Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Greedy big banks have lost hundreds of thousands of customers who grabbed their money
and ran.  Trying to reverse that old bailout?

Congratulation, taxpayers.  Look what you've done,
Made Wall Street into Attila the Hun.

You bailed out the banks and saved a disaster,
Could they have been less grateful any faster?

Taxpayers, remember, at one time you owned,
A thousand broke banks and a savings and loan.

Next time they tell you they’re too big to fail,
You'll know it's the usual 1% wail.

You 99%... you poor huddled masses,
Saved their crooked aristocratic asses.

Pretty damn heroic, to save the big banks!
Any day now, I’m sure they’ll say thanks.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


With apologies to Ernest Thayer, author of that
great American classic, "Casey at the Bat."
No apologies, however, to Casey...

It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville kids that day,
The score: 18 to 20 with one inning left to play,
And so when Tommy died at first, and Joey did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the parents at the game.

They said, “If only Butch were here, or Petey, in that box.”
But Butch and Petey, hitters both, were home with chicken pox,
But Billy bunted safely and Ricky’s bat exploded,
Johnny got a walk, and they had the bases loaded!

Then from the gladdened multitude arose an anguished groan,
Some parents laughed or snickered and some were heard to moan,
Some offered false encouragement, the rest morosely sat,
For Pee Wee, little Pee Wee, was advancing to the bat.

There was doubt in Pee Wee’s manner as he walked up to the box,
A hitch in Pee Wee’s gait as he tripped upon his sox,
And when, responding to the jeers, he turned and lost his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt t’was Pee Wee at the bat.

Two hundred eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands in dirt,
And 50 mothers groaned as he wiped them on his shirt.
And while the stern-faced pitcher rubbed the ball against his hip,
Confusion shone in Pee Wee’s eye, a tremor touched his lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Pee Wee stood and watched it with an indecisive stare.
Right by the pint-sized batsman the ball unheeded sped:
“Can’t reach that one,” said Pee Wee.  “Ball one!” the umpire said.

Once more the scowling pitcher made the leather spheroid hum,
But Pee Wee only stood there and chewed his bubble gum.
“Ball two!” the umpire stated.  The coach yelled, “Good eye, Son!”
“A walk’s a run,” the parents cheered (though they needed more than one).

All watched as Pee Wee wiped his nose and hitched his pants up high,
They saw the pitcher grip the ball and watched him let it fly,
They saw the ball speed toward the plate and thought a strike t’would be,
But Pee Wee’s size denied it and the umpire yelled:  “Ball three!”

The frenzied parents cheered their luck, so recently forsaken,
And Pee Wee gripped the bat and tried to keep his knees from shakin’.
And now the pitcher holds the ball and now he lets it go,
And Pee Wee swings and Pee Wee clouts that ball a mighty blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land there’s misery and gloom,
The rain is raining somewhere and thunder speaks of doom,
Oh, somewhere blues are sung because there’s tears and toil and trouble,
But there ain’t no blues in Mudville.  Little Pee Wee hit a double!
                                                                        Ellen Griffith
© 1968

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Uncle Sam doesn’t love me no more,
He’s broke and he’s in a bad mood,
I think I’m next on his chopping block,
Because he’s so cranky-ass rude.

Uncle Sam doesn’t love me no more,
I’m a fan so I don’t like to bitch,
He tells me he’s broke, yet he gives away money,
To folks who are already rich.

He used to be there when I’d need him,
He used to help out in a pinch,
He used to be glad to take care of his own,
But lately he won’t budge an inch.

Uncle Sam doesn’t love me no more,
He helped send my job overseas,
To nurture the greed of the “free market” system,
That can’t do without guarantees.

Uncle Sam doesn’t love us no more,
There’s sort of a nation-wide chill,
Do you get the feeling like I do…
He won’t mention you in his will?


Tuesday, May 17, 2011



The folks who annoy us with sin and salvation,
Are back with the end of days,
They love to point out who God doesn’t like,
And nag us to change our ways.

