Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Well today would have been the birthday of one of the greatest jazz composers of the 20th Century--none other than Duke Ellington who was born in Washington D.C. in 1899. Today is also the 40th anniversary of the great musical "Hair"Hair was conceived by actors James Rado and Gerry Ragni. The two actors met in 1964, when they were both cast in the off-Broadway play Hang Down Your Head and Die, and began writing Hair together in early 1965.In the Los Angeles Times, Rado described the inspiration for Hair as "a combination of some characters we met in the streets, people we knew and our own imaginations. We knew this group of kids in the East Village who were dropping out and dodging the draft, and there were also lots of articles in the press about how kids were being kicked out of school for growing their hair long, and we incorporated that in the show too."[2] Many cast members (Shelley Plimpton in particular) were recruited right off the street.In the 1960s, Ragni was an active member of The Open Theater group in New York City, which was developing improvisational and experimental theatre techniques.[8] In college, Rado wrote musical revues and aspired to be a Broadway composer in the Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition. Imagine that musical theatre enthusiasts! Anyway, Mr. Ragni interested Mr. Rado in the more modern styles and techniques being developed at The Open Theater. Then In 1966, Ragni performed in The Open Theater's production of Megan Terry's play, Viet Rock, which influenced his development of the book for Hair. Viet Rock, a play about young men being deployed to the Vietnam War, employed the same improvisational and workshop techniques later used in the development of Hair.Mr. Rado and Mr. Ragni brought the show to producer Eric Blau, who connected the two with Canadian pianist/composer Galt MacDermot through mutual friend and music publisher Nat Shapiro.MacDermot had won a Grammy Award in 1961 for his composition "African Waltz" (recorded by Cannonball Adderley While living in South Africa, MacDermot studied the music of the Bantu tribe, whose music stresses beats on unexpected syllables, and he incorporated this African influence into the score of Hair. MacDermot says he listened to "what they called kwellas very characteristic beat, very similar to rock. Much deeper than that Among the first songs written for the show were "I Got Life", "Ain't Got No", "Where Do I Go" and the title song "Hair"
The show was pitched to several Broadway producers and received many rejections. Eventually Joe Papp, who ran the then-named New York Shakespeare Festival, decided he wanted Hair to open his newly titled Public Theater in New York City's Greenwich Village. Chicago businessman Michael Butler, after seeing an ad for Hair in the New York Times that led him to believe the show was about Native Americans, watched the Public's production several times and decided to purchase the rights and move it to Broadway.Hair became the first off-Broadway musical to successfully make the transition to the Broadway stage. The New York Theatre League ruled Hair ineligible for consideration for the 1968 Tony Awards and the producers brought suit. but were unable to force the League to reconsider. At the 1969 Tonys, Hair was nominated for Best Musical and Best Director but lost out to 1776 in both categories. In another note, our recording session on Sunday April 27th went amazingly- we recorded thirteen songs including tunes from "Wild Swans" "Little Bit of Broadway' "Sevenly" and "The Runaway Heart" Jeff Urband at the piano was amazing as usual-- but we still miss Tim Doran- who is off this weekend for a little R&R up north. One singer could not show because he had victimized. He had answered an ad in Craig's List for an apartment to rent. He went the apartment house and found the guy- who said he was subletting his place. Our singer paid him $1200 and thought he had a new place to live. When he arrived Sunday morning "to drop off a few things" he discovered the guy had never lived there-- had only been "house sitting the apartment to feed the fish and the cat, had disconnected his cell phone and disappeared. Gone was the singer's $1200. Since his old apartment had already been re-rented-- he literally had no where to go. He has until Wednesday to solve this horrible dilemma. Please everybody-- think twice before you do anything serious investment wise dealing with Craig's List. My partner, John Nugent was also victimized after moving from Erwin, Tn last fall. He moved into a place that he was suddenly denied access to the kitchen, shared with a screaming female version of Felix Unger and had to enter the apartment after 11:30 at night to avoid confrontations with this awful woman. Then they cheated him out of his security deposit when he moved out! So if you are using Craig's List-- think twice. Subletting an apartment-- ask to speak to the landlord in a rental office before you give any of your hard earned money away. That's all for today. Plano gram meeting today for work! I hate plano grams!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Besides being the birthday of two of the greatest vaudevillians in history, it is also the birthday of the great bard, Himself: William Shakespeare. Any who knows me realizes that William Shakespeare was a very big character in my big musical "Skylark"-- way back in 1983. But the focus of this article is On Ed Gallagher and Al Sheen. Sheen was the uncle of Groucho Marx. The above song made them absolutely famous.Gallagher & Shean was a highly successful double act on vaudeville and Broadway in the 1910s and 1920s, consisting of Edward Gallagher (1873- March 28, 1929) and Al Shean (real name Albert Schoenberg) (May 12, 1868 - August 12, 1949).
