Studio Geniuses

Have you seen The Wrecking Crew yet? It’s a documentary about some of the most prolific studio musicians of all time: people like Tommy Tedesco (guitar), Carol Kaye (bass), Hal Blaine (drums), Plas Johnson (sax), Glen Campbell (guitar), Leon Russell (keyboards) and dozens of others. They were the de facto “sound of the ’60s,” as they played, uncredited, on thousands of records. The group were not called “The Wrecking Crew” at the time; rather, historians came up with the name later on to describe the changing of the guard from the old studio musicians of the 1930s and ’40s to this new batch of upstarts that came along in the late ’50s and stirred everything up.

These guys could and would play anything, including rock ‘n’ roll, and that provided them an opening with the young producers. So apparently, it’s not the Association you hear performing on “Windy,” nor the Byrds on “Mr. Tambourine Band,” nor the Monkees on most of their early stuff (we all knew that already). It’s various members of the Wrecking Crew. Nobody agrees on who was a member of this skilled group or whether they were really a group or a brand at all. They were simply the top-notch union musicians of the day, and they answered the phone when it rang.

A couple of the most fascinating parts of the program are when it takes an in-depth look at the work required of the Crew by some of the most peculiar and demanding personalities of the era: Brian Wilson and Phil Spector. Wilson taped nearly a hundred hours to get “Good Vibrations” just the way he heard it in his head. For members of the Crew, sessions with the Beach Boy were just an item slated on their schedule, several days a week for seven months, taking up long hours, often after midnight. The musicians interviewed spoke glowingly of Brian: how musically knowledgeable and innovative he was, how dedicated he was to teaching them their parts, what a stickler he was for detail. They all called Wilson a “genius”—but if it weren’t for the competence and professionalism of the Crew, we’re led to believe that those sessions might still be going on today.

100 years of studio geniuses: Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, and Silas Leachman

100 years of studio geniuses: Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, and Silas Leachman

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Yiddish Lamberts: An Announcement and a Call for Help

Remember those funny pink celluloid cylinders made by a man named Thomas Lambert during the first few years of the 20th century in Chicago? Our CD, The Pink Lambert, was only the second release by Archeophone, back in 1999. Well, we’re seeing pink again.

A large block of Yiddish selections were among Lambert’s first releases, around 1901—titles including show tunes from Yiddish theater, operatic arias, and sacred numbers. A collection of many of these very early Lamberts was recently acquired by the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and they have reached out to us to put them out on a new CD. In turn, we have asked Mayrent Director Henry Sapoznik to shepherd the project, providing translations and context for material that is foreign even to people knowledgeable about Yiddish culture.

10 Lambert Cylinders featuring the earliest Yiddish material (photo  courtesy of the Mayrent Institute)

Lamberts come in a variety of colors: pink, wine, and black (Courtesy of the Mayrent Institute)

That’s because apparently these are the earliest known recordings of Yiddish music. It’s not clear why Lambert chose to market this material, but presumably he had an “in” with Chicago’s large Jewish community. One other mystery we’re trying to solve is why all the cylinders are announced “Standard Record,” instead of something like “Record made for the Lambert Company of Chicago,” which is the usual formula we hear. Has anybody out there got a clue?

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On the Blossom Trail


Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields. This union is how most people remember Blossom, but it’s only a quarter of the story of her marriages and professional partnerships (Adam Swanson Collection)

A while back we announced that we were working on a CD compilation of the recordings by Blossom Seeley, one of the most successful vaudeville artists of all time. Some of you have wondered what ever happened to the project, and we have an answer for you.

After doing a little poking around into the life and career of the entertainer, we realized what a remarkable figure she is—and that pretty much everything that is known about her early years is untrue. So we decided to do a thorough research job and to publish a much more detailed biography than ever before attempted or contemplated. This just requires time, and so that’s the reason for the delay.

Blossom made her first record in 1911 and then didn’t make another until 1921, but she did a lot of living on and off-stage before and in between those two visits to the Columbia studio. Going through trade magazines, newspapers, and other primary sources shows the extent of this woman’s drive, the ecstatic praise she received over years of performing, and the reach of her influence. Behind it all was a trail of tears: a lost childhood, three wrecked marriages, two abandoned children, an assault case on a famous paramour, an attempted suicide, jealously and manipulation of colleagues and competitors, and enough gossip to make Britney Spears raise an eyebrow.

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Tribute to Darrell

Darrell Baker, in character as Fagin

Darrell Baker, in character as Fagin (Darrell Baker, via Facebook)

Last week we lost one of our best friends and staunchest supporters, Darrell Baker. In between the last e-mails we exchanged a few weeks ago and our plan to call him this weekend for his 69th birthday, pancreatic cancer intervened, and now he’s gone in a flash.

Darrell’s great early musical loves were Harry Lauder, Al Jolson, and Bert Williams. It was because of Bert that we first “met”—as people do nowadays, by e-mail—back in late 2001. He enthusiastically offered his assistance (and records) in putting together our CD volumes of Bert Williams’ records. Over time Darrell became a trusted consultant, helping us with selecting records for projects, loaning us items from his collection, reviewing our writing, connecting us with other collectors, and even helping us pitch our restorations correctly. He was funny and irreverent and kept us honest.

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