Tag Archives: 1959

Merry Christmas, hip cats!

edd byrnes

This used to be the place where you could find all kinds of Christmas music come this time of year. If you’re disappointed that it no longer is, well, sorry/not sorry. It just isn’t my cup of tea anymore.

That said, here’s a fun little story about a Christmas record. This one.

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Seeing the cool cover, I dug it out of a dollar bin at one of my favorite record stores several years ago. But I didn’t look at it closely, and when I got it home, I found there was another Christmas record inside. That record did not have 13 great Christmas favorites sung by Warner Bros. stars.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago. While digging through the crates at a record show, I found this record again. This time, it has the right record inside. My friend Scott says it’s mine for half-price, which is fine.

Tonight, as Christmas draws near, enjoy what all the cool TV watchers enjoyed at Christmas 1959. Warner Bros. had hauled the stars of some its TV productions into a recording studio and cut “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” for its year-old record label.

So, that guy at the top, at the top of the tree? That’s Edd Byrnes. In 1959, he was just about the hottest thing on TV. He played Kookie, a real cool cat, on “77 Sunset Strip,” a detective show set in Los Angeles. His Christmas song is “Yulesville,” a mashup of jazz and noir and Christmas and hipster jive patter.

That said, “Yulesville” is really the only the thing that veers into novelty on this record.

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Long forgotten is “Bourbon Street Beat,” a detective show set in New Orleans that lasted just one season. One of its supporting players, Eddie Cole, is featured here with a swinging take on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” Cole has the chops. His younger brother? Jazz singer Nat King Cole.

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If I tell you Robert Conrad also sings “White Christmas” on this record, you might think of anything from “The Wild Wild West” to “Baa Baa Black Sheep” to those old Eveready battery commercials, then you might smirk and scoff. But Conrad, who in 1959 was one of the stars of “Hawaiian Eye,” a detective show set in Honolulu, does a nice job. He also was a singer before turning fully to acting.

The guy sitting next to him is Poncie Ponce, a Hawaiian actor who played a cab driver on the show. He parlayed his role in the popular show into a modest music career in the early ’60s. His song on this record? “Mele Kalikimaka,” of course.

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Long before he was the fifth Bond, James Bond, even before he was the first Bret Maverick, Roger Moore starred in “The Alaskans,” a forgotten Western that lasted only one season. Thus, he’s featured here. Moore gives an elegant reading of “Once In Royal David’s City.”

A Christmas Yuleblog, which went dark four Christmases ago, wrote lovingly about this record in 2008. It also features Warner Bros. actors Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Connie Stevens, Peter Brown, Ray Danton, Dorothy Provine, Clint Walker and Ty Hardin.

“We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” from 1959, is long out of print.

Looking for more Christmas music? Search our posts from previous Decembers. Much of that music is still up.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2015, Sounds

A birthday at Ray’s Corner

Ray turned 84 today.

You know Ray. He’s my dad, the guy who lives at Ray’s Corner, the apartment with the loud music, and the place where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away.

When my dad gave away his record collection a couple of years ago, I got first dibs. One of the records I kept was this one:

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“Time Out,” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, from 1959. Dad played it often when we were kids.

Turns out this record is celebrating a birthday, too. It was recorded 50 years ago this summer. NPR’s “All Things Considered” had a nice piece about it last week.

Though this album came out in 1959, its biggest splash came two years later, when “Take Five” became the first million-selling jazz single on the Billboard charts.

They must have played it on the radio at the time, because I couldn’t otherwise begin to imagine where Dad, then in his mid-30s, might have heard “Take Five” and dug it enough to buy the album. At the time, we were living in Ironwood, Michigan, an all-but-played-out iron mining town not far from Lake Superior in the most distant corner of the Upper Peninsula.