Two thousand years of failed predictions,
Haven’t diminished their sell,
They still charm the hopeful by dangling Salvation,
The fearful by promising Hell.

Well, I’m gonna go and sit on the porch,
I’ll throw my ol’ dog a bone,
And count the hours till they fly off in Rapture,
And leave all us sinners alone.


Saturday, May 7, 2011


They call it Mother's Day...but all mothers remember when every day was Kids Day.

It was Kidville Central.  Three mothers in side-by-side apartment buildings with eight kids all under six.  Our husbands, blue collar workers, escaped every morning in the family car, leaving us knee-deep in small fry with no way out.  Since it was the 60’s, we liked to imagine how great our lives could be if we weren’t wading in rug-rats.  We saw ourselves with flowers in our hair, joyfully following the Grateful Dead…until a crash and a kid’s shriek brought us back to earth.  Back to house arrest at the zoo.  The obvious occupational hazard here was Cabin Fever, and we all had it.  But with careful planning between naptimes and feeding times (much like the zoo) it was possible to escape.  Pop the baby in the stroller, let the toddlers tag along, and…ahh, fresh air!  Ahh, scenery!   With luck, you could make it to the market and back with a box of Hamburger Helper.  But If Cabin Fever was avoidable, Kiddie Fever was not.  Kiddie Fever, Judy said, was when you tied your OWN shoe laces in double bows.  We all caught it.  Claire’s symptom: she had the youngest in her lap and when she set him down on his feet and gave him a little push… he fell flat on his face! The kid on her lap was not the toddler, as she had (mindlessly) thought, it was the 9-months-old, who was not yet walking.  And that probably didn’t help. I remember hurrying into the bathroom with a pair of tiny sox to throw into the laundry hamper.  Distracted by the three-kid bedtime ritual, I lifted the wrong lid…and tossed them in the toilet.  What made it worse – two tots at my elbow saw the goof before I did.  It’s never good when they’re smarter than you.  Which reminds me that when Don first started talking, Susie – 13 months older – could translate some of his jabber when no adults could.  The bizarre result of that was waking her in the middle of the night on one occasion to translate what was wrong with Don.  No, it’s never good when they’re smarter than you because, as mothers know, much of mothercraft is an ongoing scam.  I remember putting a tight hug on a screaming five-year-old Susie in the middle of a big early-morning earthquake and by the time the shaking and rumbling had stopped, I’d convinced her that it was the same kind of bumpy fun as the rides at Pacific Ocean Park.  By then the littler ones woke up and wanted to know what in the world was going on, and Big Sister told them it was an earthquake and it was a “fun ride.”  The sweet little scret to all this kiddie chaos which we didn’t usually admit was that, in spite of the measles and chipped teeth and thrown toys, with a little creative problem-solving, Kidville could be fun.  When they're still little, kids are cute.  When they’re old enough to talk, but too young to win an argument, kids are cute.  When Susie was about five, she called me to the window to point out that the strange people next door were putting clothes under the hood of their car “where that dirty engine is.”  It was a Renault, probably the first rear-engine car in our neighborhood, and the storage space was in front.  Susie was relieved to know that. Then there was the time when Don had been listening to grown-up conversations about Douglas Aircraft (where his grandfather worked) merging with McDonnell (Aircraft).  He was seven or eight (and usually hungry) so he wanted to know if we could get free hamburgers.  My favorite Cute Kid Quote was when two-year-old Wayne saw his first ground fog -- so thick that the buildings across the street were invisible.  He ran back inside and said, “Mommy!  The air’s all fuzzy out there!”  Ahh, yes…Kidville!

Friday, April 29, 2011


Today JAZZ FEST begins in New Orleans. 
I can only wish myself there. 
And remember...


