Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Songs for Foodies #5

Here we bring the Songs 4 Foodies series to a close—65 foodie songs I like, as well as a couple of solid suggestions from readers’ comments.

This week’s baker’s dozen is an eclectic batch: some jazz (old & new), some punkers, some country, some etc. It’s also a bit quirky for two other reasons; it includes the one song I know mostly from performance & don’t have on any recording, & (horror of horrors) it includes a song out of alphabetical order. “Shocking,” as Eberle would say; but, alphabetization aside, I’m happy to include the last song on the list—it really needed to be in this series.

Hope you’ve enjoyed Songs 4 Foodies, & that perha
ps one or more of the tunes inspired you to check out some different sounds; I’ll be back with more song lists in the New Year. Also, I’ve appreciated the support the wonderful NoLa blog, New Orleans Ladder has given to the Songs 4 Foodies posts. Thanks a lot!

  • “Scrambled Eggs”: This song begins with possibly the greatest one-string cardboard electric bass solo ever recorded, played by Carrie Bradley. The song's composer, Dani Leone, sings & plays banjo uke, while Jonah Winter adds some really nice clarinet work. No matter what kind of eggs Dani tries to make—omelets, over easy—they turn out scrambled. But that's not all that's going wrong. Leave it to Dani to use scrambled eggs as a metaphor for unrequited love. NOTE: Thanks to Dani, the band line-up (instrument-wise) was corrected from the initial version of the post! (Ed’s Redeeming Qualities: At the Fish & Game Club: Slow River)
  • “Scrapple from the Apple”: Scrapple is odd stuff, coming from thriftier days when it was important not to let any part of a butchered animal go to waste—How does the old saying go? “Those who like sausage shouldn’t inquire too closely into its making.” Of course, the great Bird could certainly make something out of scrapple; actually, in this case, Charlie Parker made something great out of “Honeysuckle Rose,” because “Scrapple from the Apple” is a “head” based on the chord changes of the earlier tune. A caveat on the recording I refer to—it happens to be the one “Scrapple from the Apple” recording we have, but this was recorded live in a club in 1950: there’s background noise, & the sound quality overall is so-so. On the other hand, there’s the excitement of Parker live on his alto; & Roy Haynes gets in some fine drum licks. (Charlie Parker: Bird at St. Nick’s: JWS)
  • "Seafood Mama (Hold Tight)": Fats Waller’s pæan to seafood of all varieties, which he performs with great drama in a collection of Looney Toonesque voices. Eberle & I are huge Fats Waller fans; his piano & organ playing continue to amaze, & no one can sing a song quite like him (that’s Waller in the pic at the bottom of the post). The Andrew Sisters covered this tune at their peak—an odd selection for them in terms of repertoire, perhaps, but a version that stacks up very nicely, even when compared with the mighty Waller. Oysters, mackerel, porgy & tasty butterfish—this tune has it all, & it’s finger poppin’ good. (Fats Waller: The Very Best of Fats Waller: Collector Choice Music; The Andrews Sisters: The Golden Age of the Andrews Sisters: Jasmine)
  • "Shoo-Fly Pie And Apple Pan Dowdy": From 2003 to 2005 Eberle & I performed in a lounge trio called The Blue Notes. Eberle mostly played drums, & I mostly played bass in support of local piano player Bill Shore. We did dances & community functions & had a regular monthly date at the Council, ID Senior Center—playing music at senior centers & nursing homes is a great experience, & one that I’m planning to return to this spring. “Shoo Fly Pie & Apple Pan Dowdy” was always a big hit, & I’ve played bass lines to this song till they were (as my mom would say) “coming out of my ears”—literally (in a surreal sense…ok, almost literally). But I can’t recommend a specific recording of the tune, because I only have a passing familiarity with recorded versions—notable performers of the song include June Christy (with the Stan Kenton Orchestra) & Dinah Shore. For the uninitiated & curious: Shoo-Fly Pie is a molasses pie from Pennsylvania Dutch country & also popular in southern cooking.
  • “Sponge Cake & Spinach”: This wonderful tune was written collaboratively by clarinetist Barney Bigard, Duke Ellington, & Irving Mills. The recording is by Barney Bigard & His Jazzopators, a band that featured Duke on piano, Juan Tizol on valve trombone & Cootie Williams on trumpet. A nice upbeat number that really showcases Bigard’s clarinet & Williams trumpet. Lots of interplay between the two on this; & lots of fun. (Duke Ellington: The Duke’s Men: Small Groups Vol. 1: Columbia Jazz Masterpieces)
  • "Struttin' With Some Barbeque": Also in the classic jazz vein, here we have another instrumental appearance by the Hot Five, with Louis Armstrong on cornet, Kid Ory on trombone, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Lil Hardin Armstrong on piano & Johnny St Cyr on banjo. The song kicks off with Louis’ cornet & Ory’s trombone weaving together, then Dodd joins the fun. As I understand it, there’s some question as to who really wrote this song; it’s credited to Louis Armstrong, but there’s apparently some thought that it really was written by his wife, Lil Hardin. Hardin was a very talented composer as well as a fantastic pianist, & she does get credit for a number of the Hot Fives’ songs (her composition “My Heart” is not to be missed). (Louis Armstrong: Hot Fives & Sevens: JSP)
