NEWS from Mike: Spring Summer 2005
SWINDLE SISTERS BAND?Apparently Tammy Renee Brackett and Dee Adams, two women who saw GeVa Theatre's production of RADIO GALS several seasons ago in Rochester NY were inspired to start a band named after the Swindle Sisters, the infamous "sister" act in the play. These two aging Victorians, who once were the rage of the Orpheum/Keith circuit not to mention some of Chicago's airier gin joints, had fled to the wilds of Arkansas' Cedar Ridge, in hopes of asylum after their anarchist tendencies were manifest at a Womens' Suffrage Movement rally to protest a Grant Park speech by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. The sisters apparently tried to set the Senator on fire, but only got as far as his Oxfords before they were apprehended by authorities. The wiley duo escaped and a lengthy 7 state dragnet ensued. They were finally traced by Federal ATF agents to the parlor of local Cedar Ridge gadfly Hazel Hunt. Unfortunately it was women's prison for the two sibs after that. But there's always light at the end of the tunnel. After a brief stint in the Big House, they painstakingly rehabilitated themselves for several seasons plying their craft on the Odd Fellows, Horned Larks & Elks circuit. The salient Sisters added a fiddle player to their trademark Pump Organ and Upright Bass sound. Combining their inimitable vocal skills with some timely new burlesque moves, and taking on Ms. Hunt as their professional representative, they landed a a lucrative RCA Victor recording contract when they were "discovered" by one of David Sarnoff's assistants on a fledgling NBC network Variety Radio Hour broadcast. Anyway, here's more information about the inheritors of their namesake: http://www.whitedogrecords.com/Docs/About%20the%20Swindles.htm
Piccadilly update: "Lunch at the Piccadilly", the musical play that Clyde Edgerton and I have been working on and which he adapted from his latest novel by the same name, will receive its first production at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre, Fayetteville, NC, in March of 2006.
R&LW&TFG, Dirty Linen... I sauntered into my local Borders today and what should I see peeping up at me from the magazine rack but Jim Watson's mug, along with Robin and Linda Williams and Jimmy Gaudreau on the cover of the new issue of Dirty Linen. There's a nice lengthy profile (called "Southern Harmony") of Robin and Linda and their Fine Group inside, written by Tom Nelligan. And ironically, there is a nice review of our "MEETING IN THE AIR" re-issue cd also inside, written by Duck Baker. He calls the disc a "classic". And we didn't even pay him anything...
WCOM, Community Radio in Carrboro... There's a dandy new radio station in Carrboro, NC. It's known as WCOM and it's frequency is 103.5 on the FM band. WCOM was originally the brainchild of Ruffin Slater, Peg Noland and Jacques Menache. They got together and filed for an FCC license and then applied for a National Federation of Community Broadcasters license. After securing a tower and a studio the station officially opened in June 2004. Old pal Chris Frank of efolkmusic.org fame is now the man about WCOM and doing a great job. Anyway, you can read about WCOM's fascinating history at http://communityradio.coop/About/history.asp
The WCOM studio is located in the former bank branch building right across the street from Weaver Street Market and Carr Mill Mall. I did a live set there the other night for Triangle Slim's ROOTS RAMPAGE show. (Triangle Slim -- and I shall not divulge his true identity as I am very loyal to my sources -- had an excellent Sunday morning roots show for years on WXYC called "Orange County Special".)
(The above photo shows the WCOM studio control room, which is housed in the old drive up teller window. If you squint you can make out Triangle Slim in the right hand side of the studio and me in the left. photo by Juli Leonard, Raleigh News and Observer)
I played two 5 song sets: "Diamond Lil", "Crossroads", "Wicky Wacky", "They All Laughed" (Geo. & Ira Gershwin), "Dear Mr. Gershwin", "Rhode Island Is Famous For You", "Lunch at the Piccadilly", "Through a Glass Eye Darkly", "Argonne Wood" and "Watson, Come Here I Want You". I also got to giveaway some cds, answer an on air question (""Were you once in the Red Clay Ramblers?") and also play DJ and spin my current five favorite recordings: "Mon Coeur", Maurice Chevalier and Yvonne Valee, recorded in l926; "Another Man Done Gone" sung by Vera Hall, from "A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings", selected and annotated by old pal Stephen Wade; The Finale from the FIREBIRD, by Igor Stravinksy, Eric Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony; "Diamond Joe" sung by Charlie Butler from "A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings"; "Kansas City" sung by Gene Nelson, from Rodgers and Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA (original movie soundtrack recording); and I ended with my favorite Red Clay Ramblers cut "She's Been After Man Ever Since" (Blind Alfred Reed) from the Stolen Love lp (1975).
