Friday, April 21, 2017

HISTORY OF A SONG: LIMEHOUSE BLUES

For some reason I never knew that this song originated in England...


"Limehouse Blues" is a popular 1922 British song written by the London-based duo of Douglas Furber (lyrics) and Philip Braham (music). It was made famous by Gertrude Lawrence. It has been recorded hundreds of times since, and remains in the standard jazz repertory. Some of the most notable recordings include those by Sidney Bechet, Django Reinhardt, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Stan Kenton, The Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring Gerry Mulligan, the Ellis Marsalis Trio, Chet Atkins with Les Paul and The Mills Brothers. Outside jazz it has been recorded by a number of bluegrass artists, most notably by Reno and Smiley.

The song has been performed in such films as Ziegfeld Follies (by Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer in Asian makeup), and Star (by Julie Andrews, again, in Asian makeup). The song's title was used for the 1934 film Limehouse Blues.

The song was inspired by the Limehouse district of east London, which housed the London Chinatown of the late 19th and early 20th century (until the London West End Chinatown was established). The Chinese references can be heard in both the lyrics and the melody...


(REFRAIN):

Oh! Limehouse kid
Oh! Oh! Oh! Limehouse kid
Going the way that the rest of them did
Poor broken blossom and nobody's child
Haunting and taunting you're just kind of wild
Oh! Oh! Oh! Limehouse blues
I've seen the real Limehouse blues
Learned from chinkies those sad China blues
Ring your fingers and tears for your crown
That is the story of old China town.

Friday, April 14, 2017

THE LAST DAYS OF NAT KING COLE

Nat King Cole was and is one of the greatest singers of all-time. He is one of those singers whom I love and have a ton of his recordings, but I don't seem to play too much. After researching and compiling this article, I want to remedy that!

A KOOL menthol cigarette smoker, he would often smoke several cigarettes in a row before recording his songs. He believed they helped keep his deep, crooning voice low. He smoked approximately three packs of cigarettes a day.

In September of 1964, Mr. Cole began experiencing weight loss and severe back pain, harbingers of the lung cancer that had not yet been diagnosed.

Following a performance at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada during this period, he collapsed from pain and had to cut the engagement short. Friends urged him to seek medical help a couple of months later while he was working in San Francisco. He had a chest x-ray done at that time and a cancerous tumor was found on his left lung. Doctors gave him months to live and urged him to stop working. He refused and kept working until he was unable to any longer.


He entered St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica on December 9th and began cobalt (radiation) therapy on the 10th. He then had surgery to remove his left lung on January 25, 1965. Sadly, his father died of heart problems on February 1. Throughout Cole's illness his publicists promoted the idea that he would soon be well and working, despite the private knowledge of his terminal condition. Billboard magazine reported that "Nat King Cole has successfully come through a serious operation and ... the future looks bright for 'the master' to resume his career again." On Valentine's Day Cole and his wife briefly left St. John's to drive by the sea. He died at the hospital early in the morning of February 15 at the age of 45.


Cole's funeral was held on February 18 at St. James Episcopal Church on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles; 400 people were present, and thousands gathered outside the church. Hundreds of members of the public had filed past the coffin the day before. Notable honorary pallbearers included Robert F. Kennedy, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Mathis, George Burns, Danny Thomas, Jimmy Durante, Bing Crosby, Alan Livingston, Frankie Laine, Steve Allen, and Pat Brown (the governor of California). The eulogy was delivered by Jack Benny, who said that "Nat Cole was a man who gave so much and still had so much to give. He gave it in song, in friendship to his fellow man, devotion to his family. He was a star, a tremendous success as an entertainer, an institution. But he was an even greater success as a man, as a husband, as a father, as a friend."

According to an article published after his death in the Los Angeles Times, Maria knew for several days that her husband was dying, but kept it a secret from the media so that Nat, who watched a lot of television wouldn't see a bad news report. He did not realize he was dying. Right up until the end, he thought he was recovering...


Friday, April 7, 2017

HOLLYWOOD URBAN LEGEND: ORSON WELLES

URBAN LEGEND: Does Hollywood icon Orson Welles still haunt his favorite restaurant?