Just one man at a piano
On a tiny stage on a hot night
A block from the river in the French Quarter
And the song he sang
About this Enchanted City
Easy to love, hard to understand
This joyous city, standing shoulder-to-shoulder
With the brawny river
The rowdy river that tried to wash it away
Again and again
The good-natured city that pushed back
When it had nothing but a bowl of gumbo and a marching band
The city that marched as one heart beats
On streets not paved with gold, but named for royalty
Kings and Queens and Indian Chiefs
Where folks danced to the edge of the grave.

In memory of Roland Stone


Thursday, April 14, 2011


All-but-forgotten today, Eubie Blake was a black music pioneer who participated in 100 years of African American history. Yes, he lived to be 100, and I met him in 1978 to do an article that would appear on his 95th birthday.  The son of former slaves, he was playing piano in a Baltimore brothel at age 15, and at 95 he was giving Johnny Carson fits on the Tonight Show.  And in between, he changed the course of American music as a ragtime pioneer, composer for the musical stage, and by his strong influence on stride piano, the style that bridged the gap between ragtime and a wealth of later jazz piano – a contribution for which he seldom gets credit.
Eubie (no one ever called him anything else) was a spry 94-year-old who liked my car, an aging high-rider because of its easy access, and I became his designated ride whenever he was in L.A.  I drove, he talked.  A lot!  And he had plenty to brag about, whether it was beating Jelly Roll Morton at pool, opening the first all-black musical on Broadway, or testifying before Congress on behalf of copyright holders.  He told me his father always said “Never mess in white folks business,” yet in 1922, with pressure from his music publisher, he was admitted to ASCAP – one of its first black members.  “See, I was somebody then,” he smiled.  He was already known for many original rags when he teamed up with lyricist Noble Sissle to write five Broadway shows from which came many all-time standards including “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Memories of You.”
 He told me more than once about his proudest moment.  When Sissle and Blake’s “Shuffle Along” opened on Broadway in 1921, not only was it the first black-written Broadway show, it was also the first produced, directed and performed entirely by blacks.  But there was a problem, and it involved a song called “Love Will Find a Way.”  In 1921, unburlesqued, romantic love between black people had yet to be tried on a white audience.  There were dire predictions of everything from boos to bloodshed.  The way Eubie told it, on opening night, his partner Sissle was standing at the backstage exit with one foot inside the theatre, and the other pointing north toward Harlem, “And me,” Eubie said, “I was stuck out there in front, leading the orchestra where my bald head would catch all the tomatoes and rotten eggs.”  Fortunately, the song was well received, and another racial barrier came down.  “Shuffle Along” ran 504 performances and helped to launch the Harlem Renaissance of the 20’s.
And he never let me forget that all his accomplishments should be measured from his starting point -- a Baltimore ghetto and a fifth grade education.  He said that long after he quit playing “bawdy houses,” he still thought the first word in that description was “body.”  He related that with a chuckle, but there was a lot of sensitivity (and this was his phrase) “to not be ignorant around white folks.”  Spelling and grammar had been a life-long learning project for him.  At age 66, he graduated from NYU with a degree in musical composition.  At dinner (if you didn’t head him off) he’d explain – at length and with great enthusiasm – the Schillinger System of composition, even writing bits of music on the tablecloth.  And, trust me, it’s too deep for mere mortals.  He went on to receive honorary doctorates from five universities, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan, a Grammy nomination for his 1969 album, The 86 Years of Eubie Blake, a U.S. postage stamp with his picture on it, and lots more.  All that from a Baltimore ghetto and a fifth grade education!
Even at 94 Eubie had it all together.  What a charmer he was!   A little man with a big personality and a joyous legacy to share. Of course, his natural habitat was the piano keyboard, and much of what Eubie played delighted him, so he cheered himself on.  Loudly, sometimes!  Audiences loved him, whether it was millions watching on TV, or fifty in a small club.  On nights that he didn’t have a gig, he wanted to go where the piano action was, and he was welcomed everywhere as piano royalty and shown right to the keyboard.  One night an over-served matron, who hadn’t caught Eubie’s introduction came by afterward to shake his hand and say he was “really good.”  She asked if he’d ever played professionally.  Our hero smiled charmingly and said, “A little, Darlin’.”  Nobody that cool should ever be forgotten!  Fortunately, YouTube has some Eubie Blake videos, so you can see for yourself.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011