Coming studio innovations include the ability to stream and listen live via the internet, and Radio Bilingua, an extensive Latino music feed from satellite sources. WCOM also offers afternoon news feeds from Pacifica Radio, which is good to hear, considering how 'moderate' alot of NPR news commentary has become.
Like I said, the studio is situated in the old drive up window. You can play live and watch Carrboro go by out the big window. Last night I might as well have been warbling right off the Champs Elysees and watching the best of Carrboro's Belle Epoque out for a hot and humid thoroughfare stroll. (Well, it doesn't hurt to be a little romantic...)
Ah, the Eno... We've been playing the Festival for the Eno off and on since l976. It's become a yearly tradition. When the Junebugs and the blackberries come, I know it's about time to head on down to that little park just outside of Durham. This year the weather was nice, not the usual pizza oven. We were granted performance on the Grove Stage, which is by far the shadiest. (The left hand part of the glade-like backdrop on your right is actually a painted scene, cleverly melded to the real Eno environs on the right hand side of the photo, courtesy of Bren Overholt.)
Bill Hicks had a prior engagment, so Jim and Joe Newberry and I played as a trio, which allowed us to explore the non-fiddle tune areas of our collective repertoire. We did a lot Carter Family tunes, pushing our re-issue of MEETING IN THE AIR, which I am happy to report has been selling well, ever since it's release last August. It was also fun to get to do things like "A Policeman's Lot Is Not A Happy One" (from The Pirates of Penzance). Jim's dad was a longtime member of the Durham Savoyards, an exclusively Gilbert and Sullivan troupe. Needless to say, his dad's love of that music rubbed off on Jim. Joe did a cut from his brand new CD "Two Hands" on the 5 String label.
It was fun to hear Alice Gerrard and her band. She and Mark Weems make nice "front men", although Alice was definitely barefoot "cowgirl" -- with a big ole Stetson and shades. Their vocal harmonies were excellent and it was great to hear old friend Tommy Goldsmith crunchin' away on a Fender Telecaster coming out of a little Champ amp.
Later on, Jim and Anne Berry had a swell little soiree at their home where Leroy Savage presented me with his business card which reads "Just show me the money and put me in the shade". And Linda Williams told me all about her and Robin's upcoming adventure as movie stars in a Robert Altman directed and Garrison Keillor written film called "The Last Prairie Home" (or words to that effect) which is filming as we speak in the Twin Cities. Robin and Linda will play themselves and Kevin Kline will play Guy Noir and Woody Harrelson and somebody else is going to play Dusty and Lefty. Evidently Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin are in the mix too. (I hope I am not divulging top secret information...) Anyway, Linda was quite excited and hopefully I will get to hear more about it on our trip to Ireland in September -- or more specifically, Omagh, Northern Ireland, which is where one of the bloodiest IRA massacres took place. Hopefully things are calmed down these days.
So Cool! First the Netherlands and Belgium, then Canada, and now Spain. The Spanish Parliament has just legalized gay marriage.
"We were not the first, but I am sure we will not be the last. After us will come many other countries, driven, ladies and gentlemen, by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality," Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told the Spanish Parliament. He said the reform of Spanish legal code simply adds one dry paragraph of legalese but means much more.
He called it "a small change in wording that means an immense change in the lives of thousands of citizens. We are not legislating, ladies and gentlemen, for remote unknown people. We are expanding opportunities for the happiness of our neighbors, our work colleagues, our friends, our relatives."
Gee, how come America gets stuck with cavemen calling the shots? (Some of them even get elected.) I hope this begins to shame the SOBs into accepting reality and finally entering into the 21st century. Anyway, hats off to the enlightened minds of Spain... (and Canada and Belgium and the Netherlands...)
"Double Parked in the Fast Lane?" Last week, I played for the Caswell County Arts Council Annual Party, at the Nectar Vineyard Bistro in the beautiful farm country just south of Danville VA. "Nectar" is owned and operated by Bob Donaghey. I have written about Bob in here before. I am indebted to him because he recognized my talent, such as it is -- then sought me out and offered me a great little place to play. Situations like this are one of the most reassuring and rewarding aspects of the free-lance life.
