Sunday, August 17, 2014

The summer "tour"

Finally recovered from our amazing, exhausting summer tour, lets take a look back...

(That's supposed to be a little joke.  There was very little tour, with lots of summer left flopping all around it--three days out once, then four more later.)

The "amazing" part was how uneventful it was--no mechanical problems, no accidents or close calls, no getting lost, no injuries or illness to mar the few gigs.  Still, it was kind of taxing.  If we had enough duplicate stuff that we could leave the traveling rig all set up, it would greatly reduce the effort required to shift from onshore life to road living and back; but, we don't, which makes for lots of hunting, shuffling, and resituating every time and inevitably results in something being forgotten.

The logistics of chasing gigs around the country combine with the loss of funds out the tailpipe to make touring a challenge even for young folks, which we are, sadly, not.  We've been rethinking this for three years, now, and may have come to some conclusions.

Folks seem to be curious about what we call "retirement gigs,"  so-called by us because they're so lucrative, we'll soon be able to retire.  (Oh, my sides!  I crack me up!  Also not true.)

This is an interesting little market we were turned onto several years ago by old friends and show biz veterans, Larry & Melissa Beahm, aka "One More Time."  These two are very professional musicians and performers who have worked cruise ships, long one of the most coveted gigs, and also managed an independent/assisted living facility for one of the largest companies in that industry.

Turns out, many such facilities have an entertainment budget, and welcome the opportunity to present their residents quality entertainment.  It's not a lot of money, but it's easy to do, logistically, the hours are never late or long, and, if you work as hard as OMT does, you can practically do a gig a day.

Now, before you get all judgmental wondering why we don't just volunteer to help those poor old folks in the "home," consider a couple things.  We have often volunteered to bless folks at actual "rest homes" that are not part of a national successful chain of commercial facilities.  The places we're getting paid by are not populated by poor people.  At least, they weren't before they made the substantial commitment to live in comfort, which they do.  These places are like luxury hotels with a substantial amount of very personal service, and there are aspiring and amateur performers who play there for free, or for very little, and worth every penny.

Here we are preparing to play in the dining room of one such place.  Not a shabby environment, eh?


 Sometimes, we have to set up outside, and sometimes the preparations are made without considering everything.  This is an example.  The time of day put the declining sun right in the audience's eyes, and, of course, on our instruments as well.

Then, there was the Jesus problem.
 Of course,
"He's got the whole world in His hands," so  it wouldn't be sane to say He was in the way when He actually
is The Way!






None the less, this was the view from behind the mic...
But the folks adjusted their seating, and, as the sun mercifully sank behind the building, we sweated through the show together, and all had a great time.

Ya gotta be flexible.  (Seriously, the statue is quite a piece of art, is it not?)
The Lord is welcome to upstage us anytime.

One of the biggest reasons we started touring years ago was that we saw it as a way to pay for visits we wanted to make around the country to friends and family.  This summer, we were booked in Toledo, which gave us the opportunity to see our buddy, Herb Stokes (III), a chef and music and comedy lover with eclectic tastes.




Here Herb poses with an itinerant minstrel in front of the historical home he occupies as caretaker.  This was the home of Ina D. Ogdon, who wrote
"Brighten The Corner Where You Are."






Herb has done a lot of work restoring the place and
improving the grounds, which makes it a lovely place
for gypsies to camp.






Other than a visit to the Toledo Zoo, that was pretty much "it".

Next post, more about our ever-changing "plans"...

Friday, June 13, 2014

On our way once more!

We have benefited from our time "ashore" these past winters, but this one seemed longer.  After five years doing nothing but traveling and performing, it's weird not to be in front of folks, doing what we do.  Then, it's weird getting back into it!

Getting ready to perform is a matter of ramping up from "practice" to "rehearsal."
Fingers will hurt for a while, but it all comes back pretty quickly.

Getting ready to travel, however, is a different critter.
We moved from the van into the apartment and added household stuff--some from storage--and found a place for everything.  Now, we've had to determine what of our current household needs to be reinstalled into the van, and where.  

Hours and hours dragging things out, back and forth, countless miniscule (but important) discussions and decisions--all in hope of avoiding that "Oh, no" moment out on the road when you realize you forgot something that is going to affect your daily lifestyle until you replace it, if you can.  A life this compact involves some very customized applications for "just right" items it took a lot of searching to find.  They fit and work just right, and the trivial becomes large, like a grain of sand inside your sock.

Judy spends hours planning where we're going to stay on the way to the gig, directions, schedules, where we want to be on days off, times we definitely don't want to be on the road, hours not to hit major cities, bypasses and beltways--all the minutia comprising an itinerary for true itinerates.

Anyone who has seen us perform can imagine what goes into the maintenance, organization, and transportation of instruments, props, and equipment.  The other traveling pros we know all deal with these issues as part of the creative process beneath the surface--the big, tough part of the iceberg.
It's the off-it-for-months aspect that's caught us a bit off guard.

But, we got it done, and in a couple of hours we'll be pulling out and we'll be performing again tomorrow afternoon.

Hope to see you out there!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

In conclusion...

I often hear autobiographers comment that the process of recounting one's life is "cathartic" or "healing."

I lean more toward "time consuming."

Even though I focused on a single aspect of my past, and just hit the highlights, it has gone on for months, has it not?  Enough already.  Besides, I'm out of names to drop, so the rest is just work history.

We left Tucson in the late 80s for the East Coast, traveling by van and travel trailer.  My firstborn son, Dylan, and I had seen a hot rhythm and blues duo at the Tucson Street Fair who employed a washtub bass that actually played like an instrument.  We looked at each other and said, "Let's try that!"

It worked.  Dylan (19 at the time) got the knack right away, and we began rehearsing to convert my comedy-laden single into a father/son act.  We had particular success in the Denver area, and busking at the Boulder Mall.  Folks were loving the very idea, and we had a rich future of intergenerational comedic possibilities.

Leaving Colorado we had a choice of highways east.  One led through a little town called Branson, Missouri, according to ads in the tourist guides, a town completely devoted to the "Ozark" way of life, with hillbilly comedy revues and tons of bluegrass and country music.  We just didn't see how we'd fit in, and chose the other route.  Not long after that, Ray Stevens, Andy Williams, and a Japanese fiddler all opened theaters there.  In Columbus, Ohio, Dylan traded in his washtub for a girl and I was a single again.

Though I (and Judy and I) have performed hundreds of places--festivals, fairs, concerts--I think the peak experience for me was performing for 2500 troops waiting in the staging area at Aberdeen, Maryland to embark for the Persian Gulf War.  The radio station Judy was working on air for (WAMD) put on a USO-type show for them, rounding up all the talent and special guests they could, and it was a great time.  They were so appreciative, they made every one of us performers feel like a really big hit, and when it was over, we felt like we had done something good.  And off they went.

