Sunday, September 16, 2018

Formerly the Shrine To Music Museum,
Vermillion, South Dakota
A car trip across the Rust Belt drew us to four different music museums. The first one is in Vermillion South Dakota, in a former Carnegie library on the campus of the University of South Dakota. I had been here about 25 years ago, when it was called the Shrine To Music Museum. It was basically a collection of instruments owned by Arne Larson and his family. The museum has since expanded to include everything from Johnny Cash guitars to Stradivarius and Amati stringed instruments to folk instruments from around the world, as well as keyboards going back hundreds of years.
We got here "just in time," so to speak. The museum is about to close for two years to allow for a $9 million expansion of its facility. It's a pleasantly overwhelming display which shows a lot of attention to curatorial detail.


It's basically on two floors currently. One highlight was the re-creation of a shop where guitars are made; another was the vast display of harmonicas, more than one could almost ever imagine. The craft of instrument making is highlighted throughout this museum, as well as the histories of various eras of society which called for mass production and marketing of instruments.


Downriver from the National Music Museum was a "museum" of extremely modest proportions, dedicated to one performer of historical note and largely seeming to be an outgrowth of a personal collection. This facility is in a downtown building near the Davenport, Iowa waterfront. It looks to be a typical arrangement where someone renovating a building is hosting the collection until a paying renter comes along. In the case of this town, that could be awhile, but you never know.

As per below, I was excited to see Pee Wee Russell's last set of clarinets, which appeared to be Buffet R-13s. Of particular note was the "made in France" mouthpiece with the number "5" on it. Couldn't get too close, but I am assuming that was the facing number, which would make it quite open. It never would have occurred to me that a clarinetist with such a distinctive vibrato would be using an orchestral clarinet!


With its one major subject, this collection was diligent and vivid in telling the story of a hometown boy who went on fame with Paul Whiteman and Jean Goldkette with his best buddy Frankie Trumbauer. Parts of the display were very moving in an emotional way, such a letter from Louis Armstrong, who knew Bix, and the piano from the apartment he took in New York, months before he died in his late twenties.

Eastbound from there we found ourselves at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland.

 

 

One tends to hear about this Hall of Fame mostly via the media, through the choices made to add someone or not. It's unabashedly over the top, with instruments, videos, displays that, before a couple of hours were done, had my stomach churning and tear ducts flowing with emotion. Like the Top 40 radio which started it all, this place is in a constant state of re-creation to accommodate the next generation coming up. I was blown away to see Louis Jordan's sax and his set list (40's-50's), and equally knocked out to see the awning from a club I used to go to in the 70's. It's a major kick to watch the Beatles first Ed Sullivan appearance with the screen set up right next to the Rickenbacker John Lennon was playing that night. Ditto for the Animals' drum set, logo on the bass and all, exactly the same one you see in their first Ed Sullivan appearance. This "Hall of Fame" really covers the waterfront, so to speak. It was a little nutty to see only 2 saxophones in the whole place, considering they had dozens of guitars from so many groups. The other saxophone which made me choke up a bit was Jerome "Doc" Pomus'. And I had to take a deep breath while reading the scribbles this polio victim made on the invitation to his wedding day. They were the draft lyrics to one of his many, many hit songs, "Save The Last Dance for Me."

The 4th museum on this tour was The National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame. One may assume that this facility does not exactly pick up the overflow crowds from the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, though it's not far from there. It shares a former city hall building with the Softball Hall of Fame. You're probably wondering what is Cleveland-Style polka. The answer is simple: it was made by Slovenian immigrants to Cleveland. When you think of polka popularity, the first name which comes to mind is Lawrence Welk.


Welk's parents were German immigrants from Alsace-Lorraine. You learn something new every day, and on this day I learned the origins of perhaps the second most popular polka star of the 1950s-60s, Frankie Yankovic. As an aside, my wife and I have been merchants of used vinyl records for many years, and some records you see so much at garage sales they make your head spin. Well, Columbia Recording Artist Frankie Yankovic's was one of those. Little did we know he is the exemplar of Slovenian polka in the Cleveland style. You may ask, what is a Hall of Fame with only one superstar? Well, this might not be an appropriate question for someone of Slovenian ancestry, for there are more Cleveland-style accordion families in this Hall of Fame than you could shake a bell stick at.

