Tag Archives: Baja Marimba Band

On the patio at Ray’s Corner

We haven’t been to Ray’s Corner for a while, and tonight is an especially good time to go. My dad turned 86 today. (He’s good, thanks.)

Four years ago, he gave me his record collection. I sorted through it, picked out a few things I wanted and shipped the rest to the senior citizens center my brother was running at the time.

This might have been the first record I set aside. The Baja Marimba Band were peers and label mates of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in the mid- to late ’60s, cranking out a slightly more irreverent bunch of “south of the border” easy-listening instrumentals. Not quite lounge. More like patio.

This record is from 1965. I’ve written about it before. My brothers and I listened to this endlessly as kids. The pops and ticks and skips on Dad’s copy are testament to that. That I have two or three better copies of this record is testament to how deeply it is seared into my head.

While record digging, I often come across other records by the Baja Marimba Band. I look them over. Then I put them back, figuring there is no way they are going to be as good as than my dad’s record.

Until recently, that is. I came across a Baja Marimba Band record I’d never seen.

This record, from 1968, seemed promising.

As with most Baja Marimba Band records, it has a bunch of instrumental covers of contemporary pop and show tunes along with a couple of original compositions. Among the covers: Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Always Something There To Remind Me,” the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere” and the Turtles’ “Elenore.”

So I picked it up for 50 cents.

Then I put it on the turntable … and .. well … we won’t be sharing this record. Though I’d hoped otherwise, my hunch was right. It wasn’t as good as my dad’s record. Not even close.

But now I wonder … did I grow up with an exceptionally good record from 1965 or is my perception skewed, rendering it simply a guilty pleasure? Whatever. It’s part of the soundtrack of my life.

So, from Ray’s Corner, the apartment with the loud music, where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away, enjoy a couple of cuts from the only Baja Marimba Band record my dad owned and the only one I need.

“Juarez” and “Hecho En Mexico,” the Baja Marimba Band, from “Baja Marimba Band Rides Again,” 1965. It’s out of print, as is this 2001 best-of CD with “Juarez” on it.

Though Ray is hoisting a gin martini here, margaritas may better accompany these tunes. As always, you be the judge.

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Filed under June 2011, Sounds

The time of a life

We’ve not visited Ray’s Corner for a while — nor done much of anything else here on the blog — largely because we’ve been visiting the real Ray’s Corner quite a bit lately.

My dad, who is 85, has had some health problems in the six months since a minor accident ended his driving career. He increasingly grew short of breath over the summer.

Long story short, a few doctor visits, a few tests. Heart trouble. Last month, Dad had three stents put in to clear blocked arteries. He’s feeling better, but I do the driving and grocery shopping. Some of that used to be time for blogging, or for working out. So it goes.

Today, though, I was reminded of a time that might have been the best of my father’s 85 years.

In the summer of 1964, my parents were in their late 30s, with three young boys. I was 7. My brothers were 5 and 1. Dad and Mom felt confident enough about their lives that they bought their first house.

This house, in a quiet, leafy older neighborhood in Columbia, Missouri. They paid $18,000 for it (about $127,000 in today’s money).

Things were so good in the summer of 1964 that my parents also bought a new car, a 1964 Pontiac Catalina, midnight blue. They paid $2,500 for it (about $18,000 in today’s money).

Mom loved living in Missouri, just far enough away from her family in Wisconsin. She loved that house, too. I saw today that it’s for sale.

Save for the two large decks and some necessary updating, it sounds largely unchanged from when we lived there. “The 3 bedrooms are clustered,” the description reads, “perfect for a young family.”

That it was, for exactly one year.

Dad worked for Railway Express Agency, something like today’s UPS. The gig in Columbia, a college town always shipping or receiving packages, must have seemed such a sure thing in 1964.

But business depended heavily on passenger trains, which were dying out. As business dried up, REA cut jobs. It allowed workers with more seniority to take the jobs of those with less seniority.

In 1965, just a year after buying his dream home and his dream car, Dad was bumped from his job. That summer, they sold the house and moved back to Wisconsin, where Dad bumped someone else.

That house in Columbia was the only house my parents ever owned. Thereafter, they always rented.

That year, 1965, was when Dad stopped buying records. His collection, part of which is mine now, ends that abruptly. You see why.

This was one of Dad’s records. I still have it, but it’s in rough shape. We listened to it with him over and over.

Now, 45 years later, one of its songs seems to summon the hope and dreams, the loss and wistfulness of that time.