Bob Donaghey was originally from Detroit, just a kid with an interest in radio. But before going to college he was already managing a radio station in Hartford, Connecticut, and through contacts made there became involved in the initial development of public radio and television. Like many talented midwesterners he moved to NYC seeking fame and fortune. He worked his way up from being a page at CBS to being Ed Sullivan's studio assistant. Eventually he had his own fully franchised agency, Talent East, with a Fifth Avenue address.
However, after years of working in the big city Bob decided he'd been "double parked in the fast lane" for too long. He'd always loved the South (aided and abetted by his romance with bluegrass and country and western music) and he ended up buying this 82 acre farm with a Civil War era farmhouse, in Caswell County, NC. He renovated the house, planted a vineyard and opened up a winery and a tony gourmet restaurant and bistro on the premises. Bob's partner is Chuck Adams, a native Virginian, who for many years was an editor at Simon and Schuster. Chuck was splitting his time between NYC and Caswell County (his monthly routine was three weeks in NYC and one week in NC) until he accepted a job as senior editor for Algonquin Press in Chapel Hill. These days he is spending much more time in NC. In the meantime Bob produced several local bluegrass radio and tv programs, turned out a book about bluegrass ("The Bluegrass Yearbook" -- pictured at right), and became the regional representative of the IBMA.
The irony of this whole situation is that Bob and Chuck are tossing in the Nectar towel. They have put the farm, the winery and the bistro up for sale because "it was just too much expense and too much hard work". And believe you me these are two hard working guys. As is the case with many passionate people trying to establish and maintain a high quality cultural endeavor in the sticks, they just got burnt out. So, as soon as they find a buyer they will hole up in Chapel Hill until their new house gets built in Hilton Head Island. I guess life could be worse!
So, the night I refer to was Nectar's last night too -- for better or worse. At first it felt strange and somewhat bittersweet to be trying entertain folks under the circumstances, but it turned out to be a great crowd and perhaps in its way a fitting Nectar swansong. There had been a storm and rains in the afternoon and after the ovens had cooled and all the hors d'oeuvres and desserts had been consumed and the wine drunk and the last note played, the large and mostly high school aged wait staff dashed out to the pool, with peals of merry laughter, for a midnight swim. When I said goodbye to Bob and Chuck they had their arms filled with fresh towels and were heading out to the gang in the deep lit aqua water. But Bob had a smile on his face and seemed kind of relieved!
Mr. Capra Goes to Washington (Ok... this certainly isn't news, it's just a good chunk of basic film history that everyone has probably heard before, but I think it is interesting on many levels and worth reading again. It's from HOLLYWOOD ANECDOTES, by Paul F. Boller, Jr. and Ronald L. Davis (published in l987...) & my other news follows on down!)
Frank Capra was perhaps Hollywood's most eloquent champion of the "little fellow" during the 30
s and 40's. In a trilogy of films--Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (11939), and Meet John Doe (1941)--he put forth the populist message with fervor and imagination. "I have a definite feeling that the people are right," he told an interviewer. "People's instincts are good, never bad. They're right as the soil, right as the clouds, right as the rain." Capra's films were strewn with cliches, sentimentalities, and simplicisms; but they were also filled with warmth, charm, grace, ingenuity, and good humor. Reviewing movies for The Spectator, Graham Greene rated them as among the best films of the day.
October 16, 1939 was declared "Mr. Smith" day in Washington. That evening, Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a film about an idealistic young senator's struggle against corruption in the nation's capital, had its premiere in Constitution Hall. For the occasion a dazzling array of dignitaries--Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, senators, congressmen, generals, admirals, Washington socialites--assembled to see the celebrated director's latest film. Since the film's protagonist "Mr. Smith" was a Montana, Capra invited Montana senator Burton K. Wheeler and his family to sit in the official box with him. At 8 PM the lights went down, a spotlight sought out Capra, and the audience gave him a big ovation. The show began.
About twenty minutes into the picture, the film jumped a sprocket and the soundtrack began burbling. Capra jumped up, headed for the projection booth, banged his head on a steel pipe en route, and found the operator had put the film on track again by the time he got there. He returned to his seat, head throbbing, only to see a couple of people get up and leave the theater, making thumbs-down gestures. Several other people also got up and left. And by the time Jimmy Stewart began his dramatic filibuster in the Senate to block the machinations of a corrupt colleague, Capra realized that much of the audience had turned hostile. When the picture ended there was little applause. The Wheelers took a frosty leave.