The comedians led separate careers in the vaudeville tradition, but it was when they teamed up that they gained popularity. Gallagher and Shean first joined forces during the tour of "The Rose Maid" in 1912, but they quarreled and split up two years later. They next appeared together in 1920, through the efforts of Shean's sister, Minnie Marx.-- the mother of the Marx Brothers, This pairing lasted until 1925 and led to their fame.Gallagher and Shean remain best known for their theme song
, which was a hit in the 1922 Ziegfeld Follies. Bryan Foy, son of stage star Eddie Foy and eldest member of the "Seven Little Foys", claimed to have written the song, but it is officially attributed to Gallagher and Shean. The song endured in popularity and was regularly tweaked and updated with additional verses, so several different versions of the song are still extant. The song was recorded as two-sides of a 10" 78 in 1922 for Cameo. Naxos attributes to song to Irving and Jack Kaufman. The recording was extremely popular and well-remembered: a parody of it was recorded by Bing Crosy and Johnny Mercer in the late 1930s, another parody was performed by Jackie Gleason and Groucho Marx (who was Al Shean's nephew) on television in the late 1950s, and Lenny Bruce was able to make an offhanded reference to it in his nightclub act of the 1960s, all of them confident that audiences would recognize it right away.With occasional exceptions, each verse of the song ended with Gallagher speaking a punchline, followed by Shean singing "Absolutely, Mister Gallagher?" and Shean replying "Positively, Mister Shean!". This cross-talk format continues to be imitated, parodied and referenced for audiences who may have no knowledge of the original. Cartoonist Bobby London depicted his characters Dirty Duck and Weevil telling each other "Posilutely, Weevil!" "Absotively, Mr. Duck!". In the 1990s, a radio commercial for Pitney Bowes office equipment used the original tune with new lyrics: "Absolutely, Mister Pitney!" "Positively, Mister Bowes!"
Capitalizing on the post-King Tut craze for everything Egyptian, Gallagher and Shean appeared in Egyptian dress (Gallagher in the pith helmet and white suit of the tourist, Shean in the fez and oddly skirted jacket of a "native" Egyptian colonial).
In 1921, they were sued by the Shubert organization for breach of contract. According to Shubert, they could not perform for the competing Ziegfeld Follies. The case claimed that Gallagher and Shean's act was "unique and irreplaceable." The comedians' defense was that their act was mediocre and the judge initially found in their favor, although the decision was later reversed.
For a time in the 1920s, Gallagher was involved with his protegee, vivacious French-Canadian dancer Fifi D'Orsay.