“Walk On By,” the Baja Marimba Band, from “Baja Marimba Band Rides Again,” 1965. It’s out of print (but I have four copies). The song, an instrumental cover of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David tune, is available on this greatest-hits compilation CD from 2001.

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Filed under November 2010, Sounds

Red, white and blue

Here’s some music for your Fourth of July party.

We have some red, some white, some blue, but no Greenwood.

Red.


“Red Hot,” Marcia Ball, from “Gatorhythms,” 1989.

Yes, she is. This is not the old rockabilly tune that was a hit for Billy Lee Riley and covered by Sleepy LaBeef. This swinging tune was written by country singer Lee Roy Parnell and Cris Moore.

White.

“A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” the Dells, from “Love is Blue,” 1969. It’s out of print. This tune is available on “The Best of the Dells,” an import CD released in 2001.

That 1969 LP from the fine Chicago group was chock full of covers, including Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” and a medley of Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.”

Blue.


“Blue Am I,” the Tri-Sax-Ual Soul Champs, from “Go Girl,” 1990. It’s out of print.

Two legends, both gone now, solo on this one. That’s Sil Austin on tenor sax and Snooks Eaglin on guitar. This CD brought together Austin, who played with Tiny Bradshaw back in the ’50s, with fellow R&B sax great Grady “Fats” Jackson, who played with Elmore James and LIttle Walter. They were joined by Mark Kazanoff, a fixture on the music scene in Austin, Texas, at the time. It was their only album.

And now some real American music!

“Red Rose,” the Blasters, from “Non Fiction,” 1983. Long out of print …

“Long White Cadillac,” the Blasters, from “Non Fiction,” 1983.  … it’s being reissued on CD next week.

“Blue Shadows,” the Blasters, from “Streets Of Fire” soundtrack, 1984. (Please excuse the skip about 20 seconds in.)

Ah, the Blasters. You really had to have seen them live. They were something. I don’t play their stuff too much these days. It’s all seared into my head from back then.

And now something for after all the fireworks have gone out.

“Red Roses For A Blue Lady,” Baja Marimba Band, from “Baja Marimba Band Rides Again,” 1965. It’s out of print.

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Filed under July 2010, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 2

That I found this record a couple of months ago at my favorite record store of all time — Inner Sleeve Records in Wausau, Wisconsin — was simply icing on the Christmas cookie.

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“Something Festive!” is a Christmas sampler from A&M Records. It was sold at B.F. Goodrich tire dealers in 1968.

It’s eclectic, to say the least. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass are on it, as are Julius Wechter and the Baja Marimba Band. But so are Liza Minnelli (singing “Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy”) and Claudine Longet (covering Randy Newman’s “Snow.”)

Here, then, are three from “Something Festive!”

“It’s The Most Wonderful Time,” by Pete Jolly. This is a cool, stylish, upbeat rendition by the jazz pianist from California. I’d never heard it before, and it’s great. It’s the best cut on the album. (You’ll also find this cut on “Cool Yule: The Swinging Sound of Christmas,” a UK compilation released in 2004.)

“Partridge in a Pear Tree,” by Julius Wechter and the Baja Marimba Band. An instrumental version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” The finish goes over the top, but after hearing those mellow vibes and marimbas, does it matter? (You’ll also find this cut on “For Animals Only,” the BMB’s third album, released in 1965. It’s out of print.)

“Jingle Bell Rock,” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I’m not a big fan of this Christmas tune, but I like this arrangement. Its big finish sounds suited to a strip club. (You’ll also find this cut on the TJB’s “Christmas Album,” also released in 1968. It’s out of print.)

“Something Festive!” is long out of print but can be found on eBay.

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Filed under Christmas music, November 2008, Sounds

Dad, Dionne and me

As Dionne Warwick’s show drew near earlier today, I found myself with an extra ticket. I’d hoped to go with the lovely Janet, but she begged off because of too much work.

So I took my dad instead. I figured he’d enjoy it.

This is a man who watched virtually every TV variety show on the air in the ’60s and ’70s, when Dionne Warwick, by then an established pop star, was seen regularly on those shows. I know, because I remember seeing her. I was certain Dad knew who Dionne Warwick was. Apparently not. That, and it took him half the show to get his hearing aid adjusted to get the sound just right. Ah, well, so it goes.

Dionne Warwick is a lovely 67, and still in fine voice. Neither seems to have aged much, if at all. She is one of America’s pop icons, a national treasure, yet seems to be considerably underappreciated. (Even by me. I have exactly two Dionne Warwick tunes in my collection, yet I know a couple dozen.)

In a show that lasted little more than an hour, she sang almost everything you’d hope to hear. She reinterpreted two familiar tunes — “I Say A Little Prayer” and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” — with new, Latin-flavored arrangements and new phrasing. They sounded just fine.

