Monthly Archives: July 2009

How many Famous Victor Record Artists does it take take to screw in a lightbulb?

Tim Gracyk’s Phonographs, Singers, and Old Records: biography of Fred Van Eps, Banjoist

Around May 1917 Van Eps joined a touring group of recording artists, called at different times the Record Makers, the Phonograph Singers, the Eight Victor Record Makers, the Popular Talking Machine Artists, and the Peerless Record Makers. He replaced Vess L. Ossman, who allegedly had not gotten along with manager Henry Burr. Surviving programs show Ossman performing in April 1917, but in the May 1917 issue of Talking Machine World Ossman’s name is missing from a list of members. The group was called the Eight Famous Record Artists by June 1920, and after five members–Burr, Billy Murray, Albert Campbell, John Meyer, and Frank Croxton–signed exclusive Victor contracts in 1920, “Victor” was added to the name. Van

Incredible but true: after all those iterations the best band name they could come up with was Eight Famous Victor Record Artists. It’s like the answer to the question “How many Famous Victor Record Artists does it take take to screw in a lightbulb?”

Hard to imagine somebody putting that on the back of their leather jacket.

Horace Weston, Champion Banjoist of the World

From the August-September 1884 issue of S. S. Stewart’s Guitar and Banjo Journal (PDF):

S. S. Stewart endorsement by Horace Weston, Champion Banjoist of the World

Source is via University of Rochester.

Biography of Horace Weston at the Library of Congress:

Horace Weston (1825-90), was one of the biggest stars of the minstrel stage during its heyday in the late 19th century, along with James Bland, Billy Kersands, and Sam Lucas. A freeborn black from Connecticut and a virtuoso banjo player, he started with Buckley’s Serenaders in 1863, but spent most of his career with the Georgia Minstrels. In 1873 he became the first black performer featured in a special role when he toured overseas in a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Late in his career, he performed with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey (Circus) Greatest Show on Earth.

One of Weston’s principal champions was Samuel Swain Stewart, a proponent of the banjo, who published pieces by Weston and other banjo players. Among Weston’s compositions are: “Horace Weston’s Home Sweet Home,” “Horace Weston’s New Schottische,” “Horace Weston’s Old-Time Jig,” “The Egyptian Fandango,” and “Weston’s Great Minor Jig.”

And over on the Library of Congress site for sheet music, here’s an 1883 composition by Weston that is an incredibly early publication for a black American composer, way way before its time:

Weston's great minor jig

You Can’t Win

“You Can’t Win” is the 1926 autobiography of a petty criminal whose career spanned from reconstruction to the depression. Fun and colorful writing, great stories, lots of lowlife flavor.

It’s moralistic and dire in a Victorian way, true to the 19th century sources. But it also glories in the noir crime style that was just taking off around the 1920s.

Here’s an excerpt describing rock bottom bars around the turn of the 19th century.

except from 'You Cant win'

Where/MMM followup

The show at Where/MMM on Friday was pretty much empty, I have to admit. I really owned the responsibility, because I didn’t inject energy into the whole situation by getting a flier made, nudging the bands to promote their sets, and doing promotion for my own set.

But it turned out to be a fun time anyhow.

Homesick Elephant‘s style is built on creative things to do with counterpoint and structure, and the space was perfect for getting to listen closely because it’s a comfortable room where you can concentrate. Also, they’re getting married in a month and you can hear romantic chemistry in the way their lines intertwine. Here are photos:

Homesick Element at Where/MMM

Homesick Element at Where/MMM

Homesick Element at Where/MMM

And then Siggy came up with a lot of anarchic energy and created a happy group of listeners. There was even moshing. Well, the moshing was me and the guitarist’s girlfriend.

Tomorrow I’ll be playing in the hospital for sick children. Like, at their bedsides.

And then Friday at happy hour I’ll be at Cinema Bar in Culver City, playing for the drinkers after work. Same thing pretty much.

Musicians gotta play. The point of playing is the music, and the way to get it good is to do it a lot.

playing MMM in Silverlake tonight

I’m playing tonight in Silverlake at the Where/ Meet Mix Mogul coworking space in Sunset Junction, at the intersection of Griffith Park and Sunset, next door to the Mornings/Nights coffee place.

1519 Griffith Park Boulevard 90026

Also on the bill will be Homesick Elephant:

And Siggy:

Homesick Elephant is a couple who do countryish harmony singing. Very upstanding. But not without knowledge of evil. They’re smart.

Siggy is a four piece band with a mopey raw rock sound. What I love about them is that they are very much a garage act, but they’re not kids. I’d guess the youngest person in the band is 40. It’s very bad ass to get up there and pull it off.

Doors open around 9 and close around 1.

emo Stephen Foster

Stephen Foster

Stephen Foster’s 1850 tune Ah! May the Red Rose Live Alway (mp3) is both death-obsessed and over-the-top pussy, like a Hallmark card that says “So sorry you’re rotting in the grave!” Very emo.