The revelation here, as at the Bix museum, was that with good signage and a decent number of artifacts, history can be amplified and exemplified any way the assemblers might choose. By focusing on the Slovenian community of Cleveland, this interesting Hall of Fame provides a backdrop to the American myth of the "melting pot."

In closing, I'm reminded of a museum I visited which no longer exists in its present form. The "Bob Wills Museum" (the current one is in Wills' home town of Turkey, Texas) opened during "Pioneer Days" in Fort Worth in September 1985. Upon its opening at 2404 North Main, personal tours were given by Wills' widow, Betty Anderson Wills. There was a closed, lighted room containing the desk where Betty Wills did the bookkeeping for the Texas Playboys from 1950 to 1969. On the wall were several needlepoint violins fashioned by Mrs. Wills. The desk also held a Bible. A plaque on the viewing window read, "Bob always carried a Bible."

Quite a bit of miscellaneous stuff was on display. One of Bob's fiddles from the original Wills museum in Turkey, Texas. A Steinberg upright piano, bought by Texas Playboy Al Stricklin's father in 1910 for $85.

Several videos showed Wills' on film and TV. Before the days of Youtube they re-lived the excitement of Wills' personality, and his estimable contributions to Western Swing music, including the genre's decline during the 1960s.

The Fort Worth Stockyards, with its nostalgia for the days of meat packing and trail riding, was a good location, and one of the initial backers, David Stallings, had provided the impetus for the Wills family to rent a space there. The Bob Wills Museum in Fort Worth is long gone but that hasn't affected the popularity of Bob Wills and Western Swing music. The classic sounds, derived from the confluence of big band and country fiddle music in the 1930s,survive in many musical groups today, and in the hearts of the myriad former Texas Playboys who came and went from the band, many now in their 90's, who are still performing as I write this.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

It's been about 1 1/2 years since I self published my first studio album, Boston Nashville. Since I have all the material ready for a second album, I can sum up the experience with the first one.
It started with one song, Cannabis. I approached a highly respected Nashville saxophone artist, Jay Patten. We shared the same Italian surname, and the same ancestral town in Italy, Avellino. Other than that, we had no common relatives that we could trace. I knew I loved his work for his album "Impressions of Christmas."
We started the album at his home studio. He cast the artists for the song "Cannabis." They are some of Nashville's greats. One phrase in the song, "stoners pride," puzzled the singers a bit. It's one of those phrases that makes people call my songs "weird." To me it was natural. Stoners obtained their supplies at risks not known to a legal generation. Their risks were also not known to a consumer generation. People used to government endorsement, regulation, and protection would not understand "stoners pride." Stoners paved the way.
But all my songs are weird in different ways.
Several session in Nashville, at Jay's home studio, helped me shape the album. Jay himself was a big influence. He is very busy with his own material so I was imposing on him. But it seemed to work out.
When I got home to New England I made a cold call to record the rest of the material. I subbed for Billy Novick on a gig once and met some Boston musicians. One of them said he had a studio. I contacted him and recorded the rest of the material at his studio.
I called the album Boston Nashville because the city names reflect the styles. The Boston material was arrangements I wrote out. The Nashville material was arrangements worked out on the spot.
When it was finished I hired a company to promote Boston Nashville to college radio. They had me send them 300 CDs. Most of them are now available on amazon.com. That's what happens to promotional CDs. They charged a lot of money for shipping these CDs out to college radio stations. The reaction from college DJs was insignificant. Except for one station. There was a college radio station in New Britain CT which played Boston Nashville very aggressively. I never learned why. They kept various tracks from the album on the air for an entire semester. The only college station in the USA to really adopt Boston Nashville upon its release. To this day it's a mystery to me. No one in that city remembers me, even though it's my home town. The college that played the album was an influence on me. I saw the Four Seasons, my favorite band, at Welte Hall there. I got high for the first time with a college DJ there. But this was a long time ago.
Other than that, I've sold and given away my album at gigs where I've played. I have heard a few polite comments in return. Perhaps a half dozen people have taken the effort to say how the album affected them.
I'm so grateful, because I know that the songs, the arrangements, everything about the album is as unique as I could make it, and I'm amazed with the musicians and engineers who put up with me to record it the way I wanted it.
After all this effort, I can be a confident that a couple dozen listeners have really enjoyed Boston Nashville. Thousands of people have heard me play covers, and thousands of dancers, listeners, club patrons, etc. have heard me support bands, piano players, accordion players, etc., over many years, with my horn playing. But this has not translated to any fans for my original music.
Now that I have another album's worth of material, already posted on soundcloud, reverbnation, etc., it becomes apparent that I'm an "outsider artist." I think that's code for someone who has no popularity.
I think the effort I put in must have been based on the "merit system," that good stuff will get attention. There was a mistake with this idea. It needed fans. It needed people who heard "Boston Nashville" to pass along their enthusiasm to friends, who would pass it along to others. And gradually, one song or another would go viral.
No sign of that happening.
I'm not disappointed. I'm my own biggest fan. From the minute I started writing stuff in 7th or 8th grade, I've been thrilled by what I do. It keeps getting better, just like I planned. The new songs are as good or better than anything on Boston Nashville. When I run out of ideas, I'll post to that effect.