STATUS: The people who work at the restaurant say it is 100% true!


This actor, producer, director and writer is still Hollywood royalty for his role in what was a brand new industry in his time. He is most well known for playing the lead role in film student must-see Citizen Kane. Orson Welles’ ghost is said to still frequent his favorite restaurant for a cigar and a bourbon. Many of the staff of Melrose Avenue restaurant Sweet Lady Jane’s have had encountered with Welles from beyond the grave.

In these accounts, Orson Welles is generally wearing a wide-brimmed black hat and a dark cape. It is also said that someone interacting with his spirit will pick up the aromas of his favorite bourbon and cigars. Although the dark spirit is somewhat ominous not one restaurant employee has reported a malicious presence along with these paranormal experiences. Sweet Lady Jane’s is still running and diners still have the chance to sit with their favorite Hollywood legend...


Friday, March 31, 2017

THE HITS OF SPIKE JONES


Before Weird Al Yankovic was making hit parodies, the talented Spike Jones (1911-1965) was making the world laugh, cringe, and admire his talent with his many records. Jones has been dead for fifty years, and he is largely forgotten but his recordings were not only great parodies, but they showed the great musicanship and talent his band had.

Here are some of his great recordings:

Der Fuehrer's Face

In 1942, a strike by the American Federation of Musicians prevented Jones from making commercial recordings for over two years. He could, however, make records for radio broadcasts. These were released on the Standard Transcriptions label (1941–1946) and have been reissued on a CD compilation called (Not) Your Standard Spike Jones Collection.

Recorded just days before the recording ban, Jones scored a huge broadcast hit late in 1942 with "Der Fuehrer's Face", a song ridiculing Adolf Hitler that followed every use of the word "Heil" with a derisive raspberry sound, as in the repeated phrase " Heil, (raspberry), Heil (raspberry), right in Der Fuehrer's face!".


More satirical songs

Other Jones satires followed: "Hawaiian War Chant", "Chloe", "Holiday for Strings", "You Always Hurt the One You Love", "My Old Flame", referring to Peter Lorre's voice (impersonated on the recording by Paul Frees) and eerie scenes in contemporary movies, and many more. The romantic ballad "Cocktails for Two", originally written to evoke an intimate romantic rendezvous, was re-recorded by Spike Jones in 1944 as a raucous, horn-honking, voice-gurgling, hiccuping hymn to the cocktail hour. The Jones version was a huge hit, much to the resentment of composer Sam Coslow.


Ghost Riders

Spike's parody of Vaughn Monroe's rendition of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" was performed as if sung by a drunkard and ridiculed Monroe by name in its final stanza:
CHORUS: 'Cause all we hear is "Ghost Riders" sung by Vaughn Monroe.
DRUNK: I can do without his singing.
FRIEND: But I wish I had his dough!

The official American release edited out the dig at Monroe, because Monroe, a popular RCA Victor recording artist and also a major RCA stockholder, demanded it. The original version was released on the European market in 1949. (A few pressings containing the first ending were mistakenly released on the West Coast and are a prized rarity today.)


All I Want for Christmas

Jones' recording, "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth", with a piping vocal by George Rock, was a number-one hit in 1948. (Dora Bryan recorded a 1963 variation, "All I Want For Christmas is a Beatle".)

Murdering the Classics

Among the series of recordings in the 1940s were humorous takes on the classics such as the adaptation of Liszt's Liebesträume, played at a breakneck pace on unusual instruments. Others followed: Rossini's William Tell Overture was rendered on kitchen implements using a horse race as a backdrop, with one of the "horses" in the "race" likely to have inspired the nickname of the lone SNJ aircraft flown by the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels aerobatic team's shows in the late 1940s, "Beetle Bomb". In live shows Spike would acknowledge the applause with complete solemnity, saying "Thank you, music lovers." An LP collection of twelve of these "homicides" was released by RCA (on its prestigious Red Seal label) in 1971 as Spike Jones Is Murdering the Classics. They include such tours de force as Pal-Yat-Chee (Pagliacci), sung by the Hillbilly humorists Homer and Jethro, Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours, Tchaikovsky's None but the Lonely Heart, and Bizet's Carmen.
In 1944 RCA Victor released his "Spike Jones presents for the Kiddies" version of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, in three 10 inch vinyl 78 rpm records, P-143, arrangement credited to Joe "Country" Washburne with lyrics by Foster Carling. It was released as a three 7 inch 45 rpm vinyl set in 1949 as WP-143 and as a one 45rpm extended play EPA-143 in 1952. An abridged version is also included in the aforementioned album, with a complete version available on the CD collection Spiked: The Music of Spike Jones...