“Time Out” was, and is, notable for experimenting with time signatures other than 4/4. Here’s what the liner notes say about “Take Five,” which was composed by sax player Paul Desmond, one of Brubeck’s longtime collaborators:

“‘Take Five’ is a Desmond composition in 5/4, one of the most defiant signatures in all music, for performer and listener alike. Conscious of how easily the listener can lose his way in a quintuple rhythm, Dave plays a constant vamp figure throughout, maintaining it even under Joe Morello’s drum solo. It is interesting to notice how Morello gradually releases himself from the rigidity of the 5/4 pulse, creating intricate and often startling counter-patterns over the piano figure. And contrary to any normal expectations — perhaps even the composer’s! — ‘Take Five’ really swings.”

OK, class dismissed. Time to dig it.

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“Take Five,” the Dave Brubeck Quartet, from “Time Out,” 1959.

Here’s a cover, one that uses the Brubeck original as a jumping-off point for a stone funk arrangement full of horns and wah-wah guitar. Probably not Dad’s thing, but I like it.

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“Take Five, the Kashmere Stage Band, from “Texas Thunder Soul, 1968-1974,” 2006. Remembering the sizzling high school band that came straight outta Houston.

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Filed under June 2009, Sounds

Winter Dance Party

Once a year for the past decade, our town — Green Bay, Wisconsin — has stepped forward to reclaim its place in rock ‘n’ roll history. This year, that night was Friday night. The place, as always, the historic Riverside Ballroom.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Winter Dance Party. That was the early rock ‘n’ roll tour that became legend when a small plane crashed in a corn field northwest of Clear Lake, Iowa, killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) and their pilot, Roger Peterson.

The tour’s second-to-last stop was at the Riverside in Green Bay, on Sunday night, Feb. 1, 1959.

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For the past 10 years, they’ve revived the Winter Dance Party at the Riverside. A musician named John Mueller plays Holly. A musician named Ray Anthony plays Valens. The Big Bopper is played by his son, Jay Richardson, who was born two months after his father’s death. They’re backed by a four-piece band. It’s the best tribute show I’ve seen.

The revival plays some of the other original venues, but its stars say there is no place like Green Bay.

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The Riverside was sold out well in advance, with more than 1,000 people — many of them getting up there in years — packing the place.

Twice as many people were there in 1959, but back then, everyone was younger, and everyone stood. These days, not everyone can stand for a show that runs three hours plus. So they set up long banquet tables at the back of the big room. Only the young, and the young at heart, stood at the front of the stage.

There usually are special guests. This year, one was Bob Morales, the older half-brother of Ritchie Valens. Bob Morales is in his 70s, but he’s still a badass. He wore biker leathers and boots and was rocking a white Fu Manchu mustache. When he took off his black cowboy hat, he was rocking a wispy white Mohawk with a ponytail.

During the first intermission, they introduced some more special guests — 40 or so people who were at the Riverside for the original Winter Dance Party show 50 years ago.

A local gent, improbably named Jim Morrison, also was there 50 years ago. He was back at the Riverside on Friday night as one of the emcees. As he introduced the show, he mentioned “American Pie,” the 1971 song in which Don McLean recalled Feb. 3, 1959 — the day of the crash — as “the day the music died.”

“He was wrong,” Morrison said. “Three gentlemen died, but the music will never die.”

Not as long as Green Bay remembers its place in rock ‘n’ roll history.

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“Come On Let’s Go,” Ritchie Valens, from “Ritchie Valens,” 1959. (Re-released on Rhino Records in 1987. This is what I have.)

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“Maybe Baby,” Buddy Holly, 1958 …

“Chantilly Lace,” the Big Bopper, 1958 …

Both from the “American Graffiti” original soundtrack, 1973.

And one more …

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“Maria Elena,” the Smithereens, 1990, from “Attack of the Smithereens,” 1995. It’s out of print.

This tune is the B side to the cassette single of “Blues Before and After,” released 19 years ago today, Jan. 24, 1990.

From Pat DiNizio’s liner notes: “The full band version appears on the third album ‘Smithereens Eleven,’ but this version is how I heard the song in my head originally, just acoustic guitar, accordion and vocal. Lyrically about Buddy Holly’s widow Maria Elena Diaz.”