Cut to the north woods of Michigan, where we were homeschooling our daughters in the mid 90s.  For a music project for the girls, we put together a little family band.
Judy, whom I had never heard sing "out loud" before, began to sing with the girls.
That's how I discovered her, and now she's the star of the show.

Thanks to those who expressed any interest at all in these recollections.  I hope I did not misconstrue mere acknowledgement as encouragement, and did not drive away many of our several followers.

In recent years, we've been to Branson a few times--a couple to perform; but the highlight of our Branson experiences (including the Hughes Family show, which is amazing!) was getting to see Jim Stafford perform with his family in their own theater.  That being said, here's how we remember him best:

(Thanks to Alan Hillberg for sharing this vid!  Check out his channel on YouTube.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The slightly fabulous Limeliters

That was the title of the first album of theirs I heard.  My neighbor, Hugh Morgan, was kind enough to befriend a nerdy, younger kid and turn me on to the fact that there was more to commercial folk music than the Kingston Trio.

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

I was familiar with the "ethnic" stuff--a misnomer we applied to the serious, purist folk stuff like Dave Graham was broadcasting on KTUC.  I had not realized there were successful folk acts who were not getting radio airplay, playing to packed college auditoriums and nightclub audiences.  Among those, The Limeliters--Alex Hassiliev, Lou Gottlieb, and Glenn Yarbrough, who were, as the announcer introducing them said, slightly fabulous.

Their vocal and instrumental presentation was more of a formal sound than the KT, and the range of their music was more like Bud & Travis--eclectic and intricately instrumented.  The big deal, as far as I was concerned, was the work of front man and bass player Lou Gottlieb.

Now, each of their voices had a trained tone and quality that made their speaking voices stentorian by modern, slovenly standards.  Lou had a particularly musical speaking voice that was the perfect vehicle for the continuity he contributed between numbers.  He adopted a hilarious, stilted delivery and couched his humor in vocabulary and phrasing that made the jokes even funnier.  Later, he would advise me to explore the idea of "inner mirth" to help my own comedic style.  Though I had never put my finger on it, exactly what made it so much fun was that you knew he was having fun!

So, I'm in Tucson in 1985, and I get word from a friend that The Limeliters are looking for a stopover gig and might be available at a reduced rate.  I called, and negotiations began with Alex, who handled the business.  My plan was to open for them, so I could get some of their fans on my mailing list.  Though not at all excited about the idea of a small-timer preceding them, Alex allowed it, and preparations began.

This was the beginning of one of the most meaningful, costly learning experiences of my young life.

Glenn had left the group in '63 to pursue a very successful single career as a singer and actor.
The tenor was now sung by Red Grammer, an extremely talented young man.  He had things to do, and we were barely introduced.

I did get to spend a little time with Alex and Lou--both rewarding experiences in their own right.

I did not get to perform.  The audience was spared that by the fact that a young man whom I had rented the monitor system from and was paying to deliver it, was very late.  Some of The Limeliters had to catch a plane, so the show could not be delayed.  I spent my performance time wrestling with the monitors, sweating through my now perfunctory stage clothes.  I couldn't help but recall my first gig with Barbara at the Marriott.

As I expressed to Alex my frustration at being let down by someone I was paying to provide a service, he succinctly said, "These days you have to come on like an (expletive for an obnoxious person) from the get-go just to get them to do their job!"  That made me feel a little better about some of our phone conversations setting the gig up!

Lou actually took time to watch my demo, and wrote me a very nice letter, which I treasure.  He gave me genuinely helpful counsel about the business, and shared with me about how to make "inner mirth" work. One of the things he advised was "Get to a coast.  Either one will do."  (I chose the East Coast, but it took a few years to get there.)

About four years before the episode just recounted, the group had reunited for a tour, and, they still had it.
A gentleman named Ed Waldrup has posted this rare video on his You Tube channel.  You'll hear the end of their famous opener, and then Lou's introduction of the group, followed by a priceless autobiographical song entitled "Acres of Limeliters."  Please leave a kind comment for Ed for sharing this!





Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The wisdom of the ancients

The Smothers Brothers came to town to perform with the Tucson Symphony.  Travis was going to meet with them, "for old times' sake" and took me along.  We met in their hotel room.  Both Tom and Dick were dressed in snappy white resort wear, and all the spare space was taken up by exercise equipment.

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

Trav introduced me, and, after some reminiscing and small talk, Travis explained that I was "starting out" as a single, and handed them my demo video.  Tom promised to check it out and, pointedly glaring into my eyes, gestured toward the gym equipment and said, "Get in shape."  I was in my late thirties--did I look that bad? He said, "It's like a sport.  It takes a lot of energy and you'll last longer if you train."

They set up comp tickets for me and Judy, so we could see their big show in the Convention Center with the symphony, and we enjoyed a wonderful concert and then went backstage to see them in their dressing room.
On the way to the level where the dressing rooms were, we got into a freight elevator with those weird vertically closing doors.  As we stepped aboard, Tom pulled down sharply on the top door just as I was pulling up on the bottom, and my hand got smooshed between the rubber edges.  Tom was very upset and apologetic, and I assured him no harm was done.

They had actually watched my tape, and their comments were succinct:
Tom said, "This is very thoughtful material," and Dick said, "Calling yourself a humorist is smart--that way you don't have to get as big a laugh."  (That's why they call him--uh--Richard.

Anyway, I took their advice to heart.  They told us to help ourselves to the lovely fruit and snack basket, as well as a bottle of their own label wine that had been included, and we took that to heart, too.  We still have the bottle, though somehow the wine disappeared.

Sometime the next year, or the year after, a friend  involved in "community radio" called to tell me of an opportunity to book The Limeliters, who were looking for a brief money stop and reportedly would work for much less than usual to make that happen. It occurred to me this could be an opportunity.  If I could set up the gig and open for them, I could add their fans in the area to my mailing list, since what I was doing was built for the same audience.

Next week we'll see just how that went.

Here's an example of how the Bros. worked with a symphony:



Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Old Pueblo and an old friend

Though it was obvious I would never have the gifted, wide-range voice I had before the great USMC laryngitis attack, I was able to sing serviceably, and what I lacked vocally would have to be offset by my skills at stealing and writing .

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

I mention stealing because it was long accepted that a repertoire of the best songs of others was quite enough for a group to succeed.  (It was sort of like the plethora of websites now that just "curate" the creativity of others who need and appreciate the exposure.)  If you had original material, you worked it into your show, usually after your strongest numbers so it would be well received (or, at least, tolerated).  No one was labeling him or her self as a "singer/songwriter."   Wasn't that what we all were?
Well, that was before the songs stopped being about anything substantive.

