Rock's Backpages Writers' Blogs » Fred Dellar Rock reviews, rock articles & rock interviews from the Ultimate Rock'n'Roll Library Sun, 19 May 2013 03:11:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 sepian thoughts – the other side of copyright Mon, 27 Apr 2009 12:08:51 +0000 Fred Dellar SEPIAN THOUGHTS – THE OTHER SIDE OF COPYRIGHT

Richard Tay’s office is an aural museum of the impressive kind. Many hundreds of old 78 rpm shellac discs plus vinyl long-players from the ‘50s litter his shelves and gangways. Predictably, as the owner of Sepia Records, one of Britain’s leading reissue labels and a prime mover in the field of rare original cast recordings, his attitude to the subject of out of copyright recordings differs to those of the British Phonographic Institute and those it represents.
“Most of the CDS that Sepia releases are out-of-copyright and contain music that was first released over 50 years ago”, he explains, acknowledging that, as British law stands, the artists and companies that made the original records now have no monetary claim on his reissues.
“It’s always going to be a thorny issue” he admits, “We’re talking about money here, the fact that some artists regard royalties from their old recordings as part of their pension.
I appreciate that, I believe that if anyone has worked hard they should benefit from their labour. But I’m coming from being a lover of a particular kind of music and the need to preserve it. Most major labels are concentrating on reissues by such as Elvis Presley or others whose records are guaranteed to sell, whatever their age. But there are also many recordings that can only sell maybe a thousand units worldwide. And I know, having worked for major labels in the past, that they’re not in the least interested in those. Releasing such records can be expensive – putting out a CD that sells just one or two thousand copies is not going to make money for majors. Much of the time I’m putting out records that they, never in a million years, want to put out themselves.”
On Tay’s desk are copies of original cast CDs that have have won Sepia friends among those who love musicals – the 1956 London version of Grab Me Gondola, starring Joan Heal and Denis Quilley: Free As Air, a Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds show that opened at the Savoy during 1954: plus the soundtrack to London Town,a 1946 J Arthur Rank film hailed as the first big-budget Technicolour production to be made in Britain.
He gazes at them and muses: “I’d love to work in tandem with major labels in a way that we complement each other. I want to say ‘I’m not treading on your toes’. I’m not into challenging them or competing with them – I’m just releasing records that ensures that the consumer ultimately has a choice.”
Though those who have profited from releasing from out-of- copyright reissues are often viewed as money-seeking opportunists, Tay has become something of a hero with those who adore the sounds of yesterday.
“Some of my releases are personal ambitions – records I used to dream about and those that formed a hit list, things that needed to be rediscovered, needed to be heard. This is why I’ve always worked closely with a network of music lovers. They inform me of recordings I’m not aware of, or maybe just suggest things.
For instance when I thought about putting out a London Cast recording of The Jazz Train, they helped enormously. I knew that there were four sides released on two 78’s that I’d found. What I didn’t realise was that there were many recordings of the period made by American black performers who, because they couldn’t make a living in their own country, they would come here and work in a show or at nightclubs. Companies like Decca and EMI would take them into studios and then produce
records by such as Elisabeth Welch, who chose to remain here, or Marie Bryant, who returned home again. I didn’t know about these recordings, presumably because they didn’t sell well. It was record collectors who informed me that these were available and would make good bonus tracks.”
Though Tay sparked Sepia into original cast life via records that had guaranteed sales -“In the first year, I did Rodgers And Hammerstein In London, which was a compilation featuring West End cast recordings of South Pacifc, Oklahoma and Carousel “ – he’s never forgotten to dig for real rarities.
“The oldest recordings I’ve used stem from the ‘20s, two sides from Peter Pan performed by J.H.Squire’s Celeste Octet. They formed part of a CD titled One Hundred Years Of Peter Pan,
that also included six tracks recorded by HMV just before the second world war featuring Jean Forbes-Robertson, who’d been playing the role of Peter for years, along with Dinah Sheridan who was Wendy.”
Thoughts of releasing such old material reminds Richard Tay of talks with some of the artists whose material he’s re-released.
“They tell me that contracts were often very different in their day. Some of the artists whose records have appeared on Sepia are performers who were paid five pounds for a recording session and then never heard from their record companies again. Additionally there have been many cases where the record labels have disappeared. So even if they did have contracts that allowed them some payment for the next 10 or 15 years, how could they apply to get the money?”
Meanwhile, Tay’s continuing to live his dream, record collectors are still able to obtain CDs that the major labels would never dream of thrusting their way and few record labels and artists, if any, are really missing out on payments. So is everybody happy?
Not quite.
Tay picks up a copy of Once Upon A Time, a Julie Andrews compilation that commences with a track made when she was 12 years old and appearing at Val Parnell’s Starlight Roof show at the London Hippodrome in 1948.”
“I hear Julie is not too happy with this release,” he admits. Then gives a sigh.

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Liner Notes – Recollections of a dying art Fri, 17 Apr 2009 17:54:16 +0000 Fred Dellar Continue reading ]]> LINER NOTES – RECOLLECTIONS OF A DYING ART

During the late ‘60s I received a fee of seven pounds for supplying my first sleeve note – one that adorned Dizzy Gillespie’s Jambo Caribe . I rang the record company office and requested a copy of the record only to be told “If you get paid, you don’t have the album as well!” Since then, I’ve penned in excess of 200 liner notes. This piece is about those who have more famously contributed to the genre
Long may they grab Grammys.

