Sunday, January 28, 2018
Members: John Finley (vocals), Michael Fonfara (keyboards), Danny Weis (guitar), Doug Hastings (guitar), Alan Gerber (keyboards, vocals), Jerry "The Bear" Penrod (bass), Billy Mundi (drums)
In the mid-60s, the phenomenon of the supergroup came to pass. The basic definition was a group made up of musicians who had been successful with other groups. The first was probably Cream, where Clapton, Bruce, and Baker had already established themselves with John Mayall and Graham Bond. Later, of course, Clapton and Baker joined forces with Steve Winwood and Ric Grech to form the superest of supergroups, Blind Faith (along with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young).
Rhinoceros was an attempt to manufacture a supergroup.
Elektra Records producer Paul Rothschild decided to create a group of semiestablished rock musicians and promote them heavily. After a series of auditions, the nucleus of the group was formed,
The problem was that people with successful groups didn’t usually want to leave them, so the original members were not exactly household names. Danny Weis and Jerry Penrod had been with Iron Butterfly, but had left before they hit it big. Billy Mundi was the original drummer for Frank Zappa’s Mothers. The rest were talented musicians who had never quite hit it big.
Rothschild got the group together and they recorded their self-titled album. The album is decent, though without any of the standout songs that turn unknowns into stars. A second album. Satin Chickens, was released, but did even worse and the group disbanded.
About the only recognition the group got was for the funky instrumental, “Apricot Brandy,” which was used as a theme song for the BBC.
It’s tough enough to keep a group together when you worked together for years to make it to the top, and when you’re basically thrown into a room and told you were bandmates, it’s not surprising they didn’t last long.
But it’s a bit unfair. If they hadn’t had the “supergroup” label*, people might have taken them more seriously. The pretentiousness of it made people skeptical, and they wanted something spectacular. The quality of the band was secondary to its hype, and they’ve been forgotten.
*Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia talked about how they should have been called “Supergroup.”
Sunday, January 21, 2018
Sometimes you come across a musician from your youth who you knew about vaguely, but never followed closely. And now you discover he made just the type of music you loved then (and still do today). That happened recently when I was reintroduced to David Bromberg.
Bromberg grew up in the suburbs of New York city, learning to play guitar and just about any type of stringed instrument. He started doing studio work and appeared on albums by Jerry Jeff Walker, Tom Paxton, Richie Havens, Bob Dylan, and Carly Simon, among others before finally putting out a solo album in 1972.
The album helped define Bromberg’s style, which was so eclectic as to be indefinable. He mixed blues, country, jazz, folk, bluegrass, and anything else that came his way. It starts out with what was probably his best-known tune: “The Holdup” (co-written with George Harrison). Here’s the song with Harrison on guitar*.
The follow up album, Demon in Disguise, was another triumph,** with the equally delightful “Sharon,” about a man’s infatuation with a hoochie coochie dancer.
But Bromberg wasn’t just a funnyman. The album also contained a version of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr.Bojangles,” where Bromberg talking about the origins of the song*** that made a poignant song even more so.
In addition to his musicianship, Bromberg had a distinctive voice. Not rough, but not smooth, either, with a tone that’s partway between a growl and a moan.
Bromberg continued to record albums regularly throughout the 70s, then sporadically after that. It’s a sign of his regard among musicians that so many established names shows up on them. And he was also doing studio work and toured with other names like Ringo Starr, the Eagles, and others.
He’s still active, though performing less these days. But he’s really a musician who deserves more credit with the general public.
*Bromberg recorded several different variations on the song over the years.
**He was backed by most of the Grateful Dead.
***He had played on the original version.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
Directed by Cark Reiner
Written by Phil Alden Robinson, from an adaptation by Henry Olek of a novel by Edwin Davis
Starring Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Victoria Tennant, Richard Libertini
I've mentioned elsewhere that it took my a long time to warm to Steve Martin. I felt he was more an actor playing a comedian than an actual funnyman. And his early movies did nothing to improve my opinion. It took All of Me to show me he was something much more than a tiresome clown.