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Filed under January 2009, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 15

As we swing into the third week of this series, the sun is out in our corner of Wisconsin. It feels good on your face as you step out of the car. Hey, it’s a relatively balmy 25 degrees.

But that’s nothing compared to Christmas in Hawai’i, where we’re finding today’s three under the palm trees.

We served up a cut from Arthur Lyman’s “With A Christmas Vibe” the other day. From the liner notes to that 1959 album:

“The 50th state lends its own distinctive twists to the season, warmly spicing the festivities with a tropical clime and an exotic flair. Santa surfs past Diamond Head; hostesses wrap red and green leis around your neck; mai-tais are swizzled with sticks of Rudolph and kin; palm trees sway, festooned with ornaments, and Arthur Lyman and the boys send out holiday vibes way after the last rays of the Christmas sun have ruffled the horizon.”

We’ll start with Lyman, a native Hawai’ian who from the ’50s to the ’70s cranked out a form of jazz that came to be known as exotica, then lounge.

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“We Three Kings,” Arthur Lyman, from “With A Christmas Vibe,” 1959. The album originally was released as “Mele Kalikimaka.”

This odd version, heavy on percussion, suggests the three kings in transit. There’s just a small slice of the familiar tune.

We’ll finish up with some more authentic Hawai’ian music.

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“Ho’onani I Ka Hale (Deck the Halls)” and “Dear St. Nick,” Eddie Kamae and the Sons of Hawai’i, from “Christmas Time with Eddie Kamae and the Sons of Hawai’i,” 1978.

I don’t know much about Hawai’ian music. However, I received this CD some years ago from my friend Conan, who lives in Hawai’i and either ran a record store or worked at one. Conan has excellent taste.

Eddie Kamae and the Sons of Hawai’i are cultural legends in their home state. Kamae, a ukelele player, got together with slack-key guitarist Gabby Pahinui, steel guitarist David “Feet” Rogers and bassist Joe Marshall in 1960 to play traditional Hawai’ian folk music. The Sons went through a variety of lneups until Kamae retired in 1992 to become a filmmaker, focusing on Hawai’ian culture.

Rogers has the slack-key steel solo on “Ho’onani I Ka Hale (Deck The Halls),” which blends traditional Hawai’ian music with the tune you know.

“Dear St. Nick” is a pleasant little original written — and I think sung — by Dennis Kamakahi, who wrote many of the Sons’ songs from the late ’70s on.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 13

Well, we wound up with only 8 inches of snow, but it still looks like a winter wonderland out there. Even if it meant shoveling twice in one day.

Yesterday, we served up three versions of “Winter Wonderland” with vocals. Today, we have three instrumental versions.

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“Winter Wonderland,” Arthur Lyman, from “With A Christmas Vibe,” 1959.

Vibes, bass, piano and bongos rule the day. This is a laid-back bit of Hawai’ian lounge/exotica from the master, accompanied by Harold Chang, John Kramer and Allan Soares. This classic was re-released on CD in 1996, at the height of the lounge wave. Its original title was “Mele Kalikimaka.”

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“Winter Wonderland,” Ramsey Lewis Trio, from “Sound of Christmas,” 1961.

Lewis’ sprightly jazz piano drives this version, complemented nicely and subtly by El Dee Young on bass and Red Holt on drums. This classic was re-released on CD in 2004.

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“Winter Wonderland,” Reverend Horton Heat, from “We Three Kings,” 2005.

Some sweet roadhouse piano drives this version, though there is plenty of raved-up and rockin’ guitar work by Jim Heath. The liner notes don’t mention the keyboard player, though.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 10

Today, we’re driving across Wisconsin’s winter wonderland, heading to a wedding. My dad will be with us, and it seems appropriate to see what Christmas sounds like at Ray’s Corner.

If you’re a regular visitor around these parts, you know we occasionally stop at Ray’s Corner and borrow tunes from Dad’s collection. Ray’s Corner, of course, is the apartment where the music is loud and where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away.