Once the secret got out--that a song that didn't have to be well constructed or have much to say--the small venues began to fill up with "artists" who would play for next to nothing.  The end result of that was audiences who didn't bother to listen, a situation exacerbated by a new disregard for "continuity"--putting a show together with themes and pacing, interspersed with patter that highlighted content and/or entertained comedically.  Why bother?  Indeed.

So into the rapidly shrinking market I stumbled, blissfully ignorant of what was actually happening.

Since Tucson was surrounded by fine, luxurious resorts and guest ranches (more than El Paso, certainly) we moved there again and I began to beat the bushes for berries and nuts to sustain us.  Naturally, the place to start was "The Cup," a coffeehouse started in the Campus Christian Center in the 60s.

The Cup was started, everyone thought, as an outreach place that presented an open-mic type program every Friday night.  I recall (perhaps in '65?) my friends and I plunking down our 25 cents each, then rounding the corner and seeing Linda Ronstadt on stage and literally trying to get our quarters back.  She sat, with a guitar, blonde and chubby, singing "The Great Silky" and "Silver Dagger" ala Baez.

Our disdain would be blown away just about a year later when she came back into town as the protege of Bobby Kimmel and a member of his new group, "The Stone Poneys."

At first, we didn't realize who it was. She was svelte with natural raven hair cascading down her back, hip clothing (she even pulled off wearing a cape) and that voice!  She had discovered her "chest voice," and could belt it out or slip into the soprano falsetto for effect.  We were pretty sure Bobby was the catalyst in all this; but, not only did he not get credit for that, he was out soon after the group returned to L.A. and Kenny Edwards left the group.  Promoters and producers knew what they wanted, and it wasn't showmen or folk rock innovators.  It was babes, and this babe had a voice as great as her ambition.

So, anyway, in the early 80s I went to The Cup, now in a big slick facility right across from the U of A main gate, to perform and hang out among those who might know what was going on in the area gig-wise.  There they were, most of the players trying to make a living at it as well as the usual line-up of complete amateurs.

What was missing was the public.  The audience of performers and a few friends and girlfriends sat through it all, waiting to enthusiastically support their champion when it was their turn.  It was a sweet group of true music lovers, and a nice sharing experience.

The real musicians in this family of folkies formed a group they modestly called "The Tucson Kitchen Musicians Association" (TKMA) and this was their event now.  Some of these folks exhibited musical prowess to which I still aspire, and a few were well-known (if not well paid) in the area.   They were chewing on getting a folk festival going, so I joined up.

Trying to rebuild a fanbase for "folk music" was a daunting task for an outfit with no money to speak of.  My advertising experience told me we needed a more visible profile.

Travis was living in Tucson at the time, having had a devastating stroke that had utterly obliterated his phenomenal skill as a guitarist and left him with the typical speech impairment.

Being from Nogales, Arizona, Trav had gone to highschool, and performed, with Roger Smith, the film star who had been the prime romantic lead on the TV show "77Sunset Strip," and married Ann Margret.  When Roger heard about the stroke, he sent Travis one of the first electronic guitars so he could relearn how to play.  It wasn't long before Trav realized he would never come anywhere close to the skill level he considered minimal, and really couldn't muster the motivation to pursue rehab with the effort required.  The payoff was never going to be good enough.

I went to visit Travis, campaigning for him to come and emcee The Cup. His nephew, Earl Edmonson, (a fine musician and performer) said he'd never do it; but he did.  I'd pick him up, bring him to the event a little early, and we'd go over the line-up, me making notes for him, and sometimes supplying him with relevant one-liners between performers. We put out a press release about the "ongoing Tucson tradition" being hosted by a "local  living legend" and attendance picked up.

When the Tucson Folk Festival materialized, I was introduced on the Main Stage by Travis.  For me, it was historic.  Even though, like most of the big-timers I've known, his ego was insufferable at times and he was ruled by emotion, Travis had appreciated and helped me.  But, what I loved most was the incredible music and the carefully crafted comedy.  I learned much from him, and I miss him.

Here he is, the year before he died, singing with a group he loved, Los Mariachis...
Next week:  Meetings with The Smothers Brothers and The Limeliters.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A decade passes, and then...


In 1983, with the encouragement of Judy, I entered a contest put on by El Paso radio personality, folk performer, and big band leader, Bob Burns, trying for an opportunity to open for The Kingston Trio.  I thought it would be an excuse to be around for the show and probably get to see Bob Shane again.

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

The idea was pretty good, as talent contests go.

Each single or group got to present a half hour set.  Every entertainer (as differentiated from singers) knows a single song won't begin to show the range and variety an act works so hard to achieve.  Half an hour gives some time for the relationship, and a good handful of songs of different types.

I had an old Wollensak (you heard me) reel-to-reel recorder left from radio days. 
I lugged it out to the garage, along with my old J-200, to see what the truth was. 
The contest was two weeks away. The tape was humiliating, but there was hope, and I had two weeks.

The day came hot and sunny and my nerves and copious perspiration brought back memories of opening at the Marriott with Barbara after sweating in the sound closet with the custodian for half an hour.  (He didn't even buy me a drink!)

I think there may have been half a dozen acts.  Between my experience putting folk shows together, and my on-and-off adventures as a radio disc jockey, I put together the best set and seemed to pretty much have it until the very last act.

During the penultimate performance, the seats began to fill.  About 75 more of them, in fact, outnumbering the day's average audience by a multiple of three.
The last act in the "contest" was "Springfire," an all-male trio of high energy pros with an act similar to Pat & Barbara. They also had (and still do) their own club, and brought 75 of their fans

It was El Paso, 1983, and they opened with their fire-hose version of "Low-riders In The Sky."  (I know an duo who shamelessly milk their own parody, "Ghost Chickens.)

So, a trio opened for The Kingston Trio.

In Bob's room later, he explained why he had finally sprung for the original name.
One of the weirdest things that happened to a lot of big name folk acts was having to negotiate later in their careers for the use of their own names. Pat & Barbara had a similar clause laid on them.

Then we went to hang out in the lounge.  When the one-man-band guy with a chorus on everything who was working the room saw Bob come in, he dedicated a song to him and then sang one written and recorded by John Stewart.

Bob Shane has a great sense of humor in every situation, by the way.
I have also seen him, after hours at P & B's, hold a room of lingerers spellbound as his a capella, unamplified voice rang the place with a powerful, plaintive Hawaiian traditional song, in the native tongue, followed by one of the freestyle, ad-lib hilarious rants he called "toasts."

So, after the approval of a single small audience, I had contracted the disease. 
With Judy's faithful help and support, I was going to try to "do a single."

Perhaps the greatest benefit of that whole little experience was
the lifelong friendship formed with Bob Burns--a class act to this day.