In the Press Club bar afterward, newsmen descended on Capra. They criticized him for showing graft in the nation's capital in a picture to be shown around the world, and they also denounced him for portraying the reporter in the film as a near-alcoholic. Only when the reviews began coming in, most of them friendly, was Capra reassured. But he was bothered by the editorials and columns calling his film a disservice to democracy. And he was upset by the harsh words uttered about him in the U.S. Senate. South Carolina's James F. Byrnes called the picture "outrageous" and said it was "exactly the kind of picture that dictators of totalitarian governments would like their subjects to believe exists in a democracy…." Majority leader Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky called the film "silly and stupid," and said it "makes the Senate look like a bunch of crooks". "I did not hear a single Senator praise it," he told a reporter. "I speak for the whole body". Senator Wheeler, he added, shared his views.
Columbia Pictures' Harry Cohn, who had backed the film, was extremely upset. He showed Capra a long cablegram, marked URGENT AND CONFIDENTIAL, from Joseph P. Kennedy, U.S. ambassador in London, saying that Mr. Smith ridiculed democracy, struck a blow at the morale of America's allies, might be construed as pro-Axis propaganda, and should be withdrawn form distribution in Europe. "Harry," Capra told Cohn, "no Ambassador has the right to censor films. Besides, he's mistaken. I know he is. Even if the Pope sent that cable I'd still say that we are what we are, and Mr. Smith is what he is--a shot in the arm for all the Joes in the world who resent being bought and sold and pushed around by all the Hitlers in the world." And he added: "Let public opinion answer. Let the voice of the people tell the Ambassador he's mistaken…"
In a day or two Capra assembled a collection of reviews, editorials, and columns, some from Britain and Canada, and mailed them to Kennedy. They were overwhelmingly favorable to the picture and, in fact, thought it represented democracy in action at its best. When Capra learned later that Mr. Smith
was particularly popular with anti-Nazis in Europe, he felt vindicated.
(Mr. Smith Goes to Washington(1939) Columbia Pictures. Produced by Harry Cohn and directed by Frank Capra. Featuring
James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell,
Eugene Pallette, Beulah Bondi, Harry Carey, H.B. Warner, Charles Lane, Porter Hall, and Jack Carson.)
Capra's State of the Union (l948) appeared in an election year--the year that Harry Truman and Thomas E. Dewey battled for the presidency. The film, which starred Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, seemed timely; it dealt with the influence of machine politics on presidential elections. The New Republic's Robert Hatch, in fact, said the Capra film "will not be popular with the current presidential candidates or their campaign managers, for it states explicitly that almost all aspirants to public office are the willing dupes of machine politicians and vested interests." But President Truman loved the film. He didn’t mind the little cracks at him in the picture, and even insisted on having it run off for him several times on his presidential yacht. One of his campaign workers, Charles Alldredge, in fact, thought the film helped shape Truman's campaign. "The most important film of l948--if importance lies in influencing people and events--was Frank Capra's State of the Union," he wrote in Variety after the election. "In that film, a presidential candidate beats the political bosses by going over their heads with a dramatic appeal to the public." According to Alldredge, Truman surprised all the experts by beating Dewey because he did exactly what Spencer Tracy, the movie candidate, did--took his case to the people.
Not everyone liked Capra's film about public virtue. The film critic for the ultra-rightist New York Daily Mirror charged that Capra was using the film "to peddle some peculiar 'advanced' thinking" and hawking un-American propaganda to audiences "through two wonderful and irresistible salespersons," Hepburn and Tracy. "This stuff," said the critic, "slipped through the customers by one of the oldest dodges in the game, 'Sure I'm against communism, but--". . . The indictment against this country, its customs, manners, morals, economic and political systems, as put in the mouths of Tracy and Hepburn, would not seem out of place in Izvestia. . . " Capra exploded when he saw the review. "Your review of State of the Union knocked me into a tailspin ..." he announced angrily. "If you've come to the conclusion I am a Communist manipulator or a Communist stooge, you are completely off your nut!"
The charges were of course preposterous. Few people took them seriously. Shortly afterward, the Truman administration persuaded Capra to represent the United States at a film festival in India and praised him for doing "one helluva job" when he returned from his mission. But Capra always felt that the right-wing attacks on him at the time damaged his career and he was never "quite as on top again after that."
