Thursday, December 25, 2008

Songs 4 Foodies #4

We’re home safe & sound from our midnight musical endeavors—thanks to Eberle’s intrepid snowstorm driving, & studded tires, & all-wheel drive. Last night, this part of Idaho was a wild winter wonderland….

It’s almost time for Christmas dinner, & this week’s line-up of Foodie songs would make a truly odd menu—no turkey or duck or goose for starters. But there’s a lot of fun, high-energy listening for your holiday delight (with a few mellow numbers & at least one that’s just downright odd).

  • “Marmalade”: A great LA band from the 90s, The Geraldine Fibbers featured the memorable vocals of Carla Bozoulich, some really intriguing lyrics, & a sort of orchestral cowpunk sound (fuzz guitar & bowed bass on this cut!) This is a love song with some sweet dissonance, & just a hint of country around the edges of frenetic drums & rave up guitar hooks. (Geraldine Fibbers: Lost Somewhere Between Earth & My Home: Virgin)
  • “Memphis in June”: OK, this song makes it simply on the strength of Cousin Amanda’s rhubarb pie—like “A Dreamer’s Holiday,” this isn’t really a foodie tune. But I love pretty much anything by the great Hoagy Carmichael, who on this occasion provides the music while Paul Francis Webster provides the lyrics. I also like to hear Hoagy sing his own songs—the version of “Memphis in June” on Hoagy Sings Carmichael (which features Johnny Mandel arrangements of the Carmichael tunes) is a delight, & the album as a whole is a must-have for anyone who loves Carmichael’s music. “Memphis in June” paints a lovely landscape both in words & melody. (Hoagy Carmichael: Hoagy Sings Carmichael: Pacific Jazz)
  • “Onions”: A 2:10 ode to “Onions, Green Onions,” sung with a lot of gusto by the magnificent bluesman John Lee Hooker. Some chorused, riffing saxes, some honky honk piano, bass, & Hooker’s own guitar fills. We can assume that John Lee definitely liked his chicken & potatoes with onions—it’s heartfelt. I have this on an import cassette tape—remember those? —apparently this particular collection was also issued on lp & cd, tho all seem kind of hard to find based on a quick Google search. (John Lee Hooker: 16 Greatest Hits: Blue City)
  • “Pig Ankle Rag”: A jolly country rag—picked in this case by Sam McGee, one of the truly great country fingerstyle guitar players. Between Sam McGee’s intricate picking & the nice back up by Clifton McGee, this piece turns positively fugal. McGee was a blacksmith when he was discovered by the great medicine show banjoist (& later Grand Ol’ Opry fixture) Uncle Dave Macon. McGee also played the banjo, as well as the banjo-guitar, & was himself a fixture at the Opry for years; he also was one of the first to add the right hand middle finger to old time style guitar fingerpicking; the real old-timers tended to do everything with the thumb & the index finger, as if they were playing a banjo. One thing you can say about Southern cuisine (to get back to the song title): they make the most of the pig. (Sam McGee: Grand Dad of the Country Guitar Pickers: Arhoolie).
  • “Pig Meat on the Line”: Speaking of pig meat—tho one would be stretching things to claim that this tune is about Sus domestica. Memphis Minnie was a great guitarist & singer—the fills she provides from her hollow-body electric are impeccable—& she’s nowhere near as well known as she should be outside of blues aficionados. The blues—especially in the 20s thru the 40s—was “a man’s world” for sure, & for a woman like Memphis Minnie to make it to the top she had to be really good. She was. It’s a shame she isn’t more widely known; this may be in part because she died before the 60s folk-blues boom could incorporate her into the old-time “blues canon” that developed during that period; also, she did play electric guitar, which the folkies tended to frown upon; I've read that the folkies always wanted to hear Big Bill Broonzy play acoustic guitar, even tho he'd been playing electric for a long while before the folk revival. That's Memphis Minnie in the pic at the bottom of the post. (Memphis Minnie: Queen of the Blues: Columbia)
  • “The Pot Wrassler”: OK, here’s the oddity. I have this old cowboy tune on an anthology tape called Back In The Saddle Again: American Cowboy Songs. Dani Leone recorded this for Eberle & me back in the late 90s, & knowing Dani it was taped from vinyl. Harry Jackson was a working cowboy, & he sings the song a capella. “The Pot Wrassler” tells the story of a camp cook from the cook’s perspective. We know he must be a good cook because: “I sorts all the big rocks right out of the beans, & I don’t wipe the frying pan off on my jeans.” (Back In The Saddle Again: American Cowboy Songs: New World Records; there are also MP3 downloads on several sites, including this one.
  • “Potato Head Blues”: Although this recording dates from 1927—usually thought of as Satchmo’s Hot Fives & Hot Sevens periodthis session found him as part of a nine-piece hot jazz orchestra; notably, the great Earl “Fatha” Hines also was in this group. “Potato Head Blues” is a piece that shows off the band soloing talents nicely: an Armstrong solo with those characteristic clear high notes, a beautiful clarinet break by Boyd Atkins, & a short but fun banjo break by Rip Bassett. (Louis Armstrong: Hot Fives & Sevens: JSP)