My dad loved trains.  And he loved to drive. When he bought our 1935 Ford, my brother and I were little kids in the back seat, and on Sundays we’d drive for miles up the Pacific Coast Highway just for the scenery.  No freeways then, just a wonderful two-lane highway and hardly any cars on the road.  If we got lucky we’d see a lot of trains, and the Southern Pacific still had many steam locomotives on the line.  In some spots, the highway ran right next to the rail line.  Passenger trains were no fun because they were pulled by the new, streamlined diesel locomotives.  The magic moment came when we’d spot smoke up ahead.  “We’ll catch him,” my dad would promise as the car surged ahead.  I still remember the thrill of pulling alongside one of those huge, fire-breathing monsters -- so close that I was engulfed by the awesome force of that fierce, black beast with the stacks belching smoke and the drive rods flying back and forth.  “That’s a six-eight wheeler,” my dad would shout.  The drive wheels were bigger than our car.  And all this raw power close enough so that I could see the engineer plainly.  My dad said if I waved, he’d wave back.  And he did!  All this time my mother was urging him to slow down.  No dice.  “He’s got a grade crossing up ahead,” my dad would yell, “You’ll get to hear the whistle.”  I not only heard it, I saw the whistle blow.  Two looong wails, and a couple of short toots.  What a treat!  My dad also wanted to be the first car at the crossing when the gates came down.  So there  we’d be, just yards away when the engine thundered by, and the boxcars came clanking and rumbling behind.  Nothing he liked better than a long, long freight so he could read all the boxcars.  (This was before Amtrak and globalization brought us boring, anonymous containers.)  “See that B&O,” he’d shout above the roar, ”That’s Baltimore and Ohio.  Came right by my house when I was a boy in Cleveland.  Look!  New York Central.  All the way from the East coast.”  I grew up with boxcar geography.  At home, our L.A. neighborhood was on the right side of the tracks – but just barely.  Two blocks down, there was a light-rail line that serviced the warehouses along Sepulveda Blvd., the main drag.  The workhorse down there was a klunky yellow diesel-electric switch engine – a terrible comedown from the charging iron horse of the high-speed rail.  And what’s worse, it had an obnoxious, clanging bell that we could hear clear down at our house.  But it hauled all the same boxcars and we could see them for just a short walk.  More boxcar geography.  “Look,” my dad pointed, “Louisville and Nashville, I’ve been there.”  He sounded proud.  Denver and Rio Grande, Illinois Central, Canadian Pacific, Midland Valley Railroad, Erie Line, New York, New Haven and Hartford.  Before I was old enough to leave home, I got some travel stickers and stuck them on my guitar case so it looked as though I’d been to far-flung places.  When I actually went to far-flung places, it wasn’t by train.  So I wrote a love song to those old steam locomotives. 

COME BACK CASEY JONES by the Demonstrators (My hand-picked studio band) featuring John Schlocker on banjo, the marvelous Roy Zimmerman on vocals, and Marty Rifkin with some extraordinarily nifty dobro.


Thursday, March 31, 2011


Wow, it never gets better than this,
With a mustard smile on my face,
A hot dog, a beer, on opening day,
When every team’s still in first place.

Now is the time for extravagant dreams,
'Cause nobody wants to remember,
All the bad hops and bobbled balls,
That broke our hearts last September.