Friday, March 24, 2017

WHAT A CHARACTER: SHIRLEY BOOTH

I remember growing up and one of my grandfather's favorite shows to watch on rerun was "Hazel". I don't think they show that on television anymore, despite being on the air from 1961 to 1966. However, the show and the star - Shirley Booth has remained with me through the years. A prolific stage performer of the 20th Century, she is beloved by film audiences as the emotionally tortured but devoted wife, Lola Delaney in Come Back Little Sheba (1952), and by television viewers as Hazel Burke, the headstrong yet lovable housekeeper in the 1960s sitcom "Hazel".

Born Marjory Ford in New York City on August 30, 1898, she began her theatre career in stock company productions, initially under the name Thelma Booth Ford. In 1925 she made her Broadway debut in "Hell's Bells", opposite then theatre regular Humphrey Bogart. During her decades on stage she achieved popularity in dramas, comedies and musicals. She went on to star on the successful radio series "Duffy's Tavern" (1941 to 1943). Her husband at the time, Ed Gardner, created, wrote and appeared in the show; They were married from 1929 to 1943. Booth's second marriage, to William Baker, lasted from 1943 until his death in 1951. 

She returned to the stage, appearing in "Goodbye, My Fancy" (1948) of which she received her first Tony Award - Best Supporting Actress (Dramatic). Her second Tony Award was for Best Actress (Dramatic), which she received for "Come Back, Little Sheba" (1950). Her dramatic success was immediately followed by the musical "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1951). 


In 1952 was was cast for the film version of  Come Back Little Sheba recreating her award winning stage role. She received an Academy Award - Best Actress, becoming the first actress ever to win both a Tony and an Oscar for the same role. The film also earned her Best Actress awards from the Golden Globe Awards, The Cannes Film Festival, The New York Film Critics Circle Awards, and National Board of Review. She would spend the next few years commuting between New York and Hollywood. Her time on the silver screen would be brief, appearing in only four more films: Main Street to Broadway (1953), About Mrs. Leslie (1954), Hot Spell (1958), and The Matchmaker (1958). 

In 1961, Booth was cast in the TV sitcom, "Hazel" based on a popular comic strip from the Saturday Evening Post about a domineering but lovable housekeeper. She won two Emmys for her role and a third Emmy nomination before the series concluded in 1966. Booth continued in television, gaining an Emmy nomination for her performance as Amanda in a TV adaptation of "The Glass Menagerie." She would make two final Broadway appearances in 1970 and two final television appearances before retiring in 1974. 


During her five decade career, she earned ten major acting awards and seven nominations. For her contributions to motion pictures, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6840 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California. She died after a brief illness at her home in North Chatham, Massachusetts. By the 1980s, Booth's health began to decline. She reportedly suffered a stroke which caused mobility issues and blindness. After her death, Booth's sister said she had broken her hip in 1991 which further inhibited her mobility. On October 16, 1992, Booth died at age 94 at her home in North Chatham. Booth starred in countless roles, but she will always be Hazel to me. We all should be lucky enough to have a Hazel in our lives...


Friday, March 17, 2017

PHOTOS OF THE DAY: CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD ON ST. PATRICK'S DAY

Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, and to celebrate the wearing of the green, here are some excellent pictures of classic Hollywood celebrating...


JUNE HAVER

CLARA BOW

ARLENE DAHL

OLGA SAN JUAN

MAUREEN O'HARA

LUCILLE BALL