During 1967, visitors to producer Lenny Waronker’s office at Warner Brothers were confronted by a pencil-printed sign hung under the cover of the first Harpers Bizarre album, which was stuck his wall.
The sign, according to Stan Cornyn, who fashioned the group’s sleeve notes, read ‘The Harpers Bizarre Are Not Cute’.
“Apparently not,” Cornyn mused “Since they first began Feelin’ Groovy, Dick Scoppetton has had his brown locks trimmed to terrier length by some US Army clown posing as a barber. Wise-up time. Ted Templeman, whose blonde hair falls over his head like the skin of a peeled banana, has travelled from his native Santa Cruz , California all the way to Harper’s Bazaar just to get himself laid out in the magazine. He did. Their producer, Lenny Waronker, just turned 26, has added a hand-carved 14” wood nude to his desk top and now takes long weekends in Palm Springs to get his lungs going again.”
All part of Cornyn’s note for the group’s Anything Goes album, typically zonked out. But fun to be with. Kinda hippy-speak, hippy-chic. Another reason why, along with The Beatles and Tiny Tim, the ‘60s stay remembered.
It wasn’t always that way.
The fun started in 1948, when US Columbia began marketing 33 rpm microgroove recordings. RCA opted to do their own thing and released 45 rpm singles, while EMI in Britain claimed “It’ll never fly” and refused to have anything to do with the whole caboodle until October, 1952. It was then, initially left to Columbia to decide how their long-playing goodies should be wrapped. The first appeared in decorated paper bags but this idea was soon ditched and more substantial sleeves were hastily rushed into service. The front sleeve presented no problem, a photograph of the artist concerned, or a cheapskate bit of artwork accompanied by the name of the album, usually sufficed. But the back sleeve posed more of a problem. It couldn’t be left blank. And a further array of artwork seemed excessive. “Eureka” yelled one inspired employee in Columbia’s New York office. “We’ll pay someone to inform record-buyers just how great an album they’re perusing.” Happy birthday, sleeve-note!
Such notes initially fell into one of two categories – the “this is Doris Day’s third album and its even more wonderful than the other two” kind – or the terribly informative, hang-on-to-your-encyclopaedia type of thing. Jazz buffs adored the latter. Dates of sessions, who played the 15 different solos on a record, how Diz tilted his horn. God, it was wonderful.
Those who dispensed Grammys at each year’s end thought so too. When the first plaudit was handed out in the Best Album Notes category, in 1963, it was British-born writers Stanley Dance and Leonard Feather who were acclaimed kings of the back-sleeve for a scholarly dissertation that bedecked RCA’s The Ellington Era. Pure pop was not considered worthy of consideration in the category.
When Stan Cornyn heated up his typewriter for action, he was hardly welcomed by the masses. Fans didn’t like what he wrote. He lacked respect for hard-core information. It mattered little if Sinatra had the hottest jazzmen in the world sitting in on dates or if he was recording his 57th Gershwin item. Cornyn just didn’t see things in terms of solid facts. As Reprise’s prime annotator he thought in terms of flow. Words that entertained. If he informed, it was in his own freefall way. Nancy Sinatra came described as “Ninety-five pounds of affection. She’s been there already. Barely in her twenties, she looks younger.That look, like Lolita Humbert like Daisy Clover. A young fragile thing, on its own in a wondrous-wicked-woundup-wasted-wild-worried-wisedup-warmbodied world.” It was almost Gonzoid.
Somebody loved Cornyn. Frank Sinatra especially
So much so that Stan became a regular on the back of Sinatra albums. It proved a healthy arrangment. Especially at Grammy time. At the 1965 Awards, Cornyn won Best Album Notes for his contribution to Frank’s September Of My Years. The following year he picked up the plaudit yet again – this time for Sinatra At The Sands. Sinatra was exceedingly chuffed to have his name connected with any Grammys that were going. And Cornyn didn’t mind at all. Even if his masterpiece – his literary contribution to Happiness Is Dean Martin, didn’t get a nod.
He contended that what Dean dispensed was Epic Sloth, “Kind of half-eyed looking out at you, grinning “Hi ya pally” like he hopes you haven’t got anything heavy on your mind.” Not that Martin took it that easy, Cornyn mused. Dino never got where he was by just sitting around “trying to make spaghetti look tense.”
How Cornyn felt when the non-professionals moved in has never been revealed.
Non-professionals that is, like Johnny Cash and Tom T.Hall, country-folk both.
J.R. Cash, who’s always had a way with words opted to become the Man in Blank Verse for the note to Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, claiming, in a poem titled Of Bob Dylan that “There are those who do not imitate/Who cannot imitate/But then there are those who emulte/At times, to expand further the light/Of an original glow/Knowing that to imitate the living/Is mockery/And to imitate the dead/Is robbery.
In all, Cash contributed just 45 lines, concluding “Here-in is a hell of a poet/And lots of other things/And lots of other things.”
Though the poem was dedicated to Dylan, it could have been about Cash himself.
As a sleeve note, the piece outclassed anything else that the record industry could deliver that year. And, come Grammy time, Johnny Cash stepped up not only to receive an award for Best Country Vocal Performance for A Boy Named Sue but also hung around to be acclaimed Best Album Annotator for the second year in succession, having already received a similar accolade for his note to the Johnny Cash Live At Folsom Prison during 1968. Not that he was the first country star to be hailed
for his liner writing ability. During 1967 John D Loudermilk raised a cheer that could be heard all the way back in Nashville, when was acclaimed Best Sleeve Note writer for his efforts on his own Suburban Attitudes In Country Verse. Three years in a row for country. Music City suddenly seemed like the centre of popular music’s literary universe. However, in the wake of Nashville’s best storyteller, Tom T, Hall Grammy-grabbing for annotating his own Greatest Hits album during 1972, homespun was dunked. From that point on, with a couple of exceptions, things swung the way of the studious, the great life-studies. Book-fillers all. Perhaps Hall’s effort had been prompted by the note Bill Littleton had drafted for Tom T.’s In Search Of A Song album, the previous year. Wrote Littleton: “I went with Tom to write this liner note and, just by chance, took a small camera. The pictures tell more than words could so, in support of the old saying that one picture is worth a thousand words, I hereby submit this as a sixteen thousand and sixty-one word liner” Explaining, perhaps, the series of dodgy snaps that decorated the back sleeve.
Perhaps the judges came out in sympathy for Pete Hammill, who fashioned the note for Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks. A wordy affair, his literary effort was made almost unreadable by Columbia’s choice of minute size print that was made all the more indecipherable by being set against a a dark reddish-brown backdrop. Hammill’s own opening phrases didn’t exactly endear him to the average back-of-cover reader.
“In the end, the plague touched us all. It was not confined to the Oran of Camus,” he mused in best Tarantula mode. Part pretentious, but never lacking passion, the Hammill note somehow complemented David Oppenheim’s accompanying illustration perfectly. Which is why Hamill’s offering out-pointed Tom T Hall’s note for his Greatest Hits Volume 2 album, plus Ralph J Gleason’s jottings for The Real Lenny Bruce in 1975.
Rarely has there been a year when a jazz album, or maybe two, hasn’t garnered an award nomination. Certainly there has been no shortage of fine jazz writers, though in the beginning it was generally thought that those who handed out such plaudits considered jazz to be dangerous, yet, at the same time, respectable. Length has also played a part. Providing a virtual tome for an all-encompassing Ellington box-set or an epic Smithsonian blues collection still impresses.
Hardly surprising in a CD age when notes hardly get room to breath amid on a normal pop issue where buyers have to virtually squint in order to discern cover art details.
So does anybody really care anymore ?
Amazingly someone does. None more so than those who contribute to the online Liner Notes Preservation Society. The Society’s site is a thing of wonder. Where backsleeve chunks of garbage meet shards of genius and the wonders of notes providers of albums by Big Black Damned, Prince Buster, The Who, and Marilyn Manson are provided with space alongside those stemming from releases by the 13th Floor Eelvators and Donovan, whose Sunshine Superman regales us with such thoughts as “Sunshine super duper: a collapsed I am a child affair no less: the legend of the girl child: a tale for ageing children. Twelve kingfishers: dive – a flash of turquoise – brilliant into the pool (summer – dono-leitcho’s island)…etc”
What does it all mean? the LNPS ask. And who can blame them?
It’s the LNPS who have discovered the cuckoo note – the one that flies in and takes over when no-one is really watching. Such a note appears on an album that is attributed to Perez Prado but bears the seemingly innocent title addition – “and Other Latin American Favourites”. Anyone hoping to learn more about the Mambo King might be somewhat surprised when the liner note turns instead to the subject of Latin Rhythms leader Eddie Maynard , who will apparentlyarise from nowhere amid a speck of light to make great impact upon the Earth and all who dwell therein!
There are a zillion other tales to be read in the naked city of liner notes. Like those involving lyricist Johnny Mercer, who, when providing a note for the Bobby Troup Sings Mercer album opted to write the whole caboodle in verse. Or Miles Davis turning writer and providing a note for his Jack Johnson album because the boxer’s story so inspired him. Perhaps too a mention of myriad record company inefficiencies regarding sleeve-note production – one writer was amazed to find that
his originally error-free creation had acquired a no less than score of mis-spellings along the way, the phrase “ a Basie-like accompaniment” being translated into a “Bassey-like” one amid the literary mayhem, while Glenn Miller’s American Patrol was transformed into African Petrol.
Liner note writing – it’s a life.