Here are the guys, and the song, that blew me out of the running that fateful day:
http://springfireband.com/multimedia/clip12.mp3 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Starting slow and then fizzling out

So, Barbara and I worked on an act for a year, helped by a joint where Barbara had been a hit a few years before, The Jockey Club in Lexington, KY, who were so glad to see her again they didn't mind I was along.  After a few gigs I was catching on to the extent we decided we could pick where we wanted to headquarter, and we chose Tucson, because we loved it.

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

There we were given an opportunity by Travis to do a middle set in his evening of shows at a very nice supper club, Don Quixote's. 
This would allow us to invite bookers to see us work with a live audience (who had just been "warmed up" by one of the world's best).
It was both generous and crafty on Trav's part, and resulted, I'd say from the packed houses and the response, in a great evening for everyone involved.

It just didn't work the way we had hoped, largely due to our being (in 1972) in the "middle class" of an industry in flux.  Enter the Food and Beverage man.

"There was a time," as the songs say, when people who presented live entertainment had an interest and some understanding in it.  No, really!  They could watch a performance and evaluate it in light of their own critical facilities and a familiarity with certain standards of excellence and professionalism.  I promise you, I am not making this up.

Were it not for such actual people, many music clubs would have closed long before becoming the legendary landmarks and career starting points they are known as today.  And many an artist would have starved out of a career before anyone heard them.

On a recommendation, usually, one of these guys would come catch your act, preferably unknown to you, and give you a shot.  If you could hold and build an audience, they wanted to latch onto you and help you succeed, keep you happy.  Doesn't sound so crazy, does it?

Travis would find an upscale resort or supper club, depending on his needs at the time, and get lodging, meals, and a percentage of the bar receipts (cash) in exchange for his services as house entertainer. 
I vividly recall a lovely evening in the living-room-styled lounge at the Tubac Country Club when Trav held the room spellbound sitting on the corner of a sofa in front of the fireplace, playing Schubert on the guitar--no PA, no lights, just talent.

It was a win-win wherever he set up, but someone in a position to make the deal had to have the brains to know how it would pay off.  Someone in charge had to know talent when they saw it, and, if they were smart enough to latch onto and help develop new talent, ka-ching!

In other words, you could actually get "discovered" at that level, and no one cared if you could move 400,000 retail units in a year.  There was no internet, so not everyone thought they were an artist.  There were not 150 amateurs in every town declaring, "I just love to play!  I'd play for free!"  (And worth every penny.)

Then came the investors and their bean counters to the business (which became the industry) and artists, performers, entertainers, and musicians became "vendors."  Hotel chains wanted your social security number for their payroll records, when most of them could have paid the rates they were paying out of petty cash.

Twice, during our little run with Travis at Don Quixote's, "Food and Beverage Managers" actually showed up to see us.  Each was "really impressed" and each booked us into their places--one a hotel, one a supper club--and we set a start date and time.

The first time, we actually showed up to set up, only to learn that "He's no longer with us."  Guess he died.  Hope so.  Anyway, the second time I waited until the day and called ahead to confirm.  They claimed to have never heard of our impresario.  We joked that the Bull & Bear bomber was dogging us, but it was we who were bombing.  Very shortly after that our lives changed in ways that took us far from any of this.

Meanwhile, here's a taste of what Pat Horine was doing--no video, but he's on this recording of The New Kingston Trio (Pat's on your far left in the photo):

Next week, we'll fast forward to 1983, when I decided to give performing another try...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Airport insecurity and the worst opening ever

I mentioned my guitar lesson before--an afternoon of instruction in the fine art of movable chord positions and transposition--the purpose of which was to help me prepare for my new job as Barbara's accompanist and someone to bounce comedy off of and sing harmony.  I had been practicing my new skills diligently, and had begun to learn some of the songs we would be doing. 

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

I got a call from my dear old friend, Joe Monsanto in Tucson.  He and a friend,David John,  who had worked with me when I was the publisher of The Frumious Bandersnatch (oh, yes, I was!), were getting ready to open a non-alcoholic nightclub and they wanted me to help rig some staging and lights,

They wanted to fly me back to Tucson for a few days, and I couldn't wait to get back to the United States; so I packed a green file box with a brass sign on it that said "Danger" in big red letters with a few tools, toiletries, boxers, and socks and when Barbara dropped me at the airport I was wearing white jeans and a T-shirt that had both been tie-died in a striking yellow and brown flame pattern.  Again, I was somewhat medicated, of course.  If you're going flying...

So I went through the Atlanta airport, a two-hour layover in Dallas, and the Tucson airport with no luggage, head-to-toe flame tie-dye, and a metal box with a sign saying "Danger." and no one batted an eye.  No one ever asked what I had in the case--nothing going out, nothing coming back.  1971.

I spent an afternoon with the guys at the club, making lists, gathering materials, working on the basics of some switchable lights that could serve as stage illumination, and we knocked off at dusk and all headed over to Mike Ronstadt's house for "dinner."  Must have been half a dozen of us, or so, and we all pitched in on some home cookin'--Mexican food in the Sonoran style.  The meal was vast and long and we relaxed in a cloud of smoke, listening to music.

The phone rang, and it was Barbara, calling to say that Monk Arnold had booked us into the Club Car Lounge at the downtown Marriot for the cocktail hour gig!  Well, that was wonderful news, dampened only by the fact that we were to start the next Monday.  It was Wednesday.

The next morning I was whisked to the airport for my return trip, got back into Atlanta Thursday evening, and learned 36 songs with Barbara by Monday afternoon. 
(Oh, yes, we did!)

I was a little nervous.  (You may have heard the analogy about the canine and the peach seeds.)  We arrived at the Marriott an hour in advance, just to be safe, and reported to the Club Car to check out the staging arrangements.  Oh, boy.

The "performance area" was a space at the wall end of the bar, where a stool had been removed to provide room for us to stand.  This sumptuous space was attractively illuminated by a single red light of around 100 watts.  All the bar traffic and all the door traffic would occur between us and the "audience."  We couldn't be seen, so I tracked down a custodian who offered us a stepladder for Barbara to perch on, making her at least visible to patrons.  I would stand next to the ladder, in the dark.  I could barely see the set list taped to the top  of my shiny new J-200.

That's when I discovered that the sound system wasn't working, and there was only one mic.  I found my friend the custodian again, and he shrugged and led me to a little closet in the wall of an adjacent room with an ancient PA amp.

I sized up the situation, told the custodian what we needed, and got another shrug.  He aid "I can't do that."  I said, "Well, get me some tools and I'll do it."  "I can't do that--" my faithful helper said,"--union."

Not having any cash worthy of such a bribe, I made a brief, impassioned speech, he brought me pliers and tape, and then literally looked the other way while I went to work.

We had found another mic stand and mic, of sorts, and I began trying frantically to actually splice wires together to get what we needed hooked up.  Once I had, it was not really adequate, and I was dripping with sweat, my hands shaking with nerves and anger.  We started 45 minutes late.

