Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

APRIL 25, 1926: HERE THE MAESTRO DIED

The world premier of Giacomo Puccini’s last opera “Turandot” was held at Milan’s La Scala on April 25, 1926, two years after his death. Arturo Toscanini conducted. Toward the end of the third act, Toscanini laid down his baton, turned to the audience and announced: “Here the Maestro died.”  Puccini had died before finishing the opera. Subsequent performances at La Scala and elsewhere included the last few minutes of music composed by Franco Alfano using Puccini’s notes.  A highlight of the opera is “Nessun Dorma,” probably the most famous aria in all of opera.

Down at the End of Lonely Street

Elvis Presley scored his first number one hit on the Billboard Pop 100 on this date in 1956.  Recorded and released as a single in January, “Heartbreak Hotel” marked Presley’s debut on the RCA Victor record label . It spent seven weeks at number one, became his first million-seller, and was the best-selling single of 1956. The song was based on a newspaper article about a lonely man who committed suicide by jumping from a hotel window.

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Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

April 20, 1935: Splish Splash, Snooky Was Taking a Bath

A music staple of the 40s and 50s, Your Hit Parade, made its radio debut on April 20, 1935. It lasted for nearly 25 years before being done in by rock and roll music – and perhaps Snooky Lanson. It began as a 60-minute program with 15 songs played in a random format, and eventually moved to television where the seven top-rated songs of the week were presented each week in elaborate production numbers requiring constant set and costume changes.  The list of top songs was compiled through a closely guarded top secret algorithm that involved record sales, quarters plunked into jukeboxes, shoplifted sheet music and the divination of an unidentified mystic in Memphis, Tennessee.

Dorothy Collins , Russell Arms, Snooky Lanson and Gisèle MacKenzie were top-billed during the show’s peak years. And Lucky Strike cigarettes starred throughout its run.

As the rock and roll era took over, the program’s chief fascination became seeing a singer like Snooky Lanson struggle with songs like Splish Splash and Hound Dog.

Matilda, Part 1: The Poobah
Goes to Sea

It couldn’t have been easier.

The Pooh-Bah’s engine roared to life without protest, and Humberto negotiated his way past the other yachts attempting to outsway each other as a show of sovereignty over the Playa Marique harbor. Behind him, the Bacchanal Beach Club sleeping off a night of hedonism with a reggae beat became tiny and meaningless.

Odus, useless as usual, lazed in a deck chair, dead to the world. But Humberto didn’t need him at the moment, and he enjoyed the solitude. He stood at the wheel as though he were the very proud – and legitimate – owner of the Pooh-Bah, as she plied the now glistening water. He whistled a lilt he had learned as a child on the streets of a less cosmopolitan Caracas. When he delivered this fine yacht to Caracas he would be rewarded handsomely. This time he’d take a little vacation. Buenos Aires, maybe. Or Rio.

Humberto’s reverie was shattered by the appearance of someone who wasn’t Odus – a young woman whose tousled blonde hair and oversized T-shirt suggested that until a few minutes ago she had been sleeping. She half glared at him through half-open eyes.

“Who the hell are you?” demanded Humberto, his eyes very open.

“Who the hell are you?” the young woman retorted.

“I asked first.”

“I don’t care. It’s my boat.” She paused. “Well, it’s Harold’s.”

“Who’s Harold?”

“None of your business. Get off this boat.”

“Is that the son?” She didn’t answer. “Or the father. You are a mistress to one of them, aren’t you?”

“You animal. Harold is my stepfather. It’s his boat.”

“Of course,” said Humberto. “I didn’t recognize you all messed up like that. You’re the daughter.”

“Matilda,” she answered. “Now who are you?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Humberto growled. “I’m in charge here.”

“Like hell you are.” She rested clenched fists on her hips, yielding not a bit. “You’re trespassing. Just what are you up to?”

“I am stealing your stepfather’s boat. And why are you here? You should be on your way to the volcano with your mama and papa.”

“I was with Ramon. He left and I fell – hey, this is none of your business. Who do you think you are? My nanny?”

“Your parents, they will be worried. Damnit. They’ll come looking for you, find the boat gone. I ought to slit your throat.”

“You bet your sweet ass they’ll come looking for me. The police maybe even the navy are probably after us already. You’re ass is grass.”

Odus stumbled toward them, tucking his shirt into his pants. “Hey man, who’s the chick?”

“Don’t call me a chick,” Matilda snapped. “My name is Matilda. But don’t call me that either. Just don’t call me.”

“Hot little chick, isn’t she?” said Odus, staring at her and grinning. “What’s she doing here?”

“She’s a stowaway,” said Humberto.

“I am not. I belong here. But you don’t, and you’ll both be in jail before long.”

“Nice legs,” said Odus, inspecting her. “I’ll bet she’s got a cute ass, too.”

“God, you’re slime,” Matilda said, making a face to suggest she was about to throw up.

“You little bitch,” said Odus, raising his arm to strike her.

“Stop it,” said Humberto.

“Yeh,” said Matilda, who had flinched only momentarily. “If I have any bruises when they catch you, you’ll probably never see the outside of a cell again, that is if they don’t shoot you.”