Fred Dellar
Liner Notes – The Grammy Winners
1963 Duke Ellington: The Ellington Era (Columbia) Stanley Dance
1964 Mexico (Columbia) Stanton Catlin
1965 Frank Sinatra: September Of My Years (Reprise) Stan Cornyn
1966 Frank Sinatra: Sinatra At The Sands (Reprise) Stan Cornyn
1967 John Loudermilk: Suburban Attitudes In Country Verse (RCA) John Loudermilk
1968 Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison (Columbia) Johnny Cash
1969 Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline (Columbia) Johnny Cash
1970 Bessie Smith: The World’s Greatest Blues Singer (Columbia) Chris Albertson
1971 Sam Samudio: Sam, Hard And Heavy (Atlantic) Sam Samudio
1972 Tom T Hall’s Greatest Hits (Mercury) Tom T Hall
1973 Art Tatum: God Is In The House (Onyx) Dan Morgernstern
1974 Bob Wills: For The Last Time (United Artists) Charles R. Townsend
1975 Bob Dylan: Blood On The Tracks (Columbia) Peter Hamill
1976 The Changing Face Of Harlem – The Savoy Sesssions (Savoy) Dan Morgenstern
1977 Bing Crosby: A Legendary Performer (RCA) George T Simon
1978 A Bing Crosby Collection (Columbia) Michael Brooks
1979 Charlie Parker: The Complete Savoy Sessions (Savoy) Bob Porter, James Patrick
1980 Frank Sinatra: Triology (Reprise) David McClintock
1981 Errol Garner: Master Of The Keyboard (Book Of The Month) Dan Morgenstern)
1982 Bunny Berigan: Giants Of Jazz (Time-Life) John Chilton, Richard Sudhalter
1983 Bill Evans: The Interplay Sessions (Milestone) Orrin Keepnews
1984 Various: Big Band Jazz (Smithsonian) Gunther Schuller, Martin Williams
1985 Sam Cooke: Live At The Harlem Square Club (RCA) Peter Guralnick
1986 Frank Sinatra: The Voice, The Columbia Years (CBS) Gary Giddins and others
1987 Thelonious Monk: Complete Riverside Recordings (Riverside) Orrin Keepnews
1988 Eric Clapton: Crossroads (Polydor) Anthony DeCurtis
1989 Charlie Parker: Bird, The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve (Verve) Phil Schaap
1990 Clifford Brown: Brownie, The Complete Emarcy Recordings (Emarcy) Dan Morgenstern
1991 James Brown: Star Time (Polydor) Cliff White, Harry Weinger and others
1992 Aretha Franklin – Queen Of Soul, The Atlantic Recordings (Atlantic), Dave Marsh, Jerry Wexler, David Ritz, Tom Dowd, Thulani Davis, Ahmet Ertegun, Arif Mardin
1993 The Complete Billie Holiday On Verve (Verve) Buck Clayton, Phil Schaap, Joel E Siegel
1994 Louis Armstrong: Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man 1923-1934 (Columbia-Legacy) Dan Morganstern, Loren Schoenberg
1995 The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles Vol.3 1972-1975 (Stax) Rob Bowman
1996 Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings (Columbia) George Avakian, Bob Belden, Bill Kirchner, Phil Schaap
1997 Anthology Of American Folk Music (Smithsonian-Folkways) John Fahey, Peter Stampfel, Eric Von Schmidt, Luis Kemnitzer and others
1998 The Miles Davis Quintet 1965-1968 (Sony Legacy) Bob Belden, Todd Coolman, Michael Cuscuna
1999 John Coltrane: The Classic Quartet Complete (Impulse) Bob Blumenthal
2000 Miles Davis and John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961 (Sony) Bob Blumental
2001 Richard Pryor: And It’s Deep Too (Rhino) Walter Mosley Charley Patton: Screamin)’ And Hollerin’ The Blues (Revenant) David Evans
2004 Various Artists: Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues (Sony) Tom Piazza
2005 Woody Herman: Complete Columbia Recordings: (Sony) Loren Schoenberg
2006 Jelly Roll Morton: Complete Library Of Congress Recordings (Rounder) Alan Lomax, John Szwed
2007 Fats Waller: If You Got To Ask, You Ain’t Got It (RCA) Dan Morgenstern
2008 Various Artsts: John Work III Recording Black Culture (Spring Fed) Bruce Nemeroy

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Amanda Ambrose Mon, 23 Mar 2009 20:57:07 +0000 Fred Dellar Continue reading ]]> Because I’d been an Amanda Ambrose fan since the ‘60s, during 2007 I nudged Poker Records into releasing an Ambrose album. Label manager Dave Timperley was enthusiastic and Amanda’s daughter Stephanie welcomed the idea. The proposed release became a memorial album when Amanda died in October that year. Then problems occurred regarding the licensing of various tracks and the whole project eventually was shelved. In the interim, I had fashioned a sleeve note which was left gathering dust. It’s resurrected here as an eulogy to a singer who possessed a very individual talent.

