Sunday, April 29, 2018

East-West (music)

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
: Paul Butterfield (vocals, harmonica), Mike Bloomfield (electric guitar), Elvin Bishop (electric guitar & vocals), Mark Naftalin (piano, organ), Jerome Arnold (bass), Billy Davenport (drums)
Wikipedia Entry

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band were pioneers in the melding of blues, jazz, and rock in the early 60s. Led by three extremely talented musicians, the band started marking new territory in blues and rock with their first, self-titled album,* a combination of traditional blues and new material.  Their second effort, East-West, is a classic.

Butterfield, of course, led the band and did most of the vocals, but he knew how to pick talent.  His primary lead guitarist, Mike Bloomfield was an early guitar god, developing his reputation with the band. And Elvin Bishop also made his mark on the rock pantheon.

East-West uses many musical styles.  “Walkin’ Blues” is from the great Robert Johnson, while “Get Out of My Life Woman” features the New Orleans based sound of Allen Toussaint. And jazz great Nat Adderley was covered with the instrumental “Work Song.”

But it is the title song that gets all the praise. Developed by Bloomfield, it’s a 13-minute opus that’s based upon Indian classical music mixed with modal jazz, and with a memorable tune to boot.  The song was a fascinating exploration of new ways where music can go.  It became an influence for the budding jam band scene.

It was unusual for an rock albums of the time to have two long instrumental tracks. Also notable is the inclusion of the song “Mary, Mary,” written by Michael Nasmith of the Monkees.

The album was a critical success. But Bloomfield moved on soon after it was released.  He formed The Electric Flag, which put out a single album, played with Bob Dylan, and then with Al Kooper for the album Super Session. But he seemed to have develop a problem with drugs.**  he recorded various solo albums and projects in the 70s, but, while well-received, nothing really gelled for him.  He died in 1981 of a drug overdose.

Bishop took over as guitarist for the group when Bloomfield left; their next album, The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw*** featured him taking over the guitar parts. Eventually, he moved on to a solo career, with the hit single “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” which wasn’t really typical of his blues-based music.

Butterfield kept going, breaking up the Blues Band and recording as Paul Butterfield’s Better Days before going solo. His harmonica playing was highly influential in the field.

The album is one of the great landmarks of the era.

*Reportedly, the first album to have the liner instructions, “This record should be played loud.”  The exhortation later became a punchline and a sign of a no-talent group, but in this case it was sincere.

**The Super Session was released with one side of Bloomfield material and another with Steve Stills. Bloomfield had been scheduled to appear on both sides, but didn’t show up for the second recording session.

***The name referred to Bishop.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Profiles in Courage (TV)

Executive Producer
Roger Saudek
Inspired by the book by John F. Kennedy
Starring Various
IMDB Entry

Not many presidents have gotten credit for a TV show. And likely John F. Kennedy is the only one.

Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize for his Profiles in Courage, a volume of short biographies of eight U.S. Senators who took a stand for doing what was right even though it ruined them politically.* After Kennedy’s death, Roger Saudek, producer of the NBC prestige project, Omnibus, convinced NBC that the book was the perfect basis for a weekly anthology series.

Seven of the eight senators from the book were profiled, as were others who were not senators, but who suffered consequences for their principled stands on important issues.

The actors involved were pretty impressive: Walter Matthau, Rosemary Harris, David McCallum, Wendy Hiller, Peter Lawford, Robert Hooks, Carroll O’Connor, George Grizzard, and many others. The two shows that still stick in my mind was the story of Edmund G. Ross, who prevented Andrew Johnson’s impeachment,** and Woodrow Wilson and his fight to put Louis Brandeis on the Supreme Court as its first Jewish justice.

The show wasn’t just dry history, but didn’t really catch on with audiences. It got an Emmy nomination, but was cancelled after one season.

It’s hard to find examples of the show online, though there are a couple at Given its age and the fact that its in black and white, it probably doesn’t have much of a market, but I think the principles of political courage are still important today.

Thanks to Joseph Harder for the suggestion.

*These days, there is some question as whether Kennedy deserves sole credit. It was acknowledge from the start that he worked with Theodore Sorensen. It’s clear that Kennedy chose the subjects and oversaw it, though Sorensen claimed he did most of the actual writing.