Look at me, Mama, I'm finally in show business!

Speaking of airport security, here's Bob Smiley's take...




Wednesday, April 2, 2014

There's nothing like Show Business!

...and this is nothing like Show Business.

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

During the Pat & Barbara chapter of my careen, I was back and forth some betwixt Atlanta and Tucson.  When I was in the Old Pueblo, I'd usually pick up a radio shift, and while I was working at KCUB (before they went country) Bob & Travis met for a concert as "Shane & Travis" at the U of A student union auditorium.

When they came by the radio station to see me, Bob had a 45 he was collecting opinions on.  I spun the side Bob thought would be the "A" side, a song Rod McKuen wrote, called "Weepin' Analeah."  Then we heard the other side.  Frank Sanchez (talented and versatile percussionist) was there, too, and he and I both said, "That's the one!" 
Knowing that free advice is worth every penny, Bob decided to go with the McKuen song.  Six weeks later, Bobby Goldsboro released the other song, "Honey."

Like most successful acts that have "broken up," Pat & Barbara eventually got around to a "reunion;" but, Pat was still on tour with The New Kingston Trio, so Barbara and I had agreed to "hold down the fort" with Barbara performing as a single.  The best part of that, for me, was shopping for musicians for the back-up combo.

We spent an evening at "Clendenon's," a supper club owned by Donn Clendenon, the baseball star.  We were the only white faces in the place, and we were greeted warmly, seated at a table with other folks who were genuinely glad to have us join them, and caught up in the appreciative comments and party atmosphere that resulted from the outstanding entertainment.

The house band was up on a balcony/loft, and very hot and hip.  The staging was very organic to the room, including a stairway used to great effect as an entry point for a soloist, and the sound and lighting were actually excellent!.  We saw four incredible acts.  Can't remember the name of a single one, but I can recall highlights of their performances to this day!

We put together a neat "acoustic" trio (electric bass) for Barbara's band and started working on a really classy single.  Since "the corporation" considered this all nothing more than a holding action, there was zero advertising.  The "network" of old friends had been drastically reduced and scattered over two years of nothing like P & B, and Barbara was playing in a very large room to very small crowds.

Finally, Pat was back, being over the thrilling part of his ride with The New Kingston Trio, and rehearsals began for the big reunion.  I don't recall what actually came of that, or how it went.  To do it, I stayed pretty heavily self-medicated.

Honestly, I don't remember the sequence of things; but the result was an effort to make Barbara's act work in other venues.  Times were changing--the listening venue was dying--and the great Monk Arnold wasn't really interested in helping an act that was not already successful.  Barbara began doing gigs with just a guitarist, since most gigs other than dance joints couldn't support a band.  After a while, she said, "Didn't you used to play guitar in highschool?"

Next thing I knew, I owned a Gibson J-200 and actually took a guitar lesson from her accompanist, a guy with a Masters in music, whose name I have also forgotten--Mike something.  He taught me how to transpose using the movable barre chords.  I spent two or three weeks relearning how to play and developing callouses, working on songs from her repertoire I had some chance of being able to play, and got a call from an old, very close friend, Joe Monsanto.

Joe and another cohort from previous enterprises, David John, were opening a venue in the well-known hip district of Tucson that would be a non-alcoholic night club.  He asked me to come help with stage lighting and sound. 
This is one of my favorite memories and stories.
I'll tell you all about it, and my stage debut with Barbara, next week!


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pat & Barbara revisited

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

Well, I need to backtrack.
In making sure I left out things I shouldn't say,
I left out a number of things I should.

So, about this duo, Pat & Barbara...
Nobody had ever seen anything like it, certainly not in Kentucky, where they got their start, playing supper clubs and hotel lounges with Preston Weber.

Their natural magnetism, quick wit, and excellent, rich, distinctive voices were accompanied by the hardest-working guitarist and performer I ever saw.
And they did a show.  Just listening, oddly enough, to records of Bud & Travis,
The Limeliters, and (reverb) The Kingston Trio, they had learned a lot.
 (Oddly familiar group of names.)  And they stole only the best.

Actual talent hits hardest in the intimate venue, and their following was growing and intense.  Folks who could afford to be out and about frequently become "regulars" and a social scene starts to develop.  Remember, this is back in the olden times of much more direct contact with everyone, audiences in particular, and to fans it was personal.

Some sorta-jet-setters from At-lay-uhn-uh latched onto them, took them partying in Florida, and, suddenly, everybody was in show bidnez!

In those days, it was common for a really professional, polished act to have a deal as the house group for a certain venue.  To have one designed and built for them, and named after them is not as common.  Truth is, they deserved it.

Pat Horine's father had been in Vaudeville.  Pat only wanted two things: to make his father proud, and to be in the Kingston Trio.  He accomplished both before his outrageously early demise in 2004.

He played with heavy gauge steel strings and a heavy pick.  He could play pretty clean, but he played hard even when he played melodically or slow chords.  He just backed up.  When you looked down the neck of his axe, you could see actual little kinks in the strings right in line with the strum wear around the sound hole!  By the end of a show, you could watch the sweat drip from his reddened face and splash off the top of the guitar, sometimes right in tempo!

He had a smoky, probably actually damaged, voice he controlled very well that was romantic in a solo and easy to blend in a duo, and made him a natural choice for The New Kingston Trio later.  But it was all very strenuous, largely because, in his mind's-eye view of Dad's level of performance, it couldn't ever be big enough, dramatic enough.

He could play anything, learn his part fast, and deliver it well timed, and he was clearly having a ball doing it.  They both were.

Barbara King grew up expecting to be a comedic and musical star.
She had a quick, often blunt, flat-out approach to comedy that took over a small room.  She'd drop one on 'em, bat huge false eyelashes, and then, that laugh.
Called it "the Red Skelton school of comedy."
"Hey," she said, "it works for Phyllis Diller!"
(Again, oddly, Travis always claimed to have started out writing comedy for Ms. Diller.)
She had natural timing and was a born actress

Her voice was mostly deep and throaty, but she could (and did)
sit in front of a piano played well and do justice to Sarah Vaughan or Fanny Brice all night, with at least part of any song you might request sung right back to you.  She wanted to be, and should have been, backed by a band doing her own show.

But, she loved the music and the success and was always willing to go with what works, so she was "Barbara" of "Pat & Barbara," and, in my opinion, like Travis, two-thirds of a duo.

There were hilarious times, moving times, glorious times of genuine creativity and performing artistry. We met Skitch Henderson, Ray Bolger and Marilyn Maye all at one gig in Savannah. We all ate and breathed and slept The Show.
We laughed, we cried. 

Ask anyone from "back in (any given) day" and we all know:
Opportunity of a certain kind knocks once.
Another tale of investors not understanding the product in which they invested,
and killing the goose that laid those never-to-be-seen-again treasures.