Harry Belafonte raved about Amanda. Introducing one of her performances in 1968, he enthused:
“Love is that singular magical experience whereby all becomes one. You are about to be touched by the essence of love. A funky piano that started out as classical and just got carried away. A voice that has brought people to their feet. A singer that singers love: a musician that musicians approve of. But most of all, a great soul who refuses to let people become too serious about themselves. A great lady with a rare talent and earthy humour. “
Her story began in St Louis, Missouri, 1925, where Amanda’s parents ran a cosmetology school. Nearby was an African-American theatre, where, as a child, she saw some of the world’s greatest entertainers. At an early age, St Louis-born Josephine Baker, became her inspiration and Amanda visualised herself onstage, emulating the exotic entertainer who had become the rage of Europe. She took dance and piano lessons and sang in the local church. “My parents were both musically gifted as well as deeply religious”, Amanda recalled. “My work in the church made me aware of the importance of service, of helping, of uplifting people. I observed that my singing and performing made people happier than anything else I did. That’s why I chose to do it. It earned me the right to be here.”
At 18 Ms Ambrose could be found singing jazz at clubs in the St Louis area. But it would be some considerable while before making her mark in the world of recording.
“I was raising five children and I was very concerned about drug pushers in the schools. One day while patrolling the halls, I heard a strange noise in one of the boys’ latrines. I pushed the door open and there was an 11-year-old boy writhing on the floor with a needle in his arm. He looked at me and said “Please help me” and died in my arms.”
The incident changed her life. While music would always remain important to her, she would equally become dedicated to changing the face of education and involved of the cause of social betterment.
Her first album arrived in 1959 on Stephany, an Evanston, Illinois, label. Titled Amanda Ambrose Swings At The Black Orchid, it presented an already massively accomplished jazz diva performing an array of well-known standards as Honeysuckle Rose, Taking A Chance On Love, This Can’t Be Love and A Good Man Is Hard To Find.
Lois Weisberg, who worked for Mayor’s Special Events office in Chicago recalled meeting Amanda during the ‘50s. “She was wonderful. Always a first-rate, sought-after performer with a tremendous following of people who would go anywhere to hear her.”
It was during this period, playing the Chicago club scene , that she was heard by Miriam Makeba, who became an immediate fan and conveyed her delight to Harry Belafonte, who was equally impressed and signed her to appear with him in series of coast-to-coast concerts. It was during 1963 that RCA perceiving a rising star of international stature, released Amanda Ambrose Recorded Live! an album cut at the Village Gate, in Greenwich Village, New York. The record, made with a line-up that included Sam Brown (guitar), Bill Salter (bass), Auchee Lee (percussion) and Osie Johnson (drums) was, and still remains, an experience of “I can’t quite believe it” quality.
“She just explodes! She’s hip, she’s tongue in cheek, she’s unforgettable” ran the back of album blurb. For once, it wasn’t just record company hyperbole. The smash and grab opening that was Amanda’s take on Rodgers and Hart’s
This Can’t Be Love still stuns, while those gospel swamped, tongue in cheek workouts on such Irish cornball as Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral and When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, plus the churchy dilly-dilly of Lavender Blue, remain collector’s items, prime example of combined humour and superb musicianship.
You want straight, from the heart, blues and balladry? Well, that’s there too, proof being offered by way of Percy Mayfield’s Please Send Me Someone To Love and Mercer-Arlen’s Come Rain Or Come Shine, fine material delivered in supreme manner. Little wonder that the Village Gate audience was completely enraptured within moments of Amanda appearing onstage and stayed that way right to the show’s conclusion, a right-on, congregational workout on This Little Light Of Mine that owed not a little to enthusiastic audience participation, with an out-front soprano joining in. A superb debut album, Recorded Live! numbers among the most enthralling live performances ever documented on disc.
It was Belafonte who dubbed her “the amazing Amanda Ambrose” a description that provided Amanda’s second RCA album with its title.
Another 1963 release, it featured the singer in a big-band setting, cutting back on much of the participatory humour of its predecessor and, for the most part, concentrating on exacting
the maximum amount of emotion from Broadway ballads, though the inclusion of Hoagy Carmichael’s quirky Hong Kong Blues and the typical Ambrosian full-frontal attack on Rudolf Friml’s Indian Love Call were included to ensure that smiling never was never out of style at Amanda’s recording dates. The arranger and bandleader for the project was the prodigiously talented Bobby Scott, perhaps best known today as the composer of He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. A multi-instrumentalist and singer, Scott worked with bands let by Louis Prima and Gene Krupa while still a teenager and, in 1956, at the age of 19, notched a US Top 20 solo hit with Chain Gang. Further kudos came his way in 1960 after he composed A Taste Of Honey for the play of that name by Shelagh Delaney. Just prior to the sessions with Amanda, he’d completed work on a Bobby Darin album and would in his sadly abbreviated life go on to produce records with such as Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Quincy Jones. For the Amazing Amanda Ambrose album he assembled an outstanding line-up of jazz musicians that included trumpeters Nick Travis and Joe Wilder, saxman Phil Bodner, bassist George Duvivier and drummer Osie Johnson, while consultation between Scott and Ambrose ensured that the song menu was one of intriguing quality. Bob Bollard’s liner notes commented: “The standards are as unstandard as they can get. Starting with melodies luscious enough to melt in her mouth, Amanda makes them uniquely hers: More Than You Know, Just In Time. Here is one singer, one can truthfully say, that sings them in a way they’ve never been heard before.” John Wilson, in the New York Times, agreed, commenting: “She can project a straightforward ballad with poignant power…going a little deeper emotionally than pop singers usually care to delve.”
That Amanda would include a version of Billie Holiday’s God Bless The Child came as no surprise, while House Of The Rising Sun, like CC Rider, one of Amanda’s own arrangements,
was another song close to her heart. More surprising was the inclusion of the exacting Goose Never Be A Peacock, which stemmed from Harold Arlen’s short-lived show Saratoga, while
While I Am Still Young had never before appeared on record.
Reportedly it’s composer, Oscar Brown Jr, wrote it for his show Kicks & Co and then saved it for Amanda to tape. What Are The Parts Of A Flower?, penned by Hy Zaret (of Unchained fame) and Lou Singer, related to Amanda’s belief in advancing childrens education in that it was really just one of a series of songs written for a nature series explaining such subjects as Why Does A Frog Become A Frog? and How Does A Cow Make Milk? “There aren’t many artists or albums today which drive through blues, satire, standards, kiddies’ science song and folk” the original liner notes concluded, “And there isn’t anybody who can sing them like Amanda – or play gospel piano on them like she does.”
Amanda stayed amazing. She was signed for specials on NBC, ABC and CBS and appeared on many major TV shows. But
her RCA releases sold poorly and by 1966 she’d signed for Dunwich, releasing Amanda, an album which spawned a single Why Did I Choose You? /This Door Swings Both Ways, which didn’t do much for Amanda, though a version of the B-side would provide Herman’s Hermits with a substantial US hit. Dunwich never really meant much as a record company – The Shadows Of Knight proved to be the only other act to have albums released on the label – and it graduated into being a production company, leaving Amanda without a label once more.
But, claims Stephanie Hamilton, Amanda’s daughter”: “My mother’s proudest moment was her Carnegie Hall concert in 1968. It was the culmination of her career up to that point and the beginning of a new aspect of her career because,, following on from there she signed a contract with Columbia Artists Management and began to tour extensively, especially American colleges plus Europe and elsewhere. She felt then that she’d achieved something she’d worked for most of her life, she sounded they way she wanted to sound, she had the energy. The concert was so important, it was Amanda state of the art. “
Still the TV shows beckoned, array of dates and even roles in shows, enabling her demonstrate acting skills learnt at the Lee Strasberg Studio. Adds Hamilton: “She was a very good actress – she was in the film Finian’s Rainbow. She loved the stage and did a couple of things with Joe Papp including a New York Shakespeare Festival, she did Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope in Los Angeles.”
Additionally there were the social events, her continuing attempts to bring peace to communities that suffered from youth violence.. During the early ‘70s, she brought together two warring gangs from South Central LA, the Bloods and the Cryps. “They had to leave their weapons at the door”,
Amanda recalled: “It was boxes of stuff!”
By 1973, another album had been readied. Titled Laughing,
it arrived via Bee Gee Records. But it was hardly out when Amanda found herself facing a problem that was to change her life.
“In 1974, I started to lose the top of my voice. I tried to find some concise technology that would help but all I found were bits and pieces. So I combined what I knew with Walter Schumacher’s techniques for speech therapy and L.Ron Hubbard’s communication technology and developed Voicercises, which I’ve taught all over the world.
I found it not enough just to be able to perform but to help others perform.”
Though Amanda never ceased performing, more time was increasing lent to publicising her Voicercising techniques and community work, the latter including the founding of Ebony Awakening during the 1980s, an organisation dedicated towards social betterment for Afro-Americans and to “Get people to start looking at the reality of Black people.”
Linked to Scientology, during 1986 Amanda was one of the luminaries who appeared on L.Ron Hubbard’s final album, a musical statement named The Road To Freedom. A stellar affair, that also featured contributions from Chick Corea, John Travolta, Nicky Hopkins and others, the record, released in five languages, went gold.
It was to be Amanda’s final fling on record. However, claims Stephanie Hamilton “She never slowed down. Never”
She and Hamilton lived together in Clearwater, Florida, where they’d see theatre, listen to music and continue their work on behalf of Ebony Awakening.
But life had taken its toll. Suffering from colon cancer, Amanda Ambrose died on October 26, 2007, at the age of 82. She had dearly wanted to see her 18 year-old grandson’s rock band perform live and the night before she died, the band dropped by to perform an acoustic set.
“She died the way she lived, with grace and dignity” reported her daughter. Equally, her life ended the way it began – steeped in music..

amanda ambrose

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Bethlehem Records Fri, 13 Mar 2009 23:31:24 +0000 Fred Dellar Continue reading ]]> The story of Gus Wildi’s bebopping jazz baby

Thursday, December 17, 1953. American TV companies were gearing up for
the first programmes in colour, Playboy was cock-a-hoop about featuring
Marilyn Monroe on the cover and in the centrefold of its first issue…….and
in a New York studio, trumpeter and vocalist Jim Bright, together with
vocalist Beaulah Swan and a band headed by  ex-Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy
Lunceford arranger Sy Oliver, was cutting a single at Bethlehem Record’s
first recording session.

Also due in that day was Chris Connor, making her debut solo sides for the
jazz label that was due to greet its public in the new year. Chris had left the
Stan Kenton band during July and had been acquiring a considerable
reputation as a solo act on the night-club circuit.
Similar in style to June Christy, whom she’d replaced as Kenton’s lead singer,
Chris possessed a flat, slightly hoarse vocal approach that many found
endearing. Bethlehem perceived her as an ideal launching pad for their
wares. A photogenic blonde, ultra-cool and already something of a jazz icon,
she also seemed capable of making records that would achieve that all-
important cross-over into the pop market. Accordingly, nothing was spared
on her debut session. Sy Oliver, who’d been signed as the company’s Musical
Director, pieced together a stellar big band for the date. the line-up
including such name musicians as Jimmy Nottingham (trumpet), Kai
Winding, Ward Silloway (trombones). Boomie Richmond, Say Taylor, Dave
McRae (saxes), Sid Block (bass) and Jimmy Crawford (drums), all of whom
boasted considerable CV’s. Four sides were cut, two of which, Blue Silhouette
and Miser’s Serenade, formed the 78 rpm disc that became Bethlehem’s debut

New York City based, Bethlehem was formed by Gus Wildi, a guy who’d been
around the music industry but boasted a less-than-impressive track record,
having only been involved in releasing a few pop singles of little
consequence. Even so, the time seemed right for the launch of Wildi’s jazz
baby. The arrival of the long-playing record during 1948, augured well for
the genre, allowing jazz musicians to stretch out in a manner that had
previously been only heard in clubs and at concerts. By 1954, the number of
jazz record buyers into microgroove had increased tremendously. Any
company providing a strong line in new and hip sounds was likely to find a
market of eager record buyers.