Friday, September 1, 2017

For about 15 years, I helped feed my family by writing a stream of freelance articles for newspapers and magazines. A few books in there too.

They are not waterlogged, like some peoples' lifelong mementos at the moment, but I am confronted with boxes and boxes of bylined clippings as a result of doing what freelancers do.

Namely, you save your clippings, make copies of the best ones, in the event that a potential future editor wants to read samples. That's your lifeline to future stories--- your reputation for past ones.
That was the era of print.

And this is the era of boxes and boxes of bylined clippings, safely preserved for.....?

If I listed some of the places I wrote for, this would start to look like a resumé. I'm proud of that list, but I'm not looking for work.

I was just wondering what to do with the boxes of clippings.

As I carefully prepared them for destruction, I read some of them. Feature stories on a teenager's first cigarette, a teenager's first car. My annual review of the most reliable tax filing guides. Stories about the emergence of audio books. Interviews with best selling authors. Reviews of films, books, performances and CDs by the hundreds. Lengthy features on subjects of then-notoriety. On and on.

I recalled the care that had been put into these works, and the paltry sums they contributed to our checking account. Did I sell myself cheap? Yes.  Did I like seeing my name in print? Yes.

Did I think these pieces might lead to better work? They did, up to a point. I was good but not that good.

In the course of dumping this stuff, a penny for my thoughts.  Not much of the writing was actually worth saving. Much of it was not worth writing. There was always a deadline followed by a check. It put things into a kind of routine. Kept me from being attached to any one employer.

The bulk is amazing. It's going out the door. The term "by Michael Pellecchia" is completely outdated. Now I mostly say it to myself when I put care into things.




Friday, February 24, 2017






Dave opened a record store on Main Street in a small New England town, during most unlikely times. The three pictures above are from Dan who visited Dave there. These show when Dave was re-arranging the shop to have more live music in the store, something many record stores do now.


The others are a few pix from Dave's files. We lost Dave Pellecchia on President's Day 2017 around 5:45 a.m. Torrential rains had pummeled San Antonio staring at 11 p.m. or so, and by around 2 a.m., 4 tornados came through within minutes wreaking havoc a few miles from where Dave was under 24 hour nursing care.
Dave is survived by his daughter Angela, her mother Myra,  Dave's three brothers Dan, Mike and Mitch, several nephews, his aunt Carmella, and many cousins.
Schooled in New Britain and Southington, Dave went on to live in Vermont, Texas, North Carolina, Massachusetts (Martha's Vineyard, Buzzards Bay, Eastham), Connecticut and New Hampshire. He loved being near the mountains or ocean. In the picture above, he's standing in front of our parents' car with his friend and next door neighbor Ralphie.

His found his professional home in service industries, from food preparation to youth hostel and motel management, to being one of the pioneers in online sales of collectible vinyl records. He was also a private chef, chauffeur, advocate for the homeless, blogger, expert in all forms of popular music, and developed his own style of singing with baritone ukelele, and other ukes, with a resonant baritone voice that had heard a lot of Taj, Ry, Mose, et al and be all!


 The picture to the right is a property Dave managed in the Wellfleet area of Cape Cod. As an American Youth Hostel it attracted many European travelers. Dave bonded with many international travelers over their fondness for American jazz music.