Monday, March 28, 2011


Every baseball family has a story.  In our case, instead of catching a foul ball behind first base, we caught a first baseman.  And like any out-of-work writer, I got it all down on paper way back then, and now it reads like a bit of Dodger history.  It started when my son the Little Leaguer asked me for a stamp and the address of Dodger Stadium.  He had a fourth-grade pen pal assignment, and since all his heroes were Dodgers, I could see where this was going.  I cautioned, as mothers do, against high expectations since the 1965 Dodgers were in a tight pennant race and I assumed they’d be pretty much wrapped up in their work.  Sure enough, he struck out first with Sandy Koufax, then Don Drysdale.  So he said the heck with pitchers.  The Dodgers, after all, had a Gold Glove first baseman.  So he wrote:  Dear Wes Parker.  My Little League team is in second place.  I play first base and sometimes pitch.  How can I get to be a bat boy on the Dodgers?  Sincerely,  Don.
Two weeks later a letter arrived, addressed in southpaw handwriting with a Dodger logo in the corner.  Dear Don, it said in the writing that leaned toward left field.  Thanks for your letter.  Nice going in Little League.  You could find out about the bat boy job by writing the Dodger front office.  Sincerely, Wes Parker.

Of course, he thought that was the biggest thing ever!  And he sure was peeved when I made him turn off the radio and go to bed during the third inning -- whining about how he had a friend on the team.   And he even had a goofy dream about the Dodgers.  He said they were standing along the third base line, looking heroic in white home team uniforms while they recited in unison what sounded suspiciously like the Little League pledge.  And those villainous Giants jeered from the visitor’s dugout the whole time.

So he worried the Dodgers through the final days of the pennant race, and right into the 1965 World Series!  I think my son the Little Leaguer was nervous for his friend the big leaguer who was playing in his first World Series.  Little League had taught the kid that baseball provides unlimited opportunities for a guy to screw up while a whole lot of people watch.  But if you look it up, you’ll see that his Dodgers won the series in seven games over Minnesota and his pen pal, Wes Parker, batted .304 and performed flawlessly at first base.  What’s more, the following season, the big leaguer fielded every letter the Little Leaguer mailed his way.  Evidently using his time on the road for letter writing, he replied once from Pittsburgh and once from Atlanta.  Overwhelmed by this response, my son recklessly decided to take this pen-pal thing to the next level.

And that’s why, a couple of weeks later, we were waiting in the smoggy, late-afternoon sunshine in parking lot number six in back of Dodger Stadium.  We waited a long time at the bottom of a ramp watching some big glass doors at the top.  A few people had come out, but no Dodgers.  I noticed there were very few cars left in the lot.  One of them, we hoped, belonged to Wes Parker who had promised to meet us here.  I said don’t worry, he’ll be here, but it sure had been a long time since the game was over, and the kid was fretting and mumbling that he wouldn’t know what to say to a real, live big leaguer, anyway.

But there he was!  I remember so well how the tall, blond figure in the yellow sweater took on a golden luster as he stepped out into the sunlight.  He started down the ramp and as soon as he saw us, he called out, “Hi.”  But my son the Little Leaguer was too busy grinning to reply.  Then they were shaking hands, and he needn’t have worried about what to say, because before he knew it, the Little Leaguer was telling the big leaguer about his one-hitter and about how he had started a triple play.  And then there were people around them with autograph books, and the big leaguer smiled and signed while he and the Little Leaguer kept talking baseball.  And when the people were gone, Wes Parker – the real live Wes Parker – told my son how he had hit only one home run in Little League, and my son told how he had hit the fence once, but had never hit one over.  They discussed pick-off plays, switch-hitting, practicing on your front lawn, and paying for broken windows.  I noticed that, as they talked, they were moving slowly in the direction of a small, red sports car.  The Little Leaguer told the big leaguer about his funny dream and about having to go to bed during the third inning, and I remember how Parker laughed about that and clapped him on the shoulder.  Then they were alongside the red sports car and I remember thinking: I’ll bet the  kid is having fleeting thoughts of inviting him to dinner, or asking to meet him at the park for catch.  Anything to keep from losing him.  But he didn’t.  He just shook hands and smiled.  And the last thing Wes Parker said before he drove off was,  “Did you ever find out about the bat boy job?”  And my son said, “No,” and they both grinned because it didn’t matter.

And when we drove out of the empty parking lot, the man who opened the gate for us asked if we got lost inside.  My son the Little Leaguer, trying his best to be cool, said, “No, I‘m a friend of Wes Parker’s.”