Gallagher and Shean often had personal differences during their partnership (the constant backstage hostilities inspired Neil Simon to incorporate them into his successful show-business-themed comedy The Sunshine Boys).Ed Gallagher died in 1929; Al Shean worked occasionally thereafter as a solo character actor. The 1941 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical Ziegfeld Girl features a re-creation of Gallagher and Shean's act, with Al Shean in his familiar role and costume, and character actor Charles Winninger portraying Gallagher

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Magic doesn't always happen because of a clever magic trick or a great illusion or a special effect in a movie. Magic without the words "Abra Cadabra" happens best when two amazingly gifted individuals come together and combine the talents that God has given them and create a song, a sound and a harmony that is unequaled. I have been a songwriter since 1980-- that's twenty eight years out of sixty-- almost half of my life. And sometimes, its hard to continue when dreams refuse to come true as we want them to. But becoming a songwriter in the first place, was a complete happy accident. I had no formal training whatsoever. At least Mel Brooks had been a jazz drummer before he took on comedy and musical theatre. I had literally stumbled into all of this because of God's sweet gift. The odds against it happening at all were astronomical. But then again Almighty God defies odds in ways that completely astound us. In 1996 my world had come crashing down with the loss of my agency and there should not have been any way that I would have written another song after that. But God had different ideas. My ability to write without training in any way depended on bar none the most amazing and talented individual I had ever met. This was Tim Doran. If Tim had gone to Juilliard instead of "having fun" touring with a jazz band, we would have never crossed paths. If Tim hadn't gotten bored writing music for a top science fiction TV series-- again, there would have been no way. But we did meet and this amazing man has helped me to create over five hundred songs since 1990. Then we lost contact completely and the only way we found each other was that Tim sold his house in Whittier, moved to a rental in Hacienda Heights and decided for the first time in his life to have a listed telephone number. So one day, when I wanted to write again, I called 411 and made an attempt to find him-- and found him-- only by the sheer grace of God. I was living in North Hollywood at the time. There he was. He looked amazing. He had gone through a regimen of health training and gymnastics.
But the next miracle came so unexpectedly, it simply blew me away. That was the accidental meeting through AOL that occurred between Tony Westbrook and myself. He had this dream of being a great singer and I was an original songwriter. I had still a lot of contacts. But the real magic happened when I decided to record some songs. Tony had sent some original songs he had recorded for other writers and I was blown away. So then the two guys (Crag and Christian) that I had allowed to open a recording studio in the office complex I was managing back in the early 90's and I struck a deal. I had let them into the complex upon their pleading even when their credit wasn't sterling and even that there was another recording studio in the complex. Be kind to others? It all comes back. They gave me fifty hours recording time gratis (because I had made that exception all those years ago) and the rest at $19 an hour. Into the studio came Tony Westbrook and we recorded an album called "Highway To A Dream". This was the winter 0f 1998 going into January of 1999. We recorded "Fly Me Home For Christmas" and two other songs and the magic began. By today's standards, it was crude. The old grand piano we used had seen much better days. And on went until we changed studios in late 1999. That was and is still today Smooth Sound Studios. But the amazing miracle was yet to come. We had decided to try and market us all by putting on a show. That show was called "I Love Those Shows" held in Hollywood. As we searched for other singers to perform in the show, by pure blessing of God, Tony Westbrook was introduced to Terry Snyder. And that pairing, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls was in two words "mind blowing" Their harmony, their simpatico, their timing and their sound together was simply astounding. Tony is an amazing singer all by himself. He has compelled this poor old writer to cry in pure joy on more occasions than I can tell you. But together: Westbrook & Snyder were so wonderful, it was like two angels had escaped heaven and found a singing gig together in Hollywood. Last night after many years, the duo was reunited and the magic was re-kindled all over again. W&S recorded a religious tune called "Open My Eyes" that I am still crying over. It is so beautiful and such a loving tribute to Almighty God. He has blessed my life in so many ways. This was my humble tribute in thanks to him for all of that. Tim arranged and created the tracks for the song and that was simply wonderful. The second song was called "Some Gave All"-- a patriotic song that again was arranged by Tim and turned out stirring and heartening. The last song was called "There's A Little Bit of Broadway In All of Us"-- a wonderful tribute to the "Great White Way"-- that almost didn't happen. Terry had thought the song wasn't quite right for harmonizing on and felt that Tony should do the song solo. By this time, it was late and his young son, Vincent needed to go to bed. Somehow (another miracle) we convinced him to go in and sing a guide version that Tony could follow with. Terry is a better sight reader and so that made logical sense. Terry went into that recording studio and in ONE take did an incredible solo performance. We hugged and Terry left. Guess what? That one take performance was so great that Tony felt it didn't need anybody else and there was nothing that he could really add to it. Oh by the way, that song was dedicated to Tony months ago. So the trooper that Tony is realized that the song dedicated to him didn't need any contribution by himself. I can only hope that Tony will visit California many more times and that the magic of Westbrook and Snyder can again one day be made again. Thank you both. Thank you Tim. Thank you to Robert (pictured here) who has been our engineer for years) Onward! Oh yes, thank you, God-- you are the word awesome in every sense of the word!