By the time the act collapsed, they had been booked for the Dick Cavett show and booked their first actual tour, both cancelled by the act.  Officially dead.

Just before the end, though, there was a wonderful experience when I got to go with the act for a gig at a big club in New York City, booked by their big-time GAC agent in Atlanta, Monk Arnold.  It was at "Shepherd's" in the Drake Hotel in Manhattan!

We didn't know the club had been closed two weeks after having been a sort of luxury disco for years.  A little ad was running somewhere, that was it.  No radio interview, no TV exposure--nada.

The first two nights were, put kindly, lonesome.  Pat & Barbara had never played for two or three couples who just wanted to eat.  (I have.)

Morning of the third day of the two-week run, a couple of bulky gents with accents out of a movie came to the dressing rooms in the afternoon and said they were going to get us a record player and some records so we could start doing some music the people would like, you know, like the Beatles and such.

I thanked them for their concern, but said this is a folk and comedy act, not a lounge band.  If someone thinks this act is not right for this room, they need to talk to our agent at GAC.

We laughed, once they had gone, but, quietly, because they seemed very serious and pretty disappointed.

Ahhh, show business.
Like golf, if you don't take it seriously, you're no good at it,
and if you do, it breaks your heart.

Next week:  Movin' on
Now, a "video"--a still of the album cover, accompanied by the only recording of The New KT (with Pat) that I could find.  You'll agree, I think, this configuration sounded most like the original.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=lWuQRKG1nwI

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A new era dawns, but not on me!

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

So, there I am in Atlanta, GA, of all places, finally getting an opportunity to work "full-time" in "the business" with established, seasoned performers, blissfully unaware it's already coming apart.  (Hey, I was barely 20.)

Probably seeing the oft-ignored handwriting on the proverbial wall, Travis devoted a good deal of time and effort convincing Pat & Barbara I could help them with their show.

I began by just addressing the bits they were doing--tidying up setups, strengthening punch lines, smoothing continuity.  They were young, bright, and humble enough to learn.  They were also packing the little lounge every night (except the one night off) with their contagious, high-energy style.  (I also reset the few baby spotlights the club had, so more of what was happening could actually be seen.  A lot of their comedy relied on takes and reactions, so that helped.)

Meanwhile, Travis was just not rehearsing anymore, and Bob was shifting into a hip country thing with Bucky Wilkin and a bass player whose name I don't recall.  There were lots of laughs offstage, due to Bob's personality and the word games he liked to play; but, they now needed a comedy writer not at all.  Anyway, I didn't have any handle on humor for the genre they were focused on now.

I was quite taken with Bucky, and we had some great times together, even writing a song, "Atlanta Revelations," which P & B recorded as the "B" side of a single Travis had written called "Moonbabies and  Starflowers."  (Hey, it was the late 60s.) I got to be in on the studio session in Nashville, with Rick Powell producing! 

So, I became a coach for Pat & Barbara, sitting in the back of the room during shows, furiously writing on a legal pad every point they needed to polish.  Between shows, in the dressing rooms, I would go over the notes for the next show from the previous night, to remind them of things to focus on in that set.  They were eager, quick, and improving steadily.

I had given them plenty to chew on, so when I returned to Tucson, it was with the understanding that I would continue to write for them.  Back in the Old Pueblo, I returned to radio, my fall-back gig for decades.

Then, word came that P & B's backers were getting ready to build a showroom for them and they needed someone they could trust to design lights and sound.  I met with a friend who had been a consultant with JBL for a few years, and, based on the rough blueprints I had been sent, we crafted a plan and an equipment list.  Long story short, we ended up with a first class showroom with a combination proscenium/apron stage with theatrical lighting and pure, clean, stereo sound for a room seating 300.  (Pat & Barbara filled that room six nights a week, too!)

I was working full-time as their producer, and getting paid to run lights and sound.  

About this time I had my first experience with "backers," the entertainment hobbyists who had fallen in love with Pat & Barbara's ability to fill a bar with happy drinkers.  In spite of the fact that the act was the focal point of the whole enterprise, and that presentation was an important factor in this highly competitive business, the money minders began trying to cheap out, and we had to fight to get my plans implemented.  We prevailed, and, with the exception of a couple of glitches we worked out after a couple weeks, we launched a new level of entertainment experience for that city's live show fans.

I'm not exaggerating when I say we turned that 300-seat room over for two shows a night on weekdays, and three on weekends!  The backers began to smell serious money and decided to hitch a restaurant to the rocket, forging a deal with Jimmy Orr (yes, the athlete) to "merge" with his not-so-thriving "End Zone."

Pat & Barbara, still rather unclear on what 25% of their club was worth, began getting the old run-around about the proposed deal, and trust began to deteriorate.  I was, due to inexperience and immaturity, responsible for making everyone very upset with what I considered to be normal business questions.  I had married Barbara, further complicating both our relationships with Pat, and felt I had to press on this sore spot until something happened.  It did.

When Pat & Barbara broke up, we moved to Tucson and Pat realized a lifelong dream and became part of The New Kingston Trio, along with Bob and Jim Connor (who wrote "Grandma's Feather Bed").  There is history and even music, I think, on an excellent site where Allan Shaw has held forth for a long time as the expert on the whole era. http://www.folkera.com/ktrio/bio.html

How things went from there will have to be another installment.  I've glossed over a lot already.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bob and Travis: the new act and more!

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

In '67 I was in Atlanta, GA (long story) working a job I needed but disliked when a roommate came home and said, "Hey, your buddies Bud and Travis are playing a hotel lounge downtown!"

I went down there that evening to find that they had not, in fact, reunited.
It was Trav and Bob Shane, of The (also disbanded) Kingston Trio, trying to put an act together.

When I walked into the lobby of the Georgian Terrace Hotel, Travis was sitting there with his leg in a cast.  (A horse had stepped on his foot.)  He jumped up and started hobbling toward me. 
"We looked all over for you!  We need a writer!" 
He introduced me to Bob, and the next several weeks would change my life.

They were playing the "cocktail hour" (remember that, fellow dinosaurs?) in the hotel lounge, a tiny dive called "The Pink Poodle" that had been taken over by Pat & Barbara, a couple of youngsters doing a folk show high on energy and comedy--pretty much what was expected of an acoustic act those days. 

Bob was related to one of the backers of Pat & Barbara, who set the gig up so Bob and Travis had a place to rehearse and try out material.  I started joining them for rough-draft practice sessions, throwing out lines and trying to shape bits into "continuity."  That's the term for patter that moves the story line of the performance forward, explaining the song or its origins, tying the last idea to the next idea, etc.