I would have liked to hear “Then Came You,” her 1974 hit with the Spinners. However, she reportedly didn’t care much for the tune when they cut it. As far as I’m concerned, though, everything that followed her second song was gravy. That song?

“Walk On By,” Dionne Warwick, 1964 single. Available on “Walk On By: The Definitive Dionne Warwick Collection,” a two-CD, 40-track import released in 2000.

Why I dig it so much is not so much about Warwick as it is about an album that once belonged to Dad and now belongs to me. As I’ve written before, I played the bejeezus out of the following LP when I was a kid. This instrumental was my introduction to “Walk On By.”

“Walk On By,” the Baja Marimba Band, from “Baja Marimba Band Rides Again,” 1965. Out of print. (Happily, I found another copy of the album last month.)

Here’s another take, one I only recently came across. Burt Bacharach and Hal David interpreted by Motown producer Norman Whitfield.

“Walk On By,” Undisputed Truth, from “Law of the Land,” 1973. Out of print.

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Filed under May 2008, Sounds

We’re back at Ray’s Corner

It’s been a while since we took a spin through my dad’s record collection, which today got a little smaller.

After I went through Dad’s vinyl last month, picking out some goodies, he offered to donate the leftovers to the senior citizen center my brother supervises. So Jim drove over today and took all the rest of Dad’s albums.

For lack of a better word, Dad’s collection seems to poop out about the mid-’60s. I’m guessing that’s when money became tight, what with three boys to raise on a rather modest income. Either that, or his record money went into the camper he built with my uncle.

But in 1965, when he was 40, Dad picked up a couple of albums that became my favorites.

One was “Going Places” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. That has a couple of goodies — particularly “Spanish Flea,” the tune used on “The Dating Game.”

On the other, the Baja Marimba Band delivered a bunch of sweet, swinging instrumentals on “The Baja Marimba Band Rides Again.”

You know Herb Alpert, but you may not know Julius Wechter, who led the Baja Marimba Band. I can’t tell his story any better than the following, found on the Julius Wechter and the Baja Marimba Band page at A&M Corner, a fan’s guide to vintage recordings on the A&M label.

Back in 1962, Herb Alpert contacted Julius Wechter to play on his first Tijuana Brass recording, “The Lonely Bull.” Julius hardly knew Herb at the time, and was paid $15 for his session. Shortly thereafter, this chance meeting turned into a successful recording career. Hot on the success of the first Tijuana Brass albums, Julius Wechter was offered the chance to record his own music on the newly-formed A&M Records. His creation was the Baja Marimba Band, which went on to record 11 original albums for A&M Records throughout the 1960s and tour America with Herb and his Tijuana Brass organization. While the first Baja albums were rooted heavily in Mexican soundscapes (even more so than Tijuana Brass recordings), the music evolved into jazz, MOR, samba, Dixieland and even novelty settings. Above all, Wechter’s virtuoso marimba and vibraphone playing would be the highlight of each song he would record.

Wechter, who died in 1999, was a well-regarded session player on the West Coast before he hooked up with Alpert. Even while he led the Baja Marimba Band, Wechter played on and wrote for Alpert’s records and on other A&M records.

The perception lingers that the Baja Marimba Band was the B team to the Tijuana Brass’ A team. Well, only if you go by the number of hit records. Listen, though, and you hear some similarly gifted musicians and some inspired music.

“Rides Again” was the Baja Marimba Band’s second album, and it indeed had a strong Mexican flavor wrapped into its California cool. It’s fresh, not cliched. Wechter did the arrangements with Alpert, wrote five of the 12 cuts on the album and fronted a group of studio musicians. (The Baja Marimba Band didn’t have a regular group of members until the fourth album.)

Mixed in with Wechter’s originals are some interesting covers, including “Walk On By,” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and “More,” by Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero from the soundtrack to “Mondo Cane.” My all-time favorite, at least as a kid, was their cover of “The Woody Woodpecker Song,” from the old cartoon.

Simply put, I played the living shit out of this album when I was a kid. You’ll be able to tell when you hear the rips. Pops, scratches, even the occasional skip. But until I find a new copy or have more time to run it through the audio software, it’ll have to do.

So, from Ray’s Corner, the apartment with the loud music, where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away, enjoy. Both of these cuts were written by Julius Wechter.

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“Guacamole” and “Majorca,” the Baja Marimba Band, from “The Baja Marimba Band Rides Again,” 1965. It’s out of print.

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Filed under September 2007, Sounds