Friday, April 04, 2008


On this day forty years ago, the amazing and gifted Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis at the Loraine Motel shown here on this page. On March 30, 1968, Dr. King had come to Memphis, Tennessee in support of the black sanitary public works employees, represented by AFSCME Local 1733, who had been on strike since March 12 for higher wages and better treatment. (For example, African American workers, unlike white workers, were not paid when sent home because of inclement weather.) On April 3, King returned to Memphis and addressed a rally, delivering his "I've been to the Mountaintop" address a group at the Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ, Inc. – World Headquarters). King's flight to Memphis had been delayed by a bomb threat against his plane. In the close of the last speech of his career, in reference to the bomb threat, King said the following:
"And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. Dr. King was booked in room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, owned by Walter Bailey, in Memphis. The Reverend Ralph Abernathy, King's close friend and colleague who was present at the assassination, swore under oath to the HSCA that King and his entourage stayed at room 306 at the Lorraine Motel so often it was known as the 'King-Abernathy suite. While King was standing on the motel's 2nd floor balcony, he was shot at 6:01 p.m. The bullet entered through his right cheek smashing his jaw and then traveling down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder. According to biographer Taylor Branch, and also Jesse Jackson who was present, King's last words on the balcony were to musician Ben Branch (no relation to Taylor Branch) who was scheduled to perform that night at an event King was attending: "Ben, make sure you play "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty." Abernathy was inside the motel room, heard the shot and ran to the balcony to find King on the floor. There is some disagreement as to whether it was Abernathy who was on the balcony with King, and Jesse Jackson who ran onto the balcony after the shot was fired. Local Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles, whose house King was on his way to visit, remembers that upon seeing King go down he ran into a hotel room to call an ambulance. Nobody was on the switchboard, so Kyles ran back out and yelled to the police to get one on their radios. It was later revealed that the hotel switchboard operator, upon seeing King shot, had had a fatal heart attack and could not operate the phones. Dr. King was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital at 7:05 p.m. The assassination led to a nationwide wave of riots in more than 100 cities.Five days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national day of mourning for the lost civil rights leader. A crowd of 300,000 attended his funeral that same day. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey attended on behalf of Lyndon B. Johnson, who was holding a meeting on the Vietnam War at Camp David. (There were fears that Johnson's presence might incite protests and perhaps violence.) At his widow's request, King's last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church was played at the funeral. It was a recording of his famous 'Drum Major' sermon, given on February 4, 1968. In that sermon King made a request that at his funeral no mention of his awards and honors be made, but that it be said that he tried to "feed the hungry", "clothe the naked", "be right on the [Vietnam] war question", and "love and serve humanity". Per King's request, his good friend Mahalia Jackson sang his favorite hymn, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" at his funeral.According to biographer Taylor Branch, King's autopsy revealed that though he was only 39 years old, he had the heart of a 60-year-old man, evidencing the stress of 13 years in the civil rights movement. After the assassination, the city of Memphis quickly settled the strike on terms favorable to the sanitation workers.
Two months after King's death, escaped convict James Earl Ray was captured at London Heathrow Airport while trying to leave the United Kingdom on a false Canadian passport in the name of Ramon George Sneyd. Ray was quickly extradited to Tennessee and charged with King's murder. He confessed to the assassination on March 10, 1969, though he recanted this confession three days later. On the advice of his attorney Percy Foreman, Ray took a guilty plea to avoid a trial conviction and thus the possibility of receiving the death penalty. Ray was sentenced to a 99-year prison term.Ray fired Foreman as his attorney (from then on derisively calling him "Percy Fourflusher"). He claimed that a man he met in Montreal, Canada with the alias "Raoul" was involved, as was his brother Johnny, but not he himself. Further, Ray asserted that although he did not "personally shoot King," he may have been "partially responsible without knowing it," hinting at a conspiracy. He spent the remainder of his life attempting (unsuccessfully) to withdraw his guilty plea and secure the trial he never had.