  • "Red Beans”: Between the boogie piano & a hot horn section, ‘Fess has more than his red beans cookin’ on this number. Hot sax breaks—hot piano breaks; as Professor Longhair sings, he will have you “jumpin’ for joy.” Dr John (who plays guitar on this album) said, “Professor Longhair put ‘funk’ into music." This is music to dance to, & as infectious as music can be. (Professor Longhair: Crawfish Fiesta: Alligator)
  • “Ritz Cracker”: It’s a truism to say that the uke gets little respect, but given a uke of reasonable quality & a competent player, the jumping flea is capable of making some lovely music. Lyle Ritz is far beyond just a competent player—he’s really a master of the instrument—he was in the 50s when he recorded this original composition (along with a several old standards) & he still is today, in his “golden years.” Ritz was a professional bass player for years—he was the bassist on a number of 60s hits, including “Good Vibrations”—but in his retirement, he turned back to his first musical love, the tenor uke. How About Uke is an essential uke album. (Lyle Ritz: How About Uke: Verve)
  • “Roly Poly”: Western Swing at its finest from the King of same, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. The hybrid styles of Americana music are all fascinating, whether it’s New Orleans music or Western Swing, which combines big band sound with a cowboy sensibility. “Roly Poly” is, of course, about the corn-fed boy of American fable—eating “everything from soup to hay.” The guitar work on this one by Cameron Hill is spectacular. (Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys: Take Me Back to Tulsa: Proper)
  • "Salt Peanuts": All of us who were around during the 70s will recall the White House version of this tune with Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet & President Jimmy Carter on vocals: “Salt peanuts, salt peanuts.” But this version—on old vinyl—dates from the mid 40s, from the birth of be-bop, & not only features Dizzy on trumpet, but also Charlie Parker on sax. “Salt Peanuts” is a well-known tune, but it may be less well-known that the song is based in part on “Rhythm Changes”—for those who don’t know, these are the chord changes of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” a song that has inspired a ton of jazz “heads” (i.e., songs based on the chord changes of an old standard). Besides “Salt Peanuts,” just a few of the more famous heads built on “Rhythm Changes” are Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology,” Duke Ellington’s “Cottontail,” Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning,”—& of course, “The Flintstones’ Theme.” (Dizzy Gillespie: The King of Bop: Everest Records—apparently not issued on cd)
  • "Save the Bones for Henry Jones": The upbeat swing version by Nat King Cole is no doubt better known, but Danny Barker—who composed the song—puts a slower, bluesy spin on one of the all-time foodie tunes. Anyone who scoffs at a rhythm guitarist for “just playing chords” should check Barker out; he creates a beautiful texture behind his singing with chromatic chord runs, moving bass lines, & interspersed single string riffs. Sadly, it’s difficult to check Barker out, because his recordings all appear to be discontinued. Some of his music (including this song) is available at LastFm. (Danny Barker: Save The Bones: Orleans)
  • “Savoy Truffle”: You probably won’t see a lot about the Fab Four on Robert Frost’s Banjo; it’s not that I don’t respect The Beatles’ songwriting & musicianship, because I do. However, I try to lean toward pointing out musicians folks may not know as well, & let’s face it: if the Beatles have an exposure problem, it’s not under-exposure. But George Harrison’s “Savoy Truffle” is a great dessert song—& a cautionary tale about the effect of confections on one’s teeth. The distorted saxophones apparently were Harrison’s idea—according to Wikipedia, the saxophonists involved in the session weren’t pleased by the distortion added to their parts. (The Beatles: The White Album: Apple)


  1. Bob Wills recorded "Roly Poly" a number of times. They're all great; the one that really stands out is from the early Forties. It's one of several sides that he recorded for the Tiffany label, known as the Tiffany Transcriptions. This version is especially notable for its absolutely sizzling guitar break.

    Merry Christmas!

  2. The one on the Proper compilation is from '45-- I don't have a copy of the Tiffany Transcriptions, but am aware of them & have heard them. The other "Roly Poly" version that's in my head is the one on a Columbia compilation of Wills & HTXPB; its a Columbia Classics issue. As I recall, the "Roly Poly" on that one is a bit more contained.

    Merry Christmas, likewise!


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