Dave is to the far right in this picture. He managed the youth hostel here in the shadow of the White Mountains, and this group of Alpine travelers came through more than once, a tribute to Dave's flair for old fashioned hospitality.
Here's Angela who still looks the same a few years older :-)







this above postcard is the municipal swimming hole where we grew up.

Also, I wrote this song and made this video for Dave today:


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hi folks,
I hope to see you here some time this summer. I'm playing behind some great singers who sing everything from Ray Charles to Dean Martin to Norah Jones to Billie Holiday to Cher. And a Sunday menu where if I don't have the eggs benedict, there goes the rest of the week.
Summer's great and at our barn at moneyblows books and music we have thousands and thousands of books and records, constantly replenishing, for your atmospheric browsing in the old stalls, at the price of three for five dollars.
Almost everything.
*Lurking treasure might be more

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Practice Makes Worse

In being a sideman with bands, I've noticed that practices are the biggest waste of time next to transporting to the gig and setting up and taking down.

Practice sessions involve the same time commitment for everyone in the band, but the preparations for that practice are vastly different. Everybody brings a different understanding.

Some people in the band may have played the same three or four chords their whole life, and that covers most of what the band does. For them, a lot of practice can be eliminated by using the Nashville Number system. Whoever knows the song communicates it to the rest of the band and very little rehearsal would be necessary.

Some people in the band might listen to the originals of cover tunes as preparation to practice.  You can learn a lot by listening, but it often leads to unnecessary discussion, when different members hear a song a different way, or want to emphasize one aspect over the other. The band that wants to develop their own interpretation needs a leader who is also an arranger or has the financial resources to put the desired arrangement into a form acceptable to the musicians. Otherwise this is what most of the practice time will be devoted to. The net result might be a good level of precision, but one that could be just as easily achieved in less time with arrangements.

In the case of blues, r&b, rock or other dance music, some of the best players need little or no practice. They really only need to rehearse the beginnings, endings, and stop times or other aural tricks in the song.

It might surprise someone to hear that a fun practice is a bad practice. Doing it for fun is the reason most musicians play, especially since live music gigs have gotten scarce. I submit that practice makes worse.
One typical situation is playing a song all the way through. Most of the time, a singer wants to do this. Hey, who wouldn't? You're singing, and you've got a live band behind you. It may not be as good as karaoke, but that band is also your built-in audience.

Typically, that leads to playing the song again, usually because the guitar player has been adjusting their volume during the first time through, and one more time, they might think they can get it right.
At this point, there might be a group effort to get the sound right, maybe by playing the song again, or moving onto another song. What might enter in, is the sound reinforcement aspect. Amplified music has made things so complicated that most hobby players will waste more time and money on gear than will ever be compensated by improved performance.

Alongside the issue of what amounts to wasting time on a "gig scrimmage" is, the players may be friends and actually have no objection to coming up with a new take on an old chestnut. Music does bring people together; there's no arguing that. Like anything else though, compromise is inevitable. Meshing various skill levels works only for the people on the low end of skills. Like many musicians, I've always treasured being the worst player in the group, it actually means you're going somewhere, getting to play with a higher level of musician than oneself. By the same token, being one of the better players in the group often aggravates bad behavior, either by those who can't cut it, or by the good player themselves who becomes morose or passive aggressive.

Hopefully I've laid out a few simple considerations to show that "practice makes worse." It sounds counter intuitive because people think when they invest time, things get better. Let's say you mow your lawn and all you have to show for it is a bunch of cut grass. Well, you spent the time on it so you think it looks better, right? Just like a haircut, the answer is no. It won't look right for a couple of days. One of the reasons smart bands only rehearse when a gig is a couple days out.

Another consideration I haven't mentioned has evolved in the last 20 years or so. It is the ubiquity of song lyrics easily printable from the internet. This has led to an explosion of people who see these lyric sheets as something to read during a performance, rather than something to memorize. It's easy to understand why superstars do this, they are paid well to not forget lyrics, especially their hits. During the first few rehearsals of a song, any kind of chart (as mentioned above) can ease the need for practice time. When the lyric sheet doesn't go away after a certain amount of practices and/or gigs, the rest of the musicians can sense the singer's lack of commitment. Everyone might react differently. I'm a bass player, and I'm no saint, so I start listening to just myself, and perhaps the drummer if I like what they are doing. The singer's gonna keep on reading their sheet and the guitar or keyboard player's gonna keep on adjusting their volume. That's when it's time to stop practicing and let the gigs be the practice.
Here's a couple of good links:

That's a quote from Jill Jaxx at her site http://learntosingbetterfast.com/
She also has a video on youtube.