Marin plays Roger Cobb, and up-and-coming lawyer who is summons to work out the will of the old and crotchety Edwina Cutwater (Lily Tomlin). But the will has some strange clauses. Using the services of a swami (Richard Libertini), she has arranged to have her soul transferred into the body of Terry Hoskins (Victoria Tennant), so she can continue to life as young and beautiful woman. Roger is more than skeptical, of course, but the swami does transfer Edwina’s soul into a bowl – which pours it out into Roger. Now he’s half-Roger and half-Edwina.* Naturally, neither is happy with this, so the need to find the swami – and Terry – to set things right.
While Martin does take great strides in creating a realistic character, for once his comic overstriding serves him well. He makes you believe that he has two people controlling his movements. The slapstick ways he walks are completely in service to the story. But he still manages to act out his feelings toward the situation – and Edwina – in a striking way.
Lily Tomlin has what is mostly a voiceover part.** I thought she was a brilliant comedian, but find her acting too one-note. Still, it works very well here, since it’s the perfect note for the character.
Richard Libertini plays one of his patented crazies, and is as great as always in every scene he’s in.
The screenplay was written by Phil Alden Robinson. He parlayed this into a directing gig for his classic Field of Dreams.***
There’s no need to introduce Carl Reiner, one of the giants of comedy. This was the fourth time he directed Martin, but the first time where the story was more than just either parody or a string of jokes.
The movie got raves when it came out, and still holds up well. Martin clearly took a step up in his career and turned from someone I avoided to an actor who I looked forward to seeing.
*Literally – they each control one side of the body.
**She appears in the beginning and in mirrors when Roger looks in them.
***I went to college with him. I actually worked with him at the college radio station. He was a senior when I was a freshman, and he already was showing success, having gotten a gig at a local radio station. All of us agreed that he had a great voice for radio.
Sunday, January 7, 2018
Written by Dick Orkin
Starring Dick Orkin, Jane Roberts, Jim Runyon
By the 1960s, radio had fully evolved away from dramas and comedies to DJs playing music. But the urge to put a story on the air continued in small pockets, often on individual stations as a part of their programming. Probably the most successful of these was Chickenman.
The show as created as part of the success of Batman. Chicago radio station WCFL thought it might be funny to create a superhero spoof to run in among the top-40 hits. Dick Orkin, the production director at the station came up with the concept.
Chickenman was actually Benton Harbor (Orkin), who fought crime on weekends by donning a chicken suit and going after criminals. He was assisted by the befuddled Police Commissioner Norton (Orkin) and his highly competent secretary Miss Helfinger (Jane Roberts). When unable to fight crime due to his job as a shoe salesman, Benton’s mother Mildred (Roberts) would help out.
The segments ran under three minutes, but had a wonderful deadpan sensibility. Even the most absurd developments were played perfectly straight. Here’s a selection:
The show was just planned for a two-week run on WCFL, but it quickly took on a life of its own and continued. After a few months, it was syndicated and was played across the country and for the Armed Forces radio.
Orkin created his own production company to syndicate it and eventually took full control from the radio station. The episodes ran through the mid-70s, at which point Orkin – with his partner Bert Berdis – created a second show for radio: The Tooth Fairy, with Orkin as the title character.
The team went into advertising and produced a series of successful ads, following closely in the footsteps of the great Stan Freberg. They won several Clio awards for the best in the industry.*
Orkin died on December 24, 2017, well remembered in advertising and radio (he was in the Radio Hall of Fame). His Chickenman is still available on CD, and is still a delight.
*As an aside, in 1991, the Clio award ceremony was probably the greatest fiasco in award show history. The MC was a no-show and the event’s caterer was pressed into service, but there was no script or winners list. He walked off. The next presenter was drunk and, after giving out a few awards, staggered offstage. Then people started mobbing the stage, grabbing the statuettes, and making off with them. Their sponsor soon went bankrupt.