Bob was relaxed, even casual, but still very focused.  He proved to be a quick (and accurate) study.  Trav, not so much.  His attitude resembled mine through high school; that is, he knew the material, basically, but wasn't concerned about details...like his cues, or getting the set-up just right so the gag had some impact.  The pudding was proofed onstage.

Bob would do his line, Trav would approximate his, Bob would riposte, and wait while Travis groped around for his next part, sometimes resorting to an old stand-by one-liner.  When he was stuck, or flubbed the line, Bob would get that twinkle in his eye and just let him hang.

I had seen this sort of thing between Bud and Travis--the weight of huge egos suspended like anvils on threads over a scene the audience may or may not have understood.  Bud and Travis were so alike, so evenly matched, and so similarly tuned comedically, that audiences almost never noticed any friction.  Their stuff moved very quickly, building to one or two big laughs toward the end of the bit.

Bob's timing was shaped by the huge auditoriums and crowds of the college circuit.  He knew when to wait, letting a line sink in all the way to the cheap seats before proceeding.
He didn't drop the punch line until everyone was waiting for it.  Travis admired this, and understood the theory; but, it made him antsy, and his expertise from smaller venues like nightclubs prodded him to jump a little quicker.  This really made his hesitations stand out, and Bob seemed to take a perverse delight in it.
I suspected that the huge respect B & T had earned as instrumentalists might have been a contributing factor.

A day came when Bob & Travis would be featured in Pat & Barbara's nighttime show, to make the much larger audience aware of them and test out the repertoire a little.  Bob proposed we go out to his farm outside Roswell (GA) to rehearse and then have dinner.  He picked us up in the station wagon and took us out there in the morning.

Bob and his wife, Louise, were raising and breeding Shetland ponies.  I think they were Shetlands--hope I'm not insulting some more specific breed--and they were cute enough to gag the school spirit queen.  The house was, of course, gorgeous and richly appointed with antiques and artifacts from the KT's world travels.  The kitchen looked like something set up for a gourmet chef's TV show, with lots of tile and copper pots gleaming from the stainless ceiling racks.

The "rehearsal" went about as thoroughly as usual.
When I admired the shotguns on the wall, and some of Louise's shooting trophies, Bob asked if we had ever shot skeet.  I, at that time, harbored no ill will toward the creatures, and confessed I had not.  So,that's what we did, right off the back deck.

When the back yard was liberally strewn with skeet remains, Louise said dinner was ready.
She served us the best chiles rellenos I had ever tasted, actually presented with small, perfect sides and an almost clear sauce.  I praised the meal profusely and wished for more.  Then everyone "cleaned up" and we drove to the club for the show.

I think it was that same evening, during Pat & Barbara's show, a fight broke out at the end of the bar.

I watched with mild amusement as an unlikely couple struggled together for a clear spot for combat.  Then my peripheral sight caught Travis, Walter Brennaning on his cast toward the action.  The sudden vision of my meal ticket hospitalized with more casts propelled me into the fray.

Once the unevenly matched pair were separated, the smaller of the two thanked me for saving his posterior from that "big animal" and issued a permanent invitation to free dining in his well-known and most excellent Italian restaurant right next door, Salvatore's.  It would have been discourteous of me not to begin frequenting that fine establishment and scarfing all the veal parmesan I could.

One afternoon Bob showed up at the hotel, and Trav was off somewhere; so he invited me across the street to catch a flick at the neat old theater.  We saw "Bonnie & Clyde."  We sat in the balcony so we could smoke (yes, long, long ago!) and when the movie ended with that slow motion murder scene, Bob nudged my leg.  I looked down, and we were both holding cigarettes that had burned all the way down, leaving two full-length cylinders of standing ash.

Travis was involved, as usual, with an "affair," and became undependable.  Bob began to make other plans, bringing in Bucky Wilkin as a "side man" with sidekick possibilities.

Bucky has a wide range of talents, including writing and producing, and was, through skillful overdubbing, the entire staff of "Ronny & The Daytonas" of "Little GTO" fame.  We had some good times, and even wrote a song together.
But, now, we're getting into another chapter, and this one's too long already.

 Next week:  Atlanta Revelations!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Getting into the business


(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

On the bulletin board at Ash Alley I found a note about a classical guitar for sale.  (B & T played classical guitars, as opposed to the more popular steel string.) 
It was $35, which I had from my little yardwork business.

It was a La Valenciana guitar, which served me well until Rick Fritchie sat in it while we were horsing around in my room a couple of years later. A very kind gent who lived across the street, Clyde Wary, was a master cabinet maker.  He insisted on fixing it for me so earnestly I had to let him, though I suspected his skills were not really applicable.  He did a beautiful job.  It looked just like a guitar.

I had so much trouble making my hands contort into basic chord positions, I often had to use the fingers of my right hand to place the fingers of my left hand correctly.  Concerned, I finally consulted a classmate, Bob Johnson, who had a pretty decent rock band.  I wanted to know if I was going to be capable of this.  Bob showed me the two barre chord positions, and how quick a change had to be, and said, "Learn to do that and come back in two weeks."

Two painful weeks later, I was back, making the change from barre to double barre.  Bob said, "Go for it!"  I didn't have another guitar lesson until my last in 1970.

In my junior year of highschool, I met Ken Globus, a classmate in Drama, and when I turned him on to my addiction, he said, "We could do that!"  (You may only have thought of Ken as "The Bird Whisperer," a much later avocation that brought him considerable recognition.)

Before long, we were actually getting paid small stipends by civic groups (and others) to perform our little show of simple songs and gags!

After highschool, we both went for our six months of active duty training with the Marine Reserves.  We met up again at Camp Talega (area 64), in the northernmost tules of Camp Pendleton for combat engineers school.  A week away from concluding my active duty, I got a strep throat infection that ruined my voice.  It was 20 years before I learned what to do about it.

Ken's family had moved to L.A., so he went to Pasadena Playhouse, played music with a female partner for a while, and then moved to Israel where he wrote hit songs and a musical and ended up working, strangely enough, with Globus/Goram (no relation) films.

I became reacquainted with Ken a few years ago (at Judy's urging), and he was overcome by cancer very shortly after that.  Moral:  Don't wait 'til your wife has to tell you to look someone up.

So, with my pipes wrecked, I wasn't going to be a performer.  Fortunately, my highschool speech teacher, the wonderful and patient Don Milner, turned me on to my first radio gig in my junior year. Through that I met some of the better DJs in Tucson, mainly Tom Kyle and Rich Heatley, and began doing character voices for their drop-ins and learning audio production.

Stranded off a traveling sales crew in Denver in the summer of '65, I applied at an employment agency that just happened to do the hiring for the Intermountain Radio Network and found my first full-time radio gig at KBZZ in La Junta,CO.  There I was mentored by a genuine old pro and true mensch, Marv Conn, and thus began my other career (the subject of a book I've begun).