On June 10, 1977, shortly after Ray had testified to the House Select Committee on Assassinations that he did not shoot King, he and six other convicts escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee. They were recaptured on June 13 and returned to prison. Some have speculated that Ray had been used as a "patsy" similar to the way that alleged John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was supposed to have been. Some of the claims used to support this assertion are:Ray's confession was given under pressure, and he had been threatened with death penalty! Ray was a thief and burglar and had no record of committing violent crimes with a weapon.Many suspecting a conspiracy in the assassination point out the two separate ballistic tests conducted on the Remington Gamemaster had neither conclusively proved Ray had been the killer nor that it had even been the murder weapon. Moreover, witnesses surrounding King at the moment of his death say the shot came from another location, from behind thick shrubbery near the rooming house (which had been inexplicably cut away in the days following the assassination), and not from the rooming house window In 1997, Martin Luther King's son Dexter King met with Ray, and publicly supported Ray's efforts to obtain a retrial.
In 1999, Coretta Scott King, King's widow, along with the rest of King's family, won a wrongful death civil trial against Loyd Jowers and "other unknown co conspirators". Jowers claimed to have received $100,000 to arrange King's assassination. The jury of six whites and six blacks found Jowers guilty and that "governmental agencies were parties" to the assassination plot.William F. Pepper represented the King family in the trial. On April 6, 2002, the New York Times reported a church minister, Rev. Ronald Denton Wilson, claimed his father, Henry Clay Wilson — not James Earl Ray — assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. He stated, "It wasn't a racist thing; he thought Martin Luther King was connected with communism, and he wanted to get him out of the way."In 2004, Jesse Jackson, said "I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray. God rest you, Dr. King: you were a true pioneer against prejudice and hatred.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Happy 76th birthday to a great show lady and Hollywood legend: the one and only Debbie Reynolds. My favorite role of hers was "The Singing Nun" and "Singing In The Rain"Debbie was quite a star in hey day during the 1950s and chalked up several hit records despite an only intermittent career as a recording artist. I love all of them! Her song "Aba Daba Honeymoon" (featured in the 1950 film Two Weeks With Love as a duet with Carleton Carpenter) was a top 3 hit in 1951. She is also remembered for her smash recording of the theme song "Tammy" which earned her a gold record and was the best-selling single by a female vocalist in 1957 and was number one for five weeks on the Billboard pop charts. Debbie also scored two additional top 25 Billboard hits with "A Very Special Love" in 1958 and 1960s "Am I That Easy To Forget", a pop version of Skeeter Davis' country hit (interestingly, Davis' real first names are also Mary Frances). During the 1950s, this amazing lady starred in numerous movies, such as Bundle of Joy (1956), with her then husband, Eddie Fisher, recorded hit songs (most notably "Tammy" from her 1957 film Tammy and the Bachelor, playing opposite Leslie Nielsen, the first of the series of Tammy movies), and headlined in major Las Vegas showrooms. Her starring role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) led to an Oscar nomination, but she lost to Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins. She played Jeanine Deckers in The Singing Nun. In what Debbie called the "stupidest mistake of my entire career", she made big headlines in 1970 after instigating a fight with NBC over cigarette advertising on her TV show. NBC canceled the show in January of the same year. In April of 1970-- on this very date, no less, Debbie got her way. Richard Nixon signed an executive order banning all cigarette and tobacco advertising on television-- and that, dear friends was NO April fool! Debbie is still making appearances in film and television, one of the few actors from MGM's "golden age of film" (along with Mickey Rooney, Lauren Bacall, Margaret O'Brien, Jane Powell, Rita Moreno, Leslie Caron, Dean Stockwell, Angela Lansbury, Russ Tamblyn and June Lockhart) who are still active in film making. From 1999 to its 2006 finale, she played the recurring role of Grace's ditzy mother Bobbi Adler on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace. She also plays a recurring role in the DCOM TV movie series Halloweentown as Aggie Cromwell. Reynolds made a guest appearance as a presenter at the 69th Annual Academy Awards Debbie has several CDs on the market of both vintage performances and later recordings. So Happy Birthday, dear lady. We still adore you!