“What’s she talking about?” asked Odus, turning to Humberto.

“Our plans may have been fouled up, thanks to little miss hot pants here,” said Humberto. Matilda smiled at him. “Let me think,” he said.

“Oooh, that should be exciting,” said Matilda. “Can I watch?”

continued

Matilda is one of the 15 stories from Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean, available as an ebook or in a print edition with real pages and everything.

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

February 26, 1928, 1932: I Found My Thrill, I Walk the Line

Two legends of early rock and roll share birthdays on February 26. One was born in New Orleans in 1928, the youngest of eight children; the other in Arkansas in 1932, one of seven siblings. One started as a boogie-woogie jazz musician, the other singing country music. They both burst onto the pop scene in a big way in the mid50s with the songs they remain identified with — “Blueberry Hill” and “I Walk the Line.”

fats_dominoAntoine Domino was the son of a Creole fiddler who began playing professionally in New Orleans honky-tonks at the age of 10. It was there he picked up the name Fats and the foot-stomping, driving piano sound that would become his signature as demonstrated in his first recording, “The Fat Man” in 1949. In

1955, his career got a boost from an unlikely source, Pat Boone, whose white cover version of “Ain’t That a Shame” helped Fats Domino’s version cross over to the pop charts where he remained. From then on, he needed no help from anyone — “Blueberry Hill”, “Blue Monday”, “I’m Walkin'”, “Walking to New Orleans” and on — 65 million records worldwide, until retiring back to New Orleans in the 1980s with only an occasional local appearance.

 

Johnny Cash moved to Memphis in 1954, hoping to become a radio

02 Aug 1970 — 8/2/1970: Close-up publicity portrait of singer Johnny Cash. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

announcer. At night he played with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant, known as the Tennessee Two. Cash visited Sun Records where he auditioned for Sam Phillips, singing gospel songs. Although Phillips had no interest in gospel, he eventually gave Cash a contract singing country. Cash recorded “Hey Porter,” “Cry Cry Cry,” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” which had some success on the country hit parade.  Then in 1956, “I Walk the Line” became No. 1 on the country charts and crossed over to the pop charts. Cash left the label in 1958 to sign a lucrative offer with Columbia Records, where his single “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” became one of his biggest hits. Hit followed hit, many with his wife June Carter Cash, right into the next century.

Both Fats Domino and Johnny Cash have won just about every musical recognition there is. The Man in Black died in 2003, shortly after the death of his wife June: Fats died in 2017.

 

 

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February 5, 1957: One If By Land, Two If By Saxophone

It has been endlessly debated when and with whom rock and roll actually began, but most enthusiasts have pretty much settled on a guy who cut an unlikely figure for a rock artist but who brought rock and roll into the public eye with a bang in 1955. The man was Bill Haley, along with his Comets, and the song was “Rock Around the Clock” introduced in the film Blackboard Jungle. During the next few years a string of hits including “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “See Ya Later, Alligator” followed.

Time passes quickly and when you’re at the pinnacle of musical stardom, you’re on a slippery slope. Along comes a guy named Elvis and you’re yesterday’s sha-na-na. Who’s going to scream and carry on for a thin-haired, paunchy 30-year-old musician with a silly curl in the middle of his forehead and a garish plaid sports jacket?

The Brits, that who.

By 1957, Bill Haley and the Comets had already enjoyed their golden days of American super-stardom. But the battle of Britain lay ahead. When they stepped off the Queen Elizabeth in Southampton on February 5, they began the first ever tour by an American rock and roll act and launched what rock historians called the American Invasion.

When Haley and the band reached London later that same day, they were greeted by thousands in a melee the press called “the Second Battle of Waterloo.” These were the British war babies just becoming teenagers, and they were ready for American rock and roll. Among those who turned out for Bill Haley and the Comets were a few that would make their own music history.

“I’ve still got the ticket stub in my wallet from when I went to see Bill Haley and the Comets play in Manchester in February 1957—my first-ever concert” said Graham Nash. “Over the years I’ve lost houses . . . I’ve lost wives . . . but I’ve not lost that ticket stub. It’s that important to me.”

“The birth of rock ‘n’ roll for me?” said Pete Townshend, “Seeing Bill Haley and The Comets . . . God, that band swung!”

“The first time I really ever felt a tingle up my spine was when I saw Bill Haley and The Comets on the telly,” said Paul McCartney. “Then I went to see them live. The ticket was 24 shillings, and I was the only one of my mates who could go as no one else had been able to save up that amount. But I was single-minded about it. I knew there was something going on here.”

No Peeping Now

In 1861, Samuel B. Goodale who hailed from Cincinnati received a patent for a clever hand-operated stereoscope device on which still pictures were attached like spokes to an axis which revolved which caused the pictures to come to life in motion — a mechanical peep show that folks viewed through a small hole for a penny a pop.  The usual subjects for peep shows were animals, landscapes,  and theatrical scenes, but they eventually descended into naughtiness.  The term peep show itself comes from Peeping Tom, a sneaky British tailor who made a hole in the shutters of his shop so he might surreptiously spy on Lady Godiva who felt the need to ride naked naked through the streets of the city.  He was struck blind for his effort.