Then the fall of '66 found me back in Tucson, where, with the recommendations of Tom and Rich, I secured an airshift at KOLD (AM).

Travis was back in Tucson (the duo having broken up the year before) and Tom and another broadcaster, Nick Cutrules, had set him up as the emcee for the Miss Teenage Tucson Pageant.  Tom suggested me as a continuity writer and Travis said, "Yeah, I know him.  He is funny!"

The show was, indeed, hilarious.  "? and The Mysterians" (remember them?) never showed.  With that name, who could expect them to?  Tom and I also worked lights, sound, and supplemental audio (track cueing).

Travis was always good at setting himself up as House Troubador at a guest ranch or country club, enabling him to live like a prince and still take regular gigs.  One of his engagements was at a supper club called "The Bull & Bear."

Remember supper clubs?  Then you, like I, are a dinosaur.  They were nightclubs with shows and excellent food as well as drinks.  Beginners learned their chops there, becoming pros, and pros worked there in between the big gigs. I was there, as was Tom, every night Trav was.

Then the bomb threats started.

We later learned the whole thing was a set-up by an FBI subcontractor trying to convince his superiors he had found long-lusted-after mob activity.  A couple of charges were actually placed, one under the seat of Tom's car, which I spotted as I squatted by his open driver's door one evening, talking with him.

We both knew from combat training (Tom was also a  reservist) that if a charge didn't go off when depressed, it would surely go off when released; so Tom sweated there until the cops came.  Fortunately, this one was just a scare tactic, and had no detonator.

We spent the rest of that evening (from 2 am 'til 6 am or so) as we did many others--"unwinding" with Travis in his hometown of Nogales, 80 miles away, howling along with the mariachis in his favorite Mexican cantinas.

In those days, performers used writers, but seldom called attention to them.  And acts who aren't getting a lot of exposure don't burn through much material.  I continued to hone my lighting, sound, and general stagecraft skills.

Here's a little slice of recollection of those days:



Next week: a new town and a new act--Bob and Travis!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Folk music on the radio

(This week's installment continues a series of Whitt's reflections on becoming a folk music addict and performer.)

So, to continue my saga of how I got into this particular field of music...

I was 14, lying in my bed listening to the radio, and discovered a local program which changed my life.  A local guy, Dave Graham, was hosting a show on KTUC, Tucson's first radio station, about folk music.  I don't even remember the name of the program; but I was electrified by what I was hearing.  Not only was the music mostly new to me, his presentation was engaging, informative, and conversational, not the usual plastic announcing.

Dave had opened a coffee house where he was presenting live acts--a little place off a tiny courtyard literally in a downtown alley.  The alley had a name, and Dave, understanding the main problem in advertising, named his place by its location:
"Ash Alley 241."  (This proved its genius when he needed a larger space to accommodate the growing crowds, and opened "30-15 North Campbell;" although a guy did ask me once, "So, where is it?")

My best friend (whom I would later offend and lose), Dan Webster, was 16 and had the use of a car.  Nights we weren't going to "the game" he would park up the block a bit and I would sneak out the window of my room for an evening at Ash Alley.

We were sooo young, yet we were welcomed, and became enthralled with the incredible performances of artists presented in an intimate, carefully crafted setting.  Sometimes, when Dan wasn't going or couldn't get the car, I'd just hitchhike there and mooch a ride as far back as I could from any willing beatnik.  Yes, beatnik--1960.

It was there we saw Michael Grossman, Barbara Dane, The Blue Ridge Boys, and many more.  It was there I met Bud & Travis.  They were closer to my age, and therefore less intimidating, so I could actually converse with them.  They found out I shared their sense of humor and actually began to use a few of my lines.
This led, later, to my getting to work as a writer for Travis after the duo broke up.

Bud and Travis were born on the same day, a world apart.  Once they met, the blend of attitudes and talent was beyond chemistry, and they quickly became recognized by their peers in the burgeoning folk market as musical masters who understood the power of comedy to turn a recital into a show.  The Limeliters, The KT, Judy Collins,
and The Smothers Brothers all acknowledged to me, at one time or another,
their admiration for these two young men.

Of course, their similarities also made for a volatile relationship, to put it mildly.  Once, Bud actually stabbed Trav with a knife in an argument over a girl.  Their brilliant partnership produced several albums, college concert tours, and even a world tour, but lasted less than five years.

Bear in mind all these artists were in their twenties (except for Theo Bikel and Burl) in those days.  Compare their output with that of today's young "singer/songwriters" and you'll understand a little of the disdain felt by us dinosaurs.

Here's another taste:
Next week, the song keeps growing...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Questions answered:


When we perform, we get asked certain questions:
“How do you remember all those words?”  We often don’t.
“Are you married?”  Why else would she hang out with him?
And a favorite, “Where do you get those songs?” 
 
Well, actually, we write a lot of them.  This endeavor includes, of course, the parodies of others’ work, involving finding a well-known song so folks will know it’s a parody.

Deciding to “cover” another’s material is a different matter.  From thousands of outstanding songs, finding and selecting one to arrange, learn, and present is daunting.  A major problem is knowing a song exists at all.  Folks are always trying to turn us on to songs “you guys should do,” and that is always welcome and helpful; but most are drawn from Whitt’s experience in the so-called “folk” idiom.

The explosion of interest in traditional American music which started, really, long before, reached commercial potential in the late 1950s and the Great American Folk Music Scare began. 

When Whitt was six or seven, he would watch black and white Sunday morning telecasts of Jean Ritchie, Pete Seeger, and Burl Ives, tenderly sharing, primarily, Appalachian and English ballads and, as they were known academically, “folk carols.”  To him, the lyrics were less fascinating than the concept of music offered with such simple accompaniment.  The airwaves were packed with music full of instrumentation, arranging gimmicks, sophisticated rhythms, and “hooks;” but nothing seemed to affect him like those solitary, often plaintive, old songs of actual history.

When Whitt was in 7th grade, it happened.  The Kingston Trio.
The impact they had on most adolescents was amazing.  This was a masculine, energetic sound, and their fast-and-loose approach to adaptation transformed many a simple tune into a rousing, rollicking experience. (Much more about them later.)

Our young student began to follow the newly popular idiom, as well as pop comedy phenomena like Stan Freberg.  Then came Bud & Travis and The Limeliters
A neighbor, an “older” hip guy named Hugh Morgan (a name many Californians will recall from his later broadcasting career),  turned him on to Bud & Travis and The (slightly fabulous) Limeliters, (again, much more later) who were able to capture and combine true traditionalism, original songwriting, and humor.

It was the beginning of a lifetime journey which led Whitt to buy his first guitar and eventually get into the business.  (Thanks, Hugh!)

Whitt would eventually become professionally involved with all three of these groups.

Stay tuned!
Meanwhile, consider this:
Hope to see you here next Wednesday for more!