Monday, March 21, 2011


It’s only ten days to OPENING DAY!  Some whimsical philosopher once said that baseball is the belly button of our society.  I wonder…is that because there’s lots of time between bits of action to gaze at the waiting infielders and ponder life?  Or because it is the funniest part of the American sports anatomy?  Basketball and football are not funny…baseball is funny.  Jim Muray pointed out that at the ball park a screwball could be either a pitch or a person, stealing is legal, and you can spit anywhere you like except in the umpire’s eye or on the baseball.  Rick Monday said of Phil Niekro’s knuckleball that it actually giggles at you as it goes by.  Bob Uecker, who was a catcher, remember, said that the best way to catch a knuckleball was to wait until the ball stops rolling and then pick it up.  Curt Simmons (who ought to know) said that trying to sneak a pitch past Hank Aaron was like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster!  Or…as I’ve heard Vin Scully say…a pork chop past a wolf.  Funny!  But there are two categories of funny.  There’s funny (ha ha)…and funny (peculiar).  As every fan knows, baseball, more than any other game, unfolds slowly enough that you can see disaster looming from quite a distance.  And on another note, Philip Wrigley said baseball is too much of a sport to be called a business and too much of a business to be called a sport.  I have faith that no matter how fat our American society gets, the belly button will never completely disappear.                   

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


There seems to be a rule that
well-behaved women never make history. 
Bessie Smith taught me that.

In a maximum conformity suburb,
I was serving sixteen to life.
This cruel sentence was loosely defined
By two forks and a butter knife.
Famished by life at that genteel table,
I was starved for a real-life bite.
When I heard Bessie sing “Gimme a Pigfoot,”
How could I eat turkey on white?

So I’ll slip into the dark,
I’ll ask the devil to dance,
I’ll take a dive into decadence,
And try to atone for my past.

I’ll laugh all the way to the river,
I’ll welcome its wayward force,
I’ll chase down my rowdy roots,
And find my natural source.

Monday, March 7, 2011


It's been said that, properly trained, a man can be dog's best friend.  Of course, we all know that the other way's automatic.

During my misspent youth as an itinerant musician, I had a tendency to make four-footed friends in far-flung places.  Flash back to Anchorage, Alaska where our band was stranded and I found myself driving a cab.  Old John was a huge, brown wooly dog who owned the Red Cab office on Fourth Avenue.  He would lie in the doorway and grin at everyone who stepped over him going in and out.  The old sourdoughs in the Union Bar across the street told tourists that he was part Kodiak bear, and some believed it – he was that big and wooly.  Every morning he’d walk down the block to the coffee shop and look through the glass door, tail a-wag, until someone gave him a donut (always wrapped in a paper napkin) so he could bring it back to the office for our coffee break.  About once a week we’d give him a couple of dollars and he’d mosey down to the mom and pop grocery where they’d give him a bag of kibbles in exchange for a couple of drooly dollar bills.  The sight of Old John poking along the sidewalk carrying the bag of dog food home to the office caused commerce on 4th Avenue to pause while everyone watched and smiled.  (His picture made the Anchorage Daily Times for that.)  He also knew that if he stood outside the Anchorage Grill looking hungry he’d get a bag of scraps and steak bones for dinner.  Frequently, traffic on 4th Avenue (the main drag) came to a standstill while John strolled leisurely across the street.  Occasionally, he’d sit down halfway and slowly scratch an ear.  Drivers were willing to wait, knowing that Old John pre-dated any sort of traffic regulations.  During the summer, John liked to ride along with his head out the cab window, and the drivers knew he was good tourist bait, so cruising for fares with John in the passenger seat was a popular thing to do.  The trouble was that sometimes in the shuffle with multiple passengers and lots of luggage, John got left behind somewhere on the outskirts of town.  He didn’t seem to mind.  He’d wander around, make a few new friends, then sit by the road and wait for a cab.  Once when I was coming back empty from the airport, I got a call, “Car 45, John’s out on Fireweed Lane near I Street.  Pick him up and bring him home.”  There he was, waiting.  He hopped in, put a muddy paw in my lap, licked my face once, and settled down for the ride home.