Lulled be the dirge in the cypress bough,
That tells of departed flowers!
Ah! that the butterfly’s gilded wing
Fluttered in evergreen bowers!
Sad is my heart for the blighted plants–
Its pleasures are aye as brief–
They bloom at the young year’s joyful call,
And fade with the autumn leaf:
Ah! may the red rose live alway,
To smile upon earth and sky!
Why should the beautiful ever weep?
Why should the beautiful die?

The way it slips briefly from major to minor during the instrumental hook is chilling.

About the musicians here, that floaty singing is a gal named Merja Sargon. The accompanist is a fellow named Bernard Rose, who I think is using a genuine 1850 piano.

Can’t say I like the famous Stephen Foster tunes. Mainly they get on my nerves. But this one is awesome.

“God Bless Our Land (Independence Day)” by Gurdonark

Gurdonark posted an ambient patriotic song for July 4th, with singing by SackJo22 and a guitar solo by me.

His mix is under a Creative Commons Sampling+ license. My own parts are Creative Commons Zero, aka public domain. Here are stems of my parts:
lead 1 (MP3),
lead 2 (MP3),
lead 1 (AIFF),
lead 2 (MP3).

Gurdonark’s liner notes:

This is a re-creation of a public domain 19th Century patriotic song.

Sometimes people speak of the commercialization of Christmas—the sense that its spiritual values get lost in a commercial blur.

I speak instead of the jingo-ization of the Fourth of July—the need to keep and universalize what really matters in the American independence day. I think that this holiday gets lost in sloganeering and military marches (and I say this despite being a J.P. Sousa fan).

I respect deeply those who sacrifice for our country. I learned last night that an old friend just retired from the Marines after receiving major shrapnel wounds in Iraq. My heart is with he and his wife and son, and I appreciate his courage.

We don’t forget those who sacrifice. The Fourth of July is not a celebration of a battle or a paean to American supposed “superiority”. It is a time to celebrate a declaration by people who wrote that people have inalienable rights which should be respected. We celebrate the values worthy of these immense sacrifices.

The Fourth of July is a holiday to celebrate what is wonderful about the American experiment. I believe these core values should be freedom, a respect for the rights and dignity of others, a just and righteous rule of law, and the ability to spread peace, liberty, and universal friendship.

John Sullivan Dwight lived from 1813 to 1893. Although he trained and served for a time as a Unitarian minister, he joined the transcendentalist movement and discovered his true vocation as a music teacher and writer.

“Dwight’s Journal of Music” became the most influential music publication of his era. Mr. Dwight receives credit for first introducing an appreciation for Beethoven’s work in this country. He served on the teaching faculty for the school at Brook Farm, the high-minded but ultimately failed utopian community

He wrote the lyrics to “God Bless Our Land”, which is about the country I wish to see born and reborn:

“God bless our land, may Heaven’s protecting hand, still guard our shore;

may peace her power extend, foe be transformed to friend, and all our rights depend, on war no more.

May just and righteous laws uphold the public cause and bless our name; Home of the brave and free, stronghold of liberty, we pray that still on thee, may rest no stain

And not this land alone, but be thy mercies known, from shore to shore, Lord make the nations see that men should brothers be, and form one family, the wide world o’er”.

My hope is that the Fourth of July becomes a celebration less of the might of nations, and more of the possibility for freedom and friendship for which men and women who sacrifice their energy and sometimes their lives.

I’d like to tell you about Helena Hill Weed. She graduated from Vassar College and the Montana School of Mines. She was a geologist by trade. She was “from the right family”: the daughter of a congressman and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Yet as a woman she could not vote.

She had an Independence Day story. On July 4, 1917, she picketed in Washington, D.C. for women’s suffrage, carrying a sign that said “”Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”.

For her patriotism, she was arrested and served three days in jail. The source of her sign, of course, was the American Declaration of Independence. She and others like her continued their peaceful protests, and helped get the vote for women in her lifetime.

I’d like to tell you about Lou Gehrig, a great baseball player who contracted the fatal disease ALS, which is sometimes colloquially called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”.

on July 4, 1939, he gave his farewell speech in front of his fans marked with courage and humility. But he was not just a go-along guy, saying what pleased the crowds. He also said “”There is no room in baseball for discrimination. It is our national pastime and a game for all.”

Finally, I’d like to tell you about July 4, 1997. This is when the Mars Pathfinder probe landed on Mars, beaming back pictures from an alien world far from Earth.

We can achieve equality and progress. These are our Independence Day ideals.

I believe in Independence Day as a day to celebrate the universal hope for freedom, friendship and equality, and as a day for the re-commit of efforts to help fulfill that hope for all.

The tune here is “The Italian Hymn” by Felice Giardini. Felice Giardini was born in Turin in 1716 and died in Moscow in 1796. He was a child prodigy as a musician and a prolific and capable composer. Music did not earn him the living he hoped, despite his great skills and imagination. Yet his songs live on, and serve as the basis for this new version of JS Dwight’s hymn for peace.