The company’s initial album venture took place during December, 1953,
when altoist Charlie Mariano, leading a sextet that included Stu Williamson
(trumpet), Frank Rosolino (trombone), Claude Williamson (piano), Max
Bennett (bass) and Stan Levey (drums) headed into a Los Angeles studio,
though the initial long-playing release came with Lullabys Of Birdland, a 10-
inch album featuring Chris Connor and the Ellis Larkins Trio, recorded
during August, 1954. Almost immediately, Chris was rushed back into the
studio to cut Lullabys For Lovers, a follow-up that found her working with a
quartet headed by bassist Vinnie Burke and adding her stylised imprint to an
unbeatable selection of timeless songs.

If Bethlehem had a publicity machine, it hardly went into overdrive during
the label’s first year of existence. Other jazz rivals such as Norgan, Clef,
Discovery, Prestige and Pacific Jazz were grabbing most of the headlines.
But, in November, 1954, Downbeat reported: “Among future Bethlehem
projects is a Ruby Braff album on which the Boston trumpeter is back by
Johnny Garner, Walter Page and Bobby Donald son”. Also mentioned in the
same news report were forthcoming releases from Oscar Pettiford, Hank
D’Amico and Bobby Scott.

Jazzes, the year had a seen a geographical war breaking out, a survey in the
December 15 edition of Downbeat announcing: “After the publicity accorded
the alleged West Coast school of jazz, Bethlehem Records, in New York, has
inaugurated a series of LPs to be devoted to East Coast jazz. But an added
purpose of the Bethlehem series, according to Creed Taylor, who handles A/R
for the young company, is to find new jazz talent. First East Coast set is The
Compositions Of Bobby Scott, by the 17 year-old pianist whose first album for
Bethlehem (Great Scott) has already been released. The second album in the
series will feature the Vine Bruce Quartet, while a third will be devoted to
guitarist Joe Pass. Other East Coast jazz releases will showcase Conte Condoli
and Milt Hilton. Not in the East Coast series but soon to have Bethlehem LPs of
their own are altoist Pte Brown (with trumpeter Joe Wilder) and Ralph
Burns.” The label was beginning to fly.

The critics generally heaped praise on Bethlehem’s issues, the first in the
East Coast series receiving a four star rating, though a cautionary note was
struck by the reviewer who opined: “Having already made an impressive
debut as a pianist, the 17 year-old dynamo here conducts, but does not play,
on five of his own works. But Scott could learn from Jones about the
diversification of mood and sources.” Even so, the review was favourable,
closing with the observation that “Tom Dowd’s recording deserves credit.”

In 1955 Bethlehem began producing 12-inch albums also strengthening it’s
vocal roster by signing Bobby Troup, Helen Carr, Frances Faye,  and Mel
Torme. Troup, a singer-songwriter who bequeathed Route 66 to the world in
1946, had already worked for Bethlehem,producing four sides for his prot_g_
(and eventual wife) Julie London. Faye, raised on the sounds of 52nd Street,
was a more broad-based performer, a superior night-club entertainer and
fore-runner of Bette Midler, while Carr proved to be simply one of the most
underrated singers ever to grace jazz, warm with an ability to phrase in a
manner that few could emulate.

Carmen McRae, who’d signed for the label at the close of ’54. released her
debut album through Bethlehem in the spring of 1955. A magazine ad,
announcing its arrival, explained all. ” Just Plain Carmen McRae” it read,
“an exciting High Fidelity LP from the winner of Downbeat’s New Star Award
and the winner Of Metronome’s Singer Of The Year Award.”  Certainly,
Bethlehem’s array of vocal talent was capable of competing with that of
many majors. The arrival of Mel Torme merely confirmed the point.

Torme had notched several Top 20 hits for Capitol and Coral, having
previously charted for such record companies as Decca and Musicraft. Mel
recalls having been talked into signing for Bethlehem by then label boss
Red Clyde, who he recalls as being “a feisty little guy dedicated to creating a
pure jazz label.” All great news to Torme who felt saddled with his ‘Velvet Fog’
crooner image. Oddly, his first Bethlehem album was not to be a jazz release.
“Red suggested by that my first album should be a ballad offering.” But there
were compensations. The singer was told “Pick your own tunes, choose your
own arrangers. I want you to make a great two-in-the-morning type album.”
Andre Previn provided  a couple of arrangements as did Russ Garcia and
Sandy County, while Al Pellegrini contributed one. But the kicker was Marty
Paich’s quartet of scores. “He created four of the most beautiful pieces of
orchestral work I have ever heard,” says Torme. The resulting record,
a moody triumph, was released in September, 1955, to coincide with Mel’s
30th birthday. It proved a considerable birthday present, one that led to
other brilliant liaisons with Paich, and a number of other albums that added
up to one of the most creative body of works to stem from a jazz vocalist.
And so Torme’s years at Bethlehem proved to be among his happiest, the only
moment of dissent occurring when Red Clyde attempted, and succeeded, into
talking Mel into participating in a three-album, all-star version of
Gershwin’s Porgy And Bess  along with Duke Ellington, Frances Faye, Johnny
Hartman, Stan Levy, Bob Dorough, Joe Derise and various others who
contributed to the Bethlehem way of things. “I hated the record,” claims Mel,
who felt that the polyglot of styles just didn’t work. “But”, he adds, “It became
a cult favourite so maybe I’m not in line.”

All-in-all, 1955 was an eventful  one for Bethlehem. They signed what was to
be a stalwart label act in the Australian Jazz Quartet, a combo that reedmen
Errol Buddle and Dick Healey, together with pianist Bryce Rohde and
vibraphonist Jack Brokensha had formed only during the previous
Other releases stemmed from J.J.Johnson and Kai Winding, a redoubtable
trombone pairing who’d already made their mark on sessions for Blue Note
and Prestige; flautist Herbie Mann, a future jazz-rock star; West Coast
trumpeter Conte Condoli, ex-Ellington and Woody Herman bassist Oscar
Pettiford, and British pianist Ralph Sharon who made an album with his wife
Sue Ryan.  Additionally, tenor giant Dexter Gordon contributed  two fine
albums, one as a sideman with the Stan Levey Sextet. But it was not all good
news. In June came the report that Chris Connor, Bethlehem’s first star, had
been suspended because she refused to record more than the minimum
number of sides guaranteed in her contract, which was due to end in
December. By January, 1956, she’d moved on to Atlantic.

By ’56 Bethlehem was considered a label capable of making considerable
waves in the world of jazz. Which meant that there was little surprise when
Duke Ellington, who’d been signed to Capitol, made the switch to the now
flourishing New York company. Though some felt that Duke’s decision to
remake such classic sides as Ko-Ko, In A Mellow Tone and Cotton Tail was
unwise, the two albums he recorded for Bethlehem were superior to
anything he’d cut for Capitol and proved first notice of the rejuvenation
that was to become apparent to the world at large when Ellington triumphed
at the 1956 Newport Festival. For Bethlehem, it was hardly now a case of West
Coast or East Coast. The whole jazz spectrum was theirs, albums by such old
school musicians as Jack Teagarden and Bud Freeman demonstrating that
anyone could join the party. Those that did included  self-destructive bebop
trumpeter Howard McGhee;  post-Bird altoist Charlie Mariano; Red Mitchell,
perhaps the definitive West Coast bassist and an accomplished pianist to boot;
along with one-time Kenton guitarist Sal Salvador. Again the vocal catalogue
was strengthened when superb stylist Johnny Hartman released his first
album for the label, his arrival being accompanied by the signing of Bob
Dorough, a singer who’d once made a living playing at a tap dancing school
near Times Square. Dorough, who began writing vocalese material in 1955,
began Bethlehem Life with Devil May Care, an album whose highlight was
Yardbird Suite, a Charlie Parker classic provided an inventive Dorough lyric.
Then too there was Joe Derise, once a member of Claude Thornhill’s
Snowflakes and possessor of a soft, fragile voice, who claimed that, before
signing to Bethelehem: “I was a real hippy, sang lots of changes
in the first chorus then did all that scoobie-doobie ah-ah stuff in the second.
You know who taught me to know what a lyric means ? My wife. She used to
sing with Woody Herman as Pat Easton.”