This is a good link describing the need and tactics for memorization: http://www.singingwood.com/NewFiles/CarnegiePractice.html


Monday, February 11, 2013

The little record that could....and did...prove Elvis' appeal


On Sept. 9, 1954, a young rockabilly singer played at the grand opening of a shopping center; he was paid $10 to perform on a flat-bed truck parked in front of the Katz Drug Store. The next day he began a long session of recording at a local studio. He worked for hours on several song covers which were never released.

Finally things fell into place while he and the studio group were covering the 1948 r&b hit "Good Rockin' Tonight." Later that day, or maybe the next day, he recorded a pop tune he had heard in a movie, "I don't care if the sun don't shine."
These two sides became Sun 210, released on Sept. 25, 1954.
That night, Elvis appeared at the Eagle's Nest Club with the Tiny Dixon Band. The single record release, Elvis' second, would not hit big. But artistically, this Sun single represents one of the best performances of Elvis' career.

This is the original Sun 210 single. There's something special about owning it.
As life neatly arranges itself into archives with the help of computers, this unmistakable artifact reminds us of the mechanical and agricultural age when popular music started to rock and roll, as if creating a vulgar secular church.
Condition of the grooves in this Sun rarity is very good, and both sides play through nicely, with all the excitement of early Elvis on wax.
The label has some ring wear but no markings. There's a slight smudge on the author credit of "Good Rockin' Tonight"-- the word "Brown" can be read but not the word "Roy." (Both Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris had previous hits with this song). The artist credit is Elvis Presley Scotty and Bill.
From the earliest days of "big hole" 45 rpms-- innovated by RCA Victor as a game changer in the competition against Columbia (which invented the LP album)-- there were two "flip" sides. More often than not, the record would have a fast song on one side and a slower song on the other. It was also assumed that only one of the songs could be promoted enough to get wide radio airplay.
The term "rhythm and blues" is said to have been concocted because a 45 rpm might have a "rhythm" tune on one side and a "blues" on the other. Often these records contained music that would not be heard on radio. There would have to be strong encouragement to play a song on the radio if the artist was perhaps not caucasian. A few pioneering DJs were up to the task, especially if they had black listeners. The rest of the radio community needed an umbrella concept that was as lily-white as their baby boomer audiences. The concept became known as "rock 'n roll." The packaging of this idea coincided with television stagings such as "American Bandstand" and record promotions such as the ones pioneered by Alan Freed and other DJs. Almost as soon as the term "rock 'n roll" (originally a black coinage) was applied to the music, "rhythm and blues" became "oldies but goodies" or just "oldies." Many rhythm and blues records were exported to England to help create the "British Invasion" sound of the 1960s. British youth did not see the racial baggage in the music that the parents of their American counterparts saw. When Paul McCartney was making girls swoon by imitating LittleRichard, no American artist could pull off the same thing. White American kids needed their black music safe.... Motown and Berry Gordy accommodated this need.
Elvis Presley was not only a caucasian, he was an equal opportunity offender. He appropriated music from the rural country and from race "rhythm and blues" artists and became one of the top pop artists of all time. He was one of the "white boys" who could carry "rhythm and blues" into the white community under the moniker of "rock 'n roll." His touring throughout the South in the mid-1950s also helped pioneer the development of rockabilly music, which reached popularity later with artists such as Buddy Holly.
The example of Sun 210 is historically perfect in showing the "flip side" numerology of the 2 sided 45 rpm. The songs on this record are one side "rhythm (and blues)" and the other side "pop country." Elvis Presley could do genuine versions of each, adding his own touches. The 45 rpm was the perfect medium for him. This was his 2nd 45 rpm record with Sam Phillips for the Sun label.
The round punch marks on the label, for juke boxes, are present in this Sun 210, distinguishing it as an original. Trail-off numbers in the deadwax are U-130-45-72. The record is in a plain white sleeve. It is worth well over a thousand dollars. It plays well and is in VG condition.