© 2008

Friday, March 4, 2011


8kppHQ2fHall of Famer Duke Snider died last Sunday.  The star center fielder for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers was a key member of Roger Kahn’s “Boys of Summer,” who beat the Yankees in the ’55 World Series.  He didn’t quite make it to his 84th summer. He led the Dodgers to two World Series wins, one in Brooklyn and one here in L.A.  To me, as a Californian, he was a symbol of the transition from my dad’s 16-team Eastern baseball to the Westward expansion that made for a truly national pastime.  My dad grew up in Cleveland, so here in California he had to follow his beloved Indians in 6-point type in the newspaper box scores.  I learned to love baseball from my dad’s tales of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig.  My dad…my very own father…was present in the bleachers to see the only World Series triple play unassisted by Bill Wambsganss, Cleveland second baseman in game 5 of the 1920 Series against Brooklyn.  (The Indians won.)  How could you not love a sport which rewards a little patience with such memories.  When Walter O’Malley blew up the Eastern baseball establishment, and fragments of it landed in San Francisco and L.A., then I had baseball too.  Koufax and Drysdale were not yet stars, but we had the Duke!  I saw him play in the Coliseum and at Dodger Stadium.  If he was not the best center fielder of all time, he was close to it.  He had the last home run in Ebbets Field and the first base hit in Dodger Stadium.  All of that, and we can also brag that he was a local boy, who also retired here.  The story goes that he advised rookies to “Learn to hate Halloween.”  Why?  “GIANT’S colors!”    


Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Coasters (top) Leiber & Stoller
My favorite Coasters song starts out:  “One little piggy ate a pizza/One piggy ate potato chips/This little piggy’s comin’ over your house/Gonna nibble on your sweet lips/Cause I’m a hog for you, Baby…”  Well, admittedly not every Leiber and Stoller song turned out to be “Hound Dog.”  But even this underdog ditty sports the offbeat lyrics that caught the attention of black performers back in the 50s.  Get this...nine R&B stars had recorded L&S songs before these two white boys were out of their teens.  Their comedy classics for the Coasters (“Charlie Brown,” “Yakety Yak,” “Poison Ivy”) kept them constantly on the charts beginning in the mid-fifties.  Elvis helped.  He recorded more than twenty of their songs.  When the dust had settled, Leiber and Stoller had been overwhelmingly influencial in bringing R&B from the ghetto into the mainstream, whether with flippant jive pieces like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Love Potion #9” or smoother stuff like the Drifters “Save the Last Dance for Me."  As for "I'm a Hog For You Baby," I'm not its only fan.  there are 40 or 50 covers out there. Coasters video with studio chatter and false starts .

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


As a genre, 50's New Orleans R&B was highly over-saxed.  And saxiest of all was Huey "Piano" Smith's band which might be described as the low-life equivalent of Fats Domino’s hit machine.   Huey’s band featured careening shuffle rhythms, greasy saxophones in full honk, lots of nonsense lyrics, and oh yes…a female impersonator on vocals.  Huey's best song, for my money, was "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu," and if that tickles your ear, it's probably the Johnny Rivers cover from '73 that you remember.  But when Huey Smith and the Clowns cut “Sea Cruise” for Ace Records in 1959, it was a near-perfect example of late 50s rock and roll, and destined for the charts from first listen.  The problem:  like many 50s recordings, it was a black record that sounded too black for the white market.  (As Little Richard said “Us greasy black mens was too dangerous for white girls fantasies.”)   Very often a whiteboy cover version would hit the street the minute a black hit broke…and stomp the original back into obscurity.  Ace Records was having none of that, so they scrapped Huey’s vocal track and recut it with white teenager Frankie Ford whose photo they prominately displayed on the sleeve.  Result:  Ace Records’ first top ten pop chart hit, Frankie Ford with Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns "Sea Cruise."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