The following year saw the arrival on the label of such singers as  Herb
Jeffries, Sallie Blair, Betty Roche, Jerri Winters and Lady Day sound-alike
Marilyn Moore, while the names of  many major instrumentalists continued
to be added to the Bethelehem catalogue.
Names like those of Charlie Mingus, provider of East Coasting, made with a
sextet that included a Bill Evans who’d returned from a late night gig only to
receive a message that he was wanted on a Mingus session that was due to
start at 10 am!  Charlie was also to record the more avante-gard A Modern Jazz
Symposium  a jazz plus poetry concoction that included a suite inspired by
one of Charlie’s female friends. It was inevitable that Art Blakey would bring
his Messengers to the label and in 1957 he did just that, he and his ever-
fluctuating array of sidemen (who,at the time, included trumpeter Bill
Hardman and tenorist Johnny Griffin) providing one album before Art
returned at the end of the year to record an album with a 15-piece, roaring
big band.

There was good news and bad news during ’58. The latter concerned the
Australian Jazz Quartet, who disbanded in the wake of an Australian tour.
Oddly it was Dick Healey, the band’s American member, who caused the
Quartet to split when he wanted to return to live in Australia. Crazy but true.
The good news concerned the signing of Nina Simone. Bethlehem was, at that
point being distributed through King Records of Cincinnati, a company
owned by Syd Nathan, a myopic, asthmatic, overweight who’d nudged into
the record industry as a producer of country records before switching to
R&B and  turning King into  a  great repository of black music, one that
boasted such stars as James Brown, Wynonie Harris, Little Willie John, Bill
Doggett, Freddie King and many others. Nathan had heard a tape of Simone,
made when the singer-pianist played the New Hope Playhouse Inn. “Next
day,” she recalls, “he turned up at my house. He had a bunch of songs he
expected me to play and a list of musicians he wanted me to use as my studio
But Nathan had never encountered an artist like Nina. She would only record
on her own terms. Eventually, the 14-hour session that produced her debut
album was set up, most of the songs being those she sang on her club dates,
the final song of the session being My Baby Just Cares For Me .When the
album surfaced, one track, I Loves You Porgy was played to death by DJ Sid
Marx at a Philadelphia R&B station. And slowly, as the rest of the country
caught on, Nina Simone became a chart item. Years later, in 1987, the album
would sell once again when My Baby Just Cares For Me became a UK Top 10
hit following its use on a TV commercial.

There were other moments to be savoured. Swinging Introduction, an album
by Bill Evans and  trombonist Jimmy Knepper was among those that kept the
Bethlehem flag fying high during the late ’50s  but the large number of
compilations being pieced together from past sessions didn’t augur well. In
short, the label was having financial problems. When these came to a head,
Syd Nathan’s King Records took over Bethlehem during 1960 and moved the
company’s office to Cincinnati. For a while, Bethlehem remained a name to
swing by, Zoot Sims’ ever-essential Down Home (“A marvellous example of
Sims’ ability to swing” – Down Beat) proving among the best jazz records of
the year.

However, time was running out. The release on Bethlehem of a number of
European recordings by the likes of Michael Holliday, Lale Anderson, Jean
Sablon, Pepe Jaramillo and the Masked Marvel Orchestra, an aggregation
touted as “England’s Top Orchestra”, showed the door to the label jazz
devotees. Within months, there was no Bethlehem at all to cry over or cry
about. The label had become the victim of a soft fade. No farewell, no wake.

Thankfully, during the ’70s and ’80s, the memory of Bethlehem and it’s
marvellous jazz catalogue – one that has not aged one iota with the passing of
time but, instead, gained in importance -  was kept alive through re-releases
on Charley’s Affinity label. And in more recent times, the arrival of the CD
and the acquisition of the catalogue by Evidence, a Pennsylvania-based
company, committed to reissuing a new array of Bethlehem classics, digitally
remastered from first-generation tapes and featuring many previously
unreleased bonus tracks, has meant that Gus Wildi’s dream label will
continue to flourish as long as there are those with ears
to appreciate many of jazzdom’s finest moments.

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Sounds Of The Harlem Globetrotters Tue, 03 Mar 2009 10:36:56 +0000 Fred Dellar Continue reading ]]> HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS

Johnny Depp was once asked if, in his early days, he really wanted to be a Harlem Globetrotter.
“It’s absolutely true,” he mused “I went through various stages in my childhood as we all do. I would spin the ball on my finger and I would make it go through my arms and I would dribble with it close to the ground like Curly Neal used to do. I went through that stage. I wanted to be the first white Globetrotter.”
But Depp was never going to be the team’s first Caucasian signing. Bob Karsten, one of the originators of the Globetrotters’ Magic Circle pre-game routine, achieved that distinction way back in 1942. The Globetrotters ranks, have, along the way, also included a female star (Lynette Woodard) a player from Mongolia (Shark Tserenjanhor) and even a ball-control wizard with one arm in the remarkable Boid Buie.
Whatever the line-up, they’ve remained the world’s greatest basketball squad. Not only superb sportsman but remarkable entertainers, whose achievements have frequently garnered a musical backdrop.