**Alas, further historical research indicates that Ross was less interested in the principle as he was the money he was bribed for his vote.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

TV Time/Jiffy Pop Popcorn (food)


TV TimeThe 1950s were a time for food experiments, not so much in new flavors, like today, but in new and more convenient ways to prepare it. And in the time when a TV Dinner was the rage, it was unsurprising that TV Time popcorn was made.

Popcorn before this required that you pour oil into a pot (or popper if you had one and wanted to do it over a fire), heat it up, add the corn, and then shake it until it stopped popping.  Not a complicated process, but too much for the time

TV Time made the process simple.  It was a plastic container with a two-pocket pouch. The right pouch held nut oil (in solid form); the left held popcorn grains and salt.*

You’d squeeze the oil into the pan, heat it, and then add the popcorn.  You’d shake it until it stopped popcorn and ended up with a bowl of it.

Not much different from the traditional method, but it saved the step of measuring out the oil. Plus the nut oil was more flavorful than vegetable oil, so the end result was very satisfying.. 

This was our go-to for many years, up until Jiffy Pop came in 1959.  It was an aluminum pan that you just put on the heat. As a bonus, the foil covering the popcorn expanded as it popped, turning a flat pan into a big ball of aluminum-covered snack.

Jiffy Pop Before and After

TV Time couldn’t compete in the convenience game, and and Jiffy Pop popped it out of the water for spectacular presentation.  And later popcorn makers and microwaves made stovetop cooking of popcorn as obsolete as home churning butter. 

Like most products, there’s little information on what happened to it. It went through various owners.  The last seems to have been Great Western Foods, which still seems to sell similar products called “Portion Packs,” but which use canola oil, so it’s not the same.**

Jiffy Pop is still around, since it’s owned by agricultural giant ConAgra. 

But for many years, TV Time was what we mean when we wanted popcorn at home.


*Later iterations had a place to cut off one corner to pour out the excess salt. For some reason, that always impressed me.

**It also looks like the sell primarily in bulk.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Buster Crabbe (actor)

IMDB Entry

Buster Crabbe was the king of Saturday morning.  He started out in serials, and when TV came along, he was a success in that, too. If you wanted live-action adventure on Saturday mornings, odds were you saw Buster Crabbe.

Crabbe grew up in Hawaii, where he became a swimming champion, winning a bronze medal in 1928 and a gold in 1932. The latter was held in Los Angeles, so it was natural that he follow in the footsteps of and earlier swimming medalist, Johnny Weissmuller.*  After a few bit parts, he followed in Weissmuller’s footsteps in another way: he played Tarzan in the serial Tarzan the Fearless.

The role didn’t lead to much for several years, until in 1936, when he was cast in the part that he became fully identified with:  Flash Gordon.

Crabbe’s serial became the definitive version of the character, as he faced off against the peril of Charles Middleton’s Ming the Merciless. The special effect were crude, even by the standards of the time.**

The serial was a sensation. A sequel, Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars was released in 1938, and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe came on in 1940.In between, he portrayed the other big name of pulp SF, Buck Rogers.

The serials are dated, but you can still see why they were popular and still relatively entertaining.***

Crabbe continued in serials, mostly westerns (including some programmers where he portrayed Billy the Kid as a hero). And when TV came along, he created the role of Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion.

imageAs the title indicated, Captain Gallant was a commander of a foreign legion fort in Morocco. His son, Cullen Crabbe costarred as the legion’s mascot. The first season was actually shot on location in Morocco with some real legionnaires in bit parts. Gallant would deal with various local villains and uprisings. I remember watching reruns of it on Saturday mornings, long before I had seen the Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers serials.

After Captain Gallant, Crabbe was semiretired, appearing in various guest shots, including playing “Brigadier Gordon” in the TV version of Buck Rogers.

Crabbe died in 1983, leaving behind memories of adventures in young people’s minds.

*Weissmuller’s Tarzan career overshadows the fact that he was a dominant freestyle swimmer, with five gold medals and a bronze.

**Though I must admit I was fascinated by the spaceships – hanging in the air giving off sparks and a strange buzzing sound.  Many of the sets were recycled from earlier productions, as was the music.

***Buck Rogers isn’t quite as good, partly because it had an inferior villain, Killer Kane.  I found it hard to take him seriously, since we used to sell a dandelion killer by that name – a cane filled with weed killer.