums. Then I sang the lead vocal and added the second part harmony. The final part was done by playing a slide guitar solo on a Fender Strat through a Mannys overdrive pedal and a Leslie speaker set on the chorus effect. The whole song took about 30 minutes to do!

There was one line in “The Joker” that caused me grief. Ahmet Ertegun [respected media mogul and founder of Atlantic Records] somehow stopped the payment of all my royalties for the song. I called to ask why and he told me that Eddie Curtis [who had originally written the song “Lovey Dovey”] was threatening him over the “Lovey Dovey” reference I’d used within the song.

I explained to Ahmet it was a tribute to The Coasters [who recorded a version of “Lovey Dovey” in 1964] and not part of the lyrics of the song. Considering all the writing credits he’d had with his own artists, I told him he was being duplicitous. He agreed and said he was sorry. He also said he was going to sue me anyway, so I had to give him and Eddie Curtis a percentage of my song to get the block on my royalties removed.”

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
There is a whole Wikipedia entry discussing Steve Miller’s use of the word, Pompatus, in “The Joker”. The line “Some people call me Maurice/’Cause I speak of the pompatus of love”, was written after Miller heard the song “The Letter” by The Medallions. In it, writer Vernon Green made up the word puppetutes, ‘to mean a secret paper-doll fantasy figure, who would be my everything and bear my children’(!) However, Miller misheard the word and wrote pompatus instead. In the Latin language, pompatus is an actual word meaning done with pomp or splendor. However, it is stressed on the second syllable, whereas the nonce word is stressed on the first”. For a made up (“nonce”) word, it’s truly excellent that it has such a life beyond the song. A list of places where the word has turned up is great – apart from a 1996 film titled The Pompatus of Love starring Jon Cryer (featuring four men discussing a number of assorted topics, including attempts to determine the meaning of the phrase), we learn that Michael Ondaatje used it in his book Anil’s Ghost.

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK

Garland
“This is called Mystery Kids…” says Garland Jeffreys, and the carousel-like intro trills out from the guitar and keyboards, then they hit the first verse, plunging us all into Scorsese’s Mean Streets, as Garland lays it out: “Marcellino Casanova/Little Angel from Laslow Street/Cinderella, she’s a crossover/She got no father in her history…” As the band chorus, Who are the Mystery Kids? they suddenly pull back and Garland starts to recite over a ticking beat…

“I climb six flights/To the tenement heights/And there ain’t no lights/It’s the darkest of nights/And the piss-stench smell/In the black stairwell/With the William Tell Overture…”
– and Bosch plays descending chorused chords, arpeggiating into the distance over the shivery hush from the keyboard –
“– in the background/And across the floor/I see two big rats/In a world like that/Can’t take anymore…”
And Jeffreys talks of his father “My father worked every day that he could find a way to work…”
– here Bosch plays sweet chiming guitar, very quietly –
“He worked up in Harlem, grew up in Harlem, and he was a tough father, very tough. He didn’t really have to hesitate to slap you across the face if you didn’t mind what you said. Growing up like that was frightening sometimes… I would start waiting around five, knowing that he’d be home around six. You could go to the back of my house, which was really my grandmother’s house, and you could see the trains, the subway cars, go by. And I would always be looking to see…’
– Bosch scrapes the strings and makes the noise of wheels on rails –
“Is he on that train. Is he on this train?”

Hear the rest on the audio player to the right

Comments

  1. Thanks Martin. Love the Steve Miller story for illustrating the eternal mystery of why some songs just take off and also for the music biz machinations of moguls! Regards Thom.

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