Cab Calloway was there at the beginning,
The audience enjoyed the basketball. But they demanded more.
“At halftime, a piano would be rolled out in the middle of the crowd and I’d start singing”
Cab recalled. By the end of the evening, the crowd at Chicago’s Savoy Ballroom had received more than their fill of entertainment one way or another.
They’d come to watch the Savoy Five, a basketball squad of six-footers run by five foot three coach Abe Saperstein, a team that had made its debut during early 1927 in Hinkley, Illinois.
What Saperstein lacked in inches he compensated for in know-how. Calloway, he observed, knew how to sell his wares. His basketball team, five black players of reasonable talent, did not.
Something had to change.. Abe made his move. One day in 1928, the London-born son of a Polish-tailor headed for his father’s shop and stitched a new name into the team’s uniforms, “Saperstein’s New York”. Later. they became The Harlem Globetrotters, “because I wanted people to know that they were Negro”. Harlem, at that point, was considered the home of black entertainment. The name related to the Cotton Club and the Roseland. At a stroke the Globetrotters, who’d never moved outside Chicago became synonymous with such seasoned travellers as Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington. Now they were moving upmarket.
Calloway recalls that he and a friend named Toots Wright sometimes practised with the Trotters and was offered a place in the team by Saperstein. But his sister, bandleader Blanche Calloway nixed the idea, telling him that there was no way he could travel with the Trotters and also attend college. “So I scrapped the idea of becoming a professional basketball player.”
Had Cab remained with the team, Saperstein’s travel schedule would have proved more than demanding. The team became barnstormers, playing every venue that was offered, small or large.
At one University show, only 27 people showed and the Globetrotters took just five bucks for their appearance.
Initially there were just five players, travelling from town to town in a Model T Ford sometimes sleeping on floors or in barns. There was little rest, they played night after night, with Saperstein acting as their only reserve. And they became good. Very good. In their third season they won 151 games and lost only 13. All they lacked was a substantial income. Plus venues where the towns had places for blacks to sleep other than the local jail.
Already, they’d become great at dribbling the ball, one man holding things up while his team-mates rested their over-stretched limbs. Crowds loved the spectacle. When a player name Kid Oliver accidently set fire to his pants during a game as Williamsburg, Iowa and ran screaming to the locker room, Saperstein suddenly had a vision. The crowd had cheered and laughed at the incident which they thought was just part of the Globetrotters routine. “You’re the hottest player I’ve had since the team began barnstorming” Saperstein informed the still smoking Oliver. But from that date on, the Globetrotters tossed more and more comedy routines into their performances, becoming the Clown Princes of basketball.
Could the Globetrotters really play? The answer came in 1940 when Saperstein’s team took on the New York Rens, rated as America’s best and wealthiest black basketball team, in what was touted as a World Championship. They lost narrowly, 23-27. But from then on, they were taken seriously. In 1940, inspired by veteran star Inman Jackson, they won the competition and became world champs.
World War 2 took its toll on the team as some players joined the forces and Saperstein cajoled those who were left to perform to audiences for war fund raisers and play games that raised public morale.
In one day the team played four games, a record for a professional team. But at least they were playing.
During the early ’40s, black sportsmen were barred from participating in the major football, basketball and baseball leagues. Jim Crow was the biggest name in sport and remained so until 1946.
That year the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson, destined to become America’s most idolised baseball player. After which, walls tumbled and, in 1950, Saperstein, cashing in, sold Nat ‘Sweetwater’Clifton to the New York Knicks for $25,000, the ex-Globetrotter becoming the first black player to appear in an NBA game.
The Globetrotters didn’t care. During 1948 they’d defeated the all-white champion Minneapolis Lakers. What’s more, they had The Goose.
Reece ‘Goose’ Tatum was like nothing basketball had ever seen before. The possessor of enormously long arms that hung below his knees, he was natural clown. He’d make the ball disappear amid matches, then retrieve it from inside his shirt. He’d sneak into rival team’s on-court huddle – or dance with the referee just prior to scoring with an unbelievable overhead shot. Marques Haynes once declared “Goose was the best I’ve seen in all my years.” Which, coming from Haynes was a remarkable statement. For Marques Oreole Haynes was an awesome player. When he opted for an extended dribble, no-one could take the ball away from him. He was incredible, skipping, faking, dropping to the floor, sliding along, turning on his back but, all the time, controlling the ball like no-one before or since. Writer Josh Wilker observed “In his style of play he resembled alto-saxophonist Charlie Parker, who was that time revolutionising jazz by flooding his songs with a virtually torrent of notes both ferocious and practically bursting with joy. Jazz would never be the same, and neither would basketball. Musicians would follow the path that Parker blazed. Basketball players followed Haynes’ path.”
Not that it was Bird’s music that became synonymous with the Globetrotters.
Enter Brother Bones.
Freeman Davis came from Montgomery, Alabama and was originally known as Whistling Sam. A one-time shoe-shine boy , he’d whistle, click his fingers and bang his brushes to create a rhythm as records played on an nearby Victrola. Additionally, a tap-dancer who also played bones as a rhythm instrument, he was heard by the president of Tempo Records while playing at a Chinese restaurant in L.A.and rushed into a studio to record Sweet Georgia Brown. Heard by one of the Globetrotters, the whistle’n'bones bonanza was adopted as the team’s theme, played as they began their famed Magic Circle warm-up routine. Used additionally as the intro to the 1950 feature film, The Harlem Globetrotters, the record became a massive hit worldwide, one forever linked to the inextricably linked to the team’s exploits.
It was during 1950 that Saperstein’s team really became globetrotters, with games set in Western Europe and North Africa, their shows in London attracting sell-out crowds. From that time on, Wembley became a regular stop on the Globetrotters annual tour schedule. And for interval entertainment they employed such superior musical acts as Bob Scobey’s Frisco Jazz Band and Queen Of The Boogie Hadda Brooks, the latter recalling “When I was married the first time, the only time, it was to a Harlem Globetrotter named Earl Morrison. They nicknamed him Shug. They all had nicknames. ” But Morrison was ill-starred. He died within months of the marriage.
Meanwhile the Globetrotters were moving from strength to strength. A film called The Harlem Globetrotters in which they headlined alongside singer-actress Dorothy Dandridge, was hastily pieced together and proved a money-spinner. Which, in typical Hollywood tradition ensured a sequel. Titled Go Man Go! it featured screen newcomer Sidney Poitier as Inman Jackson plus a theme song delivered with typical panache by Slim Gaillard,
Somewhere along the way, amid the constant touring, the filming and the promo jaunts, something seemed to snap within Goose Tatum. Erratic at the best of times, he became increasingly unreliable, often going awol amid stops by the team bus and sometimes disappearing from the face of the earth. During one trip to Rome he performed his vanishing act only to turn up in Dallas, Texas, a few days later, jailed for having punched-out a neighbourhood cop. “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde had nothing on Goose” Marques Haynes observed. There was only one way out. Goose opted to form his own team, one with whom he could play if the mood took him. But things didn’t pan the way they should.. In 1959 the man once voted The Globetrotters’ most valuable star was jailed for 90 days for failing to pay his taxes. Bouts of ill-health followed. By January, 1967, Goose Tatum , age 45, was dead.
Tatum’s ultimate replacement was Meadowlark George Lemon, a rookie from North Carolina. Sometimes it seemed he’d lived his early life to the strains of Sweet Georgia Brown. All he’d ever wanted to be was a Globetrotter. A singer and dancer, he was, above all else, a remarkable basketball player who was strong on gaining laughs in best Goose Tatum tradition. Before he finally left the team Tatum took Lemon aside and informed him “A couple of times watchin’ you, I thought I was looking in a mirror, no kiddin’” Dubbed Meadowlark, he became the team’s chief clown. It was a job he held down for over 20 years. An icon, his name later figured amid one of the Jurassic 5′s early songs.
Meanwhile, Abe Saperstein was still attempting to blaze a show-biz trail. In 1956, as Lonnie Donegan’s version of Leadbelly’s Rock Island Line headed into the US Top 10, Abe took a trip to London with a deal in hand. He offered the skiffle-king a Stateside tour involving 60 appearances with the Harlem Globetrotters at major arenas. Inevitably, there was a problem. In that era, band exchanges had to take place. If a British band played a series of dates in the US, then an American unit had to play s similar number of venues in the UK. Bill Haley was offered as the reciprocal act. But negotiations fell apart, Saperstein went home empty-handed and the Globetrotters never became involved in an early British invasion.
It was during the early ’50s that the Globetrotters began supplying their own opponents. Because the team was finding it increasingly difficult to find worthy opposition, Saperstein contacted basketball expert Red Klotz to develop a team which could tour around with the Globetrotters and play well enough to keep spectators interested. They toured under various names – Boston Shamrocks, Baltimore Rockets, New York Nationals etc. – but they were all Klotz’s teams and destined to lose virtually every time they played. By 1956 the Globetrotters were so in-demand that they had four separate teams on tour, playing seven days a week. And when they took on ‘real’ opposition in the World Series Of Basketball, the 21-game series attracted an audience totalling 203,615, the Globetrotters narrowly beating the College All-Americans by an 11-10 margin. It seemed that the team could hardly improve.
Amazingly it did. In 1959, the year after signing Wilt ‘The Stilt’ Chamberlain, the game’s greatest offensive source, the Globtrotters notched their first-ever undefeated season, finishing with 441 wins.