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“Winter Wonderland,” Dean Martin, 1959, available on “Christmas With Dino,” 2006, and “Season’s Greetings from Dean Martin,” 1992.

Dad digs Dino, and I generally do, too. However, I’m not a huge fan of Dino’s many Christmas songs. This one’s a keeper, though.

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“Jingle Bells,” Duke Ellington, 1962, from “Jingle Bell Jazz,” 1974. (This CD, released in 1985, combines cuts from the 1974 album “Jingle Bell Jazz” and the 1981 album “God Rest Ye Merry Jazzmen.”)

This cut starts slowly, then picks up the pace when the 12-piece horn section jumps in. That, of course, is Billy Strayhorn on the piano. Recorded in New York City on June 21, 1962. (I turned 5 years old that day.)

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“Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra, 1950, from “Santa Claus Blues,” 1988. It’s out of print, but it looks like Amazon has an mp3 available from another compilation record.

The liner notes on this cut say only that it was recorded in 1950, but I’m guessing it comes from a session on Oct. 27, 1950. I have a Hampton cut from that session on another Christmas album. That’s likely Sonny Parker on the vocals. Mind you, this was 58 years ago, and he’s singing “rock, rock, rock, Mr. Santa.” There also are terrific trumpet and sax charts on this one, along with a little taste of Hamp’s vibes.

“Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” was an R&B hit for Mabel Scott in 1948. The next year, she married her pianist, Charles Brown, who had hits with “Merry Christmas Baby” in 1947 and “Please Come Home for Christmas” in 1960. Alas, they stayed together for only a short time, and Scott eventually went back to her original love, gospel music.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

The man behind the theme

You may not know his name, but you know his songs. Earle Hagen composed some of the most recognizable instrumentals of the 20th century.

Hagen, who was 88 when he died Monday in California, wrote the themes to these 1960s TV shows, each expressing the essence of the show and its setting in less than a minute:

“The Andy Griffith Show,” 1960-68. Everyone knows this one. Everyone loves this one. Whistle along as you head out to the country.

“The Dick Van Dyke Show,” 1961-66. The sophistication of TV’s early days. Tom over at One Poor Correspondent offers some background on the opening segments that accompanied this tune, all involving Van Dyke navigating that pesky ottoman.

“Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” 1964-69. A clever riff on military marches.

“I Spy,” 1965-68. Hagen works gunfire and explosions into the middle of this classic bit of post-007 secret agent music.

“That Girl,” 1966-71. One of Hagen’s best themes, perfectly fitting a young Marlo Thomas’ wide-eyed, innocent romp around late-’60s Manhattan as the show opens.

“The Mod Squad,” 1968-73.

Andrew over at Armagideon Time had this great line about this theme last summer:

“If this tune doesn’t instill an irrational desire to chase a cheap hood down a dirty alleyway (that oddly resembles a studio backlot) full of empty cardboard boxes then there’s something seriously wrong with you.”

I learned Earle Hagen’s name long ago, seeing it almost every night in the credits. My dad loved — and still loves — TV sitcoms, and we watched all those mentioned above.

Hagen also wrote one of the classic jazz instrumentals, “Harlem Nocturne,” while playing the trombone for the Ray Noble Orchestra in 1939.

DJ Little Danny over at Office Naps wrote about this tune in his last post before heading back to school and offered a Latin version of it. (Go get it!)

Here’s the most familiar version of the moody “Harlem Nocturne,” done by the Viscounts in 1959. Don’t know where I got this from, but thanks to whoever put it out there last summer.

(For 41 other versions of “Harlem Nocturne,” check out Clinton’s post over at WFMU’s Beware of the Blog.)

I’ve touched only on the most familiar aspects of Hagen’s career. The Los Angeles Times’ terrific appreciation of Hagen’s work is a must-read.

All of the Hagen TV themes are from “Television’s Greatest Hits” and “Television’s Greatest Hits, Volume II,” which appear to be out of print on CD. Those rips are from my vinyl LPs, released in 1985 and 1986, respectively.

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Filed under May 2008, Sounds