  • “Sweet Kentucky Ham”: As I mentioned in a previous post, Dave Frishberg is such a great songwriter I can even forgive him for being a Dodgers fan. He’s also a marvelous pianist & singer. “Sweet Kentucky Ham” is a jazz ballad about life on the road & how eating in diners & all-night joints is never the same as “home cooking,” in any sense of that term. Frishberg sums up a lot of loneliness without ever beginning to stray into the maudlin or self-pitying, & accompanies his singing with some fine jazz piano. This is a gorgeous song that really deserves a listen, as does most of Frishberg’s material. (Dave Frishberg: Classics: Concord Jazz)
  • “Swiss Chard”: I never had the good fortune to know Dom Leone, Chris & Dani’s cousin & one of the founding members of Ed’s Redeeming Qualities; Dom died in the 80s at an age that now seems impossibly young. But he wrote some wonderful songs in his time: of course “Driving on Nine,” which was an Ed’s tune before the Breeders brought it more to the forefront—I played & sang it an one of our monthly jam sessions & was delighted that Tomm & Michelle Lemon knew the song from the Breeders’ version. “Swiss Chard” is another of Dom’s songs—a lovely parable about moving away from the familiar to celebrate going “where life’s hard.” Carrie Bradley sang this song with feeling, & it was captured on the Big Grapefruit Cleanup Job from an Ed’s show at the out-of-the-way but essential Baghdad by the Bay performance space, Kommotion, back in the 90s; Carrie’s singing & guitar is supported by Jonah Winter on mandolin & Dani Leone on one string bass. “Swiss Chard” is a “gardening” song—but, hey, that’s where food comes from, right? (Ed’s Redeeming Qualities: Big Grapefruit Cleanup Job: Slow River)
  • "Texas Cooking": When I think of the great songwriter Guy Clark, the first thing that comes to mind would be ballads—“Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” “That Old Time Feeling,” "L.A. Freeway.” But Clark has written some wonderful up-tempo numbers, too, & this is one of them. Clark & his backing band give this celebration a full electric country gospel treatment, with piano & back-up vocals & a nice bass beat. The song praises fare like chicken fried steak with white gravy on the side, fried okra, ranch-style beans, etc. Sounds good to me! (Guy Clark: The Essential Guy Clark: RCA)
  • “Velveeta”: Now I hadn’t listened to this song for a looong time before making this list—I forgot how much fun the Mr. T Experience was—a sort of Beserkely, CA incarnation of the Ramones. There’s very little that’s subtle about the music, but there isn’t supposed to be—the guitars, bass & drum are just coming straight at you. The lyrics are a trip, however, because here’s a tune that equates a cozy (?) gal friend with the most infamous of processed cheese foods—“All my friends keep telling me/’Frank you must be sick/How can you have fun with a gooey processed chick?’/But she’s much more than that/she’s got a heart of gold.” etc. A blast from the past. (The Mr. T Experience: Night Shift at the Thrill Factory: Lookout)
  • "Watermelon Man": OK, I know this tune has come up on another Robert Frost’s Banjo song list, but it’s just a great tune. Herbie Hancock apparently wrote "Watermelon Man" with an eye toward commercial success, which he gained, not from his own version on Takin’ Off, but from Mongo Santamaría’s version. Hancock said of the tune, “"I remember the cry of the watermelon man making the rounds through the back streets and alleys of Chicago. The wheels of his wagon beat out the rhythm on the cobblestones." Hancock also recorded a more funk-based version on his Head Hunters album. “Watermelon Man,” like a number of Thelonious Monk’s compositions, proves just how much you can do with a three-chord blues progression. (Herbie Hancock: The Essential Herbie Hancock: Sony)
  • “Would You Like To Have Something to Eat?”: I once made a passing reference to this song at an Alice in Wonder Band show, while introducing one of our own numbers—& heard at least one audience member register rather loud disgust. I realized after the fact that if you’ve never heard the Donner Party—a very fun San Francisco trio from the late 80s— the band name & song title might lead to a misunderstanding. The Donner Party was much in the tradition of Camper Van Beethoven or They Might Be Giants or Ed’s Redeeming Qualities—good clean fun. This is a cautionary tale about what will happen if you don’t eat the stuff mom tells you to. I have The Donner Party on a homemade tape (courtesy of Dani Leone); you can find this tune on the group’s Complete Recordings, but unfortunately this is a tough item to come by. (The Donner Party: Complete Recordings, 1987-1989: Innerstate)
  • “I Like Bananas Because They have No Bones”: OK, so why is this at the end of the list? Long story short: my multiplication skills were off the day I came up with the “final” list. I was lucky enough to get a Hoosier’s Hot Shots cd for Christmas, & I can’t recommend them too highly—at least if you like your typical vocal/guitar/banjo/bass/clarinet/Wabash washboard/slide whistle band. & I mean, Hezzie Trietsch could really play the slide whistle—full-on solos, fills, call & response with the clarinet; you have to hear it to believe it. “Cabbages & onions hurt my singing tones. I love bananas because they have no bones”—words for musicians to live by(?) Needless to say, these guys were a big inspiration to Spike Jones; & as with Spike & the City Slickers, the Hot Shots were hot musicians beyond all the comedy. (The Hoosier Hot Shots: Havin’ Fun with the Hoosier Hot Shots: Collectors’ Choice)

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