Another decade, another talented clown. The quiet man, Hubert ‘Geese’ Ausbie, made his first appearance with the team in 1961. Quiet off court that is. Let loose with a basketball, Ausbie proved as outrageous as Goose Tatum and Meadowlark Lemon. He reigned as resident Clown Prince through to 1985. His arrival coincided with an spectacular run of success. Though in a stunning upset, the Globetrotters were defeated in a game against the Washington Generals, they were destined to lose just one more game in the next 8,964 – a 1964 charity match against an assorted team of British comics and celebrities that included Prince Phillip as a reserve!
Many new breed black players in the game looked down on the Globetrotters with distaste. It was a problem that had previously beset other black entertainers such as Louis Armstrong, whose CV included at least one interval gig with Saperstein’s heroes.. It was alleged that they were selling out, making a mockery of their race, becoming stereotypes. What was overlooked was the fact that the Globetrotters, while having fun and flaunting their skills, could, when called upon to do so, outplay every other team in the country.
The decade brought its share of sad moments for the team however. In March, 1966, Abe Saperstein died at the age of 63. As a kind of tribute, the Globetrotters played a game in Hinkley, Illinois, where everything had begun. Amazingly, in 1968 the team their first ever game in Harlem, 47 years after making their debut.
Mannie Jackson, a Globetrotter during the late ’60s and early ’70s recalls:
“Cab Calloway came back during the ’60s and appeared as one of our intermission acts. Another was Peg Leg Bates, the one one-legged dancer. He was enormously popular both with us and on TV. He toured with us for three or four years and was phenomenal.”
Globetrotter Nate Branch also made some inroads into the music scene at the close of the decade.
Bassist Bill Stuve, who’d worked with Little Johnny Taylor, Charlie Musselwhite and an array of others recalls that he formed part of Branch’s backing band at one point. “When he wasn’t working with the Globetrotters, we’d travel to various cities like Vegas, Tahoe and Reno, backing him as a singer, We’d get $350 a week plus hotel accommodation.”
Branch additionally made a series of records with Wally Cox, one of which, ZaZu, appears on Ace’s SuperFunk 3 compilation and rates highly among those who love their music Hammond-filled and
But it was television, not music that was to provide the Globetrotters with a whole new audience.
Mannie Jackson: “It all started with Scooby Doo. The Globetrotters made a cameo appearance on the show after which the the producers began incorporating regular visititations by the team on that programme. That created a whole following around the Globetrotters and they had their own cartoon series in which they were stars and superheroes. And those shows were popular because they were well-written and enables the players themselves to become recognised by the kids who got up on Saturday mornings to see them. It became the highest rated Saturday morning cartoon series ever.”
And so the court jesters became caped crusaders, though none of the team actually provided their own voices to the original Hanna-Barbera series that ran for two years on CBS between December 1970 and February 1972. Sometime Motown recording artist and actor Scatman Crothers provided the voice of Meadowlark Lemon in that series, also dubbing the voice of Nate Branch in the later Super Globetrotters episodes on NBC. Adam Wade, the provider of three US Top 10 hits, voiced Sweet Lou Dunbar at one time, while others provided the onscreen sounds of Meadowlark Lemon, Geese Ausbie, Curly Neal, Sweet Lou Dunbar and other favourites.
“Several of the players had TV contracts as a result”, recalls Jackson, “They were doing situation comedies and variety shows and there were spin-offs like The Harlem Globetrotters’ Popcorn Machine,live series. People turned out to see the characters who appeared on TV and it became like 1950-51, when the team beat the Lakers two years in a row.”
One consequence of the TV shows is that Don Kirshner, the man behind The Archies and The Monkees, got together with Jeff Barry and various Brill Building writers, such as Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, to created a record album titled The Globetrotters, which purported to be by the team though Meadowlark Lemon was said to be the only Globetrotter appearing on the record. Ron Dante, the front man with The Archies, recalls: “I wrote some songs for the Globetrotters with my friend Jeff Barry. One that we wrote, Cheer Me Up, made it on to the album just an hour before the session. Jeff was a very quick songwriter. I had the idea for the chorus of Cheer Me Up and some of the music. He put it all together very quickly and it came off pretty well. The singers on the recordings were New York City studio guys who sang on tons of background sessions and a lot of commercials. They were real pros who knew how to get the songs across.”
It was New York doo-wop historian Bobby Day who finally came up with the answer. He confirmed that the record, which comprised a successful mixture of funk, doo-wop and novelty material, was performed by a number of ’50s R&B veterans, who included members of The Coasters, Drifters, Cadillacs and Platters, Johnny Moore taking the lead on Marathon Mary and Billy Guy taking charge on Lillia Peabody and Sneaky Peter. One track, Sedaka and Greenfield’s attractive Rainy Day Bells, has become a cult item of sorts often revived at West Coast doo-wop soirees.
Meadowlark Lemon had in the interim, become an in-demand celebrity. He’d recorded a single Shoot A Basket for RSVP as early as 1962. In the late ’70s, he cut a solo album, My Kids, for Casablanca and followed up with single that found him reprising Sweet Georgia Brown. Additionally, he turned up films such as The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh and, later, Modern Romance.
“I played in 9,925 consecutive games,” Lemon claimed after he retired in 1978 “At times we’d average nine games a week and I didn’t have a lot of free time because I wanted to be the best I could be.”
During 1980 it was announced that the Globetrotters total television audience to date had passed the billion mark. Soon after, they appeared in the TV special Harlem Globetrotters On Gilligan’s Island and appeared to still be flying high. But the team’s appeal was waning, while their appeared to be an upsurge of interest in the NBA which was now boasting such superstars as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. Even the arrival of US women’s basketball captain Lynette Woodward failed to attract more than a passing rise in interest. When team member Bobo Hubbard married Shirley Jones, lead singer of Philly group The Jones Girls, there was hardly a yawn, even though Shirley’s Do You Get Enough Love topped the US R&B charts around that time.
By 1991 it seemed to be all over. The team’s owners The International Broadcasting Company went belly-up. It was at that point that Mannie Jackson made his return to basketball.
After quitting the Globetrotters in the early ’70s , the man who’d been born in a box-car, moved into the world of big business, eventually becoming a senior vice president at Honeywell, in charge of a multi-billion division.
In 1993, at a special ceremony in Harlem, the former player became Globetrotters first black owner.
“I’m the fourth owner” he says. “The financial company who previously bought the team only saw it as a cash cow. They extracted all the cash from it and just drained everything off. ”
Jackson’s love of the team aligned to his business acumen, saw him change things around.
“What we tried to do was make thing more contemporary. Youth culture is driven by dance, by song and by music, so we set out to incorporate a lot of contemporary music, incorporating the energy that’s inherent in hip-hop, rock and R&B. Nowadays it’s like coming to a rock show that lasts just two hours and leaves people wanting more. Some hip-hop entertainers have been good to us and for us. LL Cool J is a huge Harlem Globetrotter fan, he is also a good friend of Fubu, the clothing manufacturer who produce our wares and the kids have gone crazy over it. LL Cool J was the first to wear our gear and show it off at concert. Nelly is also a fan and wore Globetrotter attire of two of his videos. When the kids saw them they went into the stores and tried to buy the authentic jerseys. I think we sold around 100,000 in just a few weeks. Another huge Globetrotters fan is Justin Timberlake. He grew up in Memphis, where a couple of our players are from, and they’ve stayed in communication.”
Another Jackson innovation that captured public imagination was the vertical slam dunk -the art of leaping directly upwards and just placing the ball in the basket.. “It started because we realised how high some of our players could jump. We were amazed to find that we had three or four players who were capable of setting world records. One day we had a jump-off, Michael Jordan and everybody came to try it. But Globetrotter Michael ‘Wild Man’ Wilson jumped 12 feet and later leapt 12 feet 2 inches unofficially. During college all-star games we run the event during the interval and challenge all the top college stars to see how high they can go. It’s become a very popular feature.”
Mannie Jackson, who considers Marques Haynes to be the finest player ever to wear a Globetrotters shirt, adds: “When I came back I wanted to demonstrate just how great basketball could be when it’s played Globetrotters style. So we began playing everybody -just like the team did in the ’20s and ’30s. Today, people realise that Globetrotters basketball is hard to beat. People used to say “When we got beat by these guys we got beat by clowns.” But now things have turned around. The Hall Of Fame has begun to recognise the team and its players and the contribution they’ve made to the sport and the world of entertainment.”
Additionally the links to the world of music remain intact. Meadowlark Lemon, now a preacher. has released a well received gospel album, albeit one that ends with a new version of Sweet Georgia Brown.
That song remains a key element in the Harlem Globetrotters story. Anyone placed on hold after phoning the main Globetrotters office in Phoenix, Arizona, hears the sound of Brother Bones’ original version.
Mannie Jackson chuckles. “Ain’t that just great? Brother Bones did a great thing for the team back in 1949 when he did that song. It’s been an anthem for us every since. Every years somebody comes to us and wants to hip-hop it or disco it. But I always say no – it’s just perfect the way it is.”

Fred Dellar

The musical connections of America’s basketball ambassadors

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