He was King of the Jukebox.  More than anyone else, Louis Jordan created the classic early 40's R&B sound by spinning jivey humor, hot sax and shuffling beats into an astonishing 57 chart hits during that one decade alone.  To dig Jordan's music, let's start with "Saturday Night Fish Fry."  The rowdy tale of a wild, all-night party with all revelers ending up in the slammer was number one on the R&B charts for 12 weeks.  While other black performers of that era, like Nat King Cole and the Mills Brothers were crooning smooth songs with race-neutral content, Jordan sang black, and his story lines were often very obviously about black life.  It’s clear that “Ain’t Nobody Here but us Chickens”  was not a Beverly Hills experience, and also that “Caldonia” was probably not a cousin of Pat Boone’s.  Still, Louis Jordan sold well to white audiences as well as blacks.  It’s also a fact  that he had a direct influence on many rock and roll icons.  Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Fats Domino and Ray Charles have all said so .  They've also said it in their music.  Here's a video of "Saturday Night Fish Fry ."

Thursday, February 3, 2011


America's noisy, violent past has spawned many protest songs...but "Strange Fruit" stands alone.

This extraordinary song, admirable for the quality of its poetry as well as the brutal impact of it’s anti-lynching message was written during the 30’s as congress was refusing for the umpteenth time to pass anti-lynching legislation.  Unsuspecting club goers at New York’s Café Society were ambushed by the song’s first performance in 1939 by Billie Holiday.  Even Café Society’s ultra-liberal crowd of artists, activists, students and assorted leftist types reacted with stunned silence.  Gradually the applause started and the song became a regular feature.  But the backlash was immediate.  Holiday was often verbally and physically abused when she performed it, her record company (Columbia) refused to touch it, and when she finally got it recorded by Commodore, most radio stations refused to play it.  And if you don't think that racism was an American institution, consider the fact that in 1940, Time Magazine called the song “A prime piece of musical propaganda for the NAACP"!  So...who wrote this little bomb?  His name was Abel Meeropol and he used the pseudonym of Lewis Allan.  He was a Jewish New York City high school teacher (and member of the American Communist Party) who, like many 30’s liberals, was lured by the Party’s promise of social justice.  As it turned out, his song -- the first significant racial protest in words and music -- did more for the cause than any political movement of the time.

Billie Holiday video - "Strange Fruit" 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


During my misspent youth, I played in a raggedy little jazz band -- me and five guys!  We were quite loud, and were primarily known for more passion than precision.  But what we did best was to listen at the feet of the great Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band at the Beverly Cavern night after night.  One thing we learned was that when the world's greatest tailgate trombonist empties his spit valve, you don't really want to be that close. 

Kid Ory had already been tagged with jazz immortality before jazz was out of its infancy -- he was a key sideman on most of the important jazz recordings of the 1920s. King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and clarinetist Johnny Dodds all considered Ory essential to the ensemble sound of classic New Orleans jazz. And though other Crescent City musicians courted Chicago or New York when they left home, Ory flirted periodically with Los Angeles, and it was here that he recorded "Ory's Creole Trombone" with his own band in 1921 on the Sunshine/Nordskog label, a recording which deserves to be universally accepted as the first REAL jazzband record. (Boosters of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band can send snarky emails now if you're so inclined) During the depression, Ory spent many years sorting mail and wrangling chickens, so he was quick to respond when Orson Welles needed a New Orleans jazz band for a radio show. That break put Ory back in business, as part of a world-wide New Orleans jazz revival, and the band he led then, Ory's Creole Jazz Band, with the rejuvenated Ory roaring away in ensembles and on solos was probably his finest band ever. The records he made in those years especially those on Jazz Man are now considered to be some of the most important and influential in the genre. Ory moved to Hawaii in 1961, and died there in 1973.  As you can see, I got an autographed photo, even though the guys in our band thought that was not cool.