Recently we played at the Q-Shack in Durham. It was a "Bluegrass and Barbeque (there was plenty of the second commodity, but not much of the first) Benefit" for the Durham Arts Council, sponsored by the INDEPENDENT WEEKLY.
Mama's little boys chose to do it without a sound system, taxing a conventional habit of not being able to project vocally, but I guess we were heard 'cause nobody complained. Probably good practice for Ireland. They have sound systems over there too.
Since I am from Lexington, I am supposed to be a born barbeque afficionado... the Durham barbeque was ok but I missed the slaw and vinegar. This state is riddled with barbeque rivalries. I'm sure there will be a war someday. But since Barbeque is not my religion, I don't forsee being one of its foot soldiers.
(>Pictured l-r: "River Boat Gambler" Bill Hicks, "Little" Jimmy Watson, Joe Newberry, and yrs truly Garland Gadden. Photo by Bren Overholt)
Clyde Edgerton and I have just finished a final draft of our musical adaption of his novel LUNCH AT THE PICCADILLY. This musical play concerns a young man putting his elderly aunt into an assisted living center, and the trials and tribulations of a "world movement" to unite nursing homes and churches that is initiated by the residents there and also their unusual responses to having some of their human rights being violated. There are some great, feisty characters in PICCADILLY, and Clyde tells their story in his trademark funny and poignant way.
We've got 23 songs and a nice little script that we've sent out to a bunch of NC theatres. We're sitting around waiting for them to fight over who gets to do it first. Our imaginations are providing some vivid scenarios which veer wildly from the worst ("...this stinks amd it's going straight to the Vertical File") to the more optimistic (such as "would they be offended if we didn't offer them six figures for the workshop..." OR, "should we put them up in the Comfort Inn or the Holiday Inn?") Everyone knows these things take time.
At any rate, if you are reading this and you happen to be a savvy theatrical professional who wants her or his theatre to be the first on the block with a bone-fide Southern Original World Premiere, then go to my contact page and send me some recycled electrons right away.
I shall post more information here as it happens. Also, Clyde has a dandy new website up that has a bit of information about Piccadilly, too>>http://clydeedgerton.com/
Duke Power is considering building a nuclear power plant on the banks of the Yadkin River in Davie County, five miles from my home. Dan Besse, a public-policy lawyer who focuses on environmental issues, calls nuclear fission an outdated technology surrounded by too many unresolved issues including construction costs and health and environmental concerns. "There is no economical or practical way to detoxify the waste", Besse says. "That means you've got to store the most toxic material for a length of time that far exceeds the duration of any government in history."
DRG Records has released its 25th Anniversary collection of "Show Stopping Performances" culled from its renowned catalog of over 30 Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring company original cast recordings. One of our songs from OIL CITY SYMPHONY ("Beaver Ball at the Bug Club") is featured on this two disc set. Other selctions include songs from A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Nunsense, Louisiana Purchase, Falsettoland, Very Good Eddie, The Fantasticks, Babes in Arms, Call Me Madam, Taking My Turn, A Party with Comden & Green, Tintypes, The Green Bird, Out of This World, The Boys From Syracuse, Forbidden Broadway, Meet Me in St. Louis, State Fair, The Act, Do Re Mi, 4 Guys Named Jose, Black and Blue, Kiss Me, Kate, Seesaw, Pal Joey, Snoopy!!!, March of the Falsettos, Greenwillow, Lunch, 3hree, Lucky in the Rain, Godspell, High Society, I Love My Wife, Tenderloin and Fame – The Musical. Featuring performances by Liza Minnelli, KT Sullivan, Barbara Cook, Tyne Daly, Margaret Whiting, Lynne Thigpen, Marin Mazzie, Heather Headley, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Michele Lee, Patti LuPone, Anthony Perkins, Patrick Wilson, Joanna Gleason and Carol Burnett. Also included are rare tracks of Phyllis Newman from The Madwoman of Central Park and a previously unreleased tract from the National Tour of Song of Singapore by Loretta Swit. FMI: http://www.drgrecords.com/details.asp?pid=12628
Speaking of, I wanted to remember the life and career of Mel Gussow, veteran NEW YORK TIMES theatre critic, who died April 29th. Gussow was a generous, thoughtful and courageous writer, who never "butchered" shows he didn't like just for the sake of sensational copy. He helped encourage the careers of many actors and writers, and he certainly helped us get our foot up for OIL CITY SYMPHONY back in the late 1980's.
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