Friday, 19 March 2010

Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites!

While researching my Bobby Womack post last week I looked up who else had recorded Bouquet of Roses. I was unsurprised that Dean Martin, Slim Whitman and Ernest Tubb had all covered Eddy Arnold's country classic. I wasn't expecting Clint Eastwood to have had a stab too.

I'm a big Clint Eastwood fan. I wrote a GCSE English project about his westerns and even paid West End prices to see Space Cowboys (on my own). Carnival Saloon regulars will also know I'm not averse to country music. So how did Rawhide's Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites elude me all these years? Until now my knowledge of Clint's singing career began and ended with Paint Your Wagon.

A little investigation reveals that Eastwood recorded a couple of singles in the early 60s around the time he first tasted TV success on Rawhide. One of them was effectively a theme tune for his teenage cowpoke character Rowdy Yates.

MP3: Clint Eastwood - Rowdy

Buy Cameo Parkway 1957-67: 7digital | Amazon

Cowboy Favorites came out in 1963, the year before A Fistful of Dollars hit the big screen. The CD version I now have, retitled Country Favorites, is a fairly shoddy package and sadly lacks any original artwork or sleevenotes. You can see some of those on this Clint Eastwood fan site. Here's taster of the marketing efforts:

In the Cameo recording, Clint Eastwood presents an exciting song picture of the west - as it was. He vividly describes the life of the cowboy... he sings of their dreams, their sorrows and their joys. And, he sings this unique collection of "Cowboy Favorites" with an intimacy and style that marks him as a true show business "great."
In reality Eastwood croons his way through mediocre versions of country standards like Don't Fence Me In and Tumbling Tumbleweeds. His take on Bob Wills' signature tune San Antonio Rose is the jauntiest track on the collection.

MP3: Clint Eastwood - San Antonio Rose

But Clint Eastwood Sing Country Favorites: Amazon

Apparently Eastwood went on tour to promote the record. To little avail - it was never a hit and Cameo records boss Kal Mann seems precient when he told Clint "he would never make it big as a singer".

Do you have any other recommendations of actors' musical side-projects? I must confess to enjoying the cod-Jamaican vocal stylings on Robert Mitchum's Calypso Is Like So.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Alex Chilton R.I.P.

2010 is turning into an awful year if deaths of musical heroes is an index to consider. I woke this morning to learn the sad news that Alex Chilton died yesterday. He was 59 and scheduled to play a big gig at South By Southwest later in the week.

I got into Big Star as a teenager. Reading about their influence was unavoidable in interviews with many of the bands I loved - REM, The Lemonheads, Teenage Fanclub, The Jayhawks and so on. I've no doubt that Thirteen is far and away my favourite Big Star song because Wilco covered it.

Here then is one of their most-loved tracks and two great covers.

MP3: Big Star - September Gurls

Buy Big Star's Radio City - 7digital | Amazon

MP3: Wilco - Thirteen

Buy Big Star, Small World - Amazon

MP3: Evan Dando - The Ballad of El Goodo

Buy the Empire Records soundtrack - 7digital | Amazon

It was only relatively recently that I learnt about Alex Chilton's pre-Big Star years. As a teenager Chilton was the lead singer of Memphis blue-eyed soul group The Box Tops. Their 1967 single The Letter, produced by Dan Penn, was a multi-million seller. You'd never guess it from hearing his vocal but Chilton was just 16 years old.

MP3: The Box Tops - The Letter

If you've a penchant for jangly guitar and top melodies and are unfamiliar with Big Star do rectify that.You used to be able get Big Star's first pair of albums in a classic 'twofer' but it seems they're now only available individually (which is preferable actually as you can better enjoy the William Eggleston photo on the cover of Radio City).

Related Links
Alex Chilton dies, The Memphis Commercial Appeal
Remembering Big Star's Alex Chilton - nice piece in the Guardian
Alex Chilton: I'm In Love With That Song - post on the Aquarium Drunkard blog

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Bobby Womack Goes to the Country

The other week Andrew Collins wrote on his blog that he shared his birthday with Bobby Womack. He illustrated the post with the magnificent portrait above. I first saw that photo on the cover of a compilation on the Trikont label called Dirty Laundry - the Soul of Black Country. It's a brilliant record that features the likes of Solomon Burke, Bettye Lavette and Etta James delivering soul and R&B takes on country classics. All of them prove that there's a whole lot more to African-American associations with country music than Charley Pride.

Bobby Womack's featured track is a cover of Eddy Arnold's 1948 hit Bouquet of Roses.

MP3: Bobby Womack - Bouquet of Roses

Buy Dirty Laundry: Amazon

MP3: Eddy Arnold - Bouquet of Roses

Buy Eddy Arnold RCA Country Legends: 7digital | Amazon

Dirty Laundry's extensive liner notes quote Womack: "Country & Western is my roots, it's deeply rooted in all my song and lyrics. My people came from the hills of Virginia and played it a lot."

Bobby's version of Bouquet of Roses originally appeared on his 1976 flop BW Goes C&W, an album that would have no doubt sold even fewer copies if Womack had got his way and called it Step Aside Charley Pride, Give Another Nigger A Try! It was such a commercial disaster that United Artists, the label where he'd enjoyed most success, dumped him. (There are more juicy quotes from Bobby about the record on this old website).

If you've suggestions of other great country covers do please leave a comment below. I have some corkers up my sleeve that I'll also be sharing here soon.

Related Links
Bobby Womack - official site

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Some Thoughts On The Demise Of BBC 6 Music

On Monday my employer, the BBC, announced that it plans to axe my favourite radio station, 6 Music. Carnival Saloon's regular patrons will have read previous posts here about songs I've discovered on 6 Music and I doubt there's another station in the world that plays Tom Waits so regularly. That in itself is worth my licence fee. Jude Rogers has written a great piece in the Guardian that's spot-on in summing up my own feelings about the station.

The death knell was rung in the BBC's Strategy Review, a lengthy and wide-ranging document entitled Putting Quality First, that outlines proposed changes to all of the corporation. Although one of the five "content priorities" the review says the BBC will now focus on is "bringing knowledge, music and culture to new minds, eyes and ears" 6 Music's demise is justified on page 39.

Radio 6 Music presents a different challenge. Although small in audience, reaching around 700,000 listeners a week, it plays a wide range of music that listeners do not hear elsewhere and it introduces many listeners to music that is new to them. The BBC Trust’s recent review of Radio 6 Music confirmed that it is popular amongst its fan base and its music offering is distinctive. However, although it has achieved good growth in recent years, it has low reach and awareness and delivers relatively few unique listeners to BBC radio. And whilst 6 Music does not have a target demographic audience, its average listener age of 37 means that it competes head-on for a commercially valuable audience. Boosting its reach so that it achieved appropriate value for money would significantly increase its market impact. Given the strength of its popular music radio offering from Radio 1 and 2 and the opportunity to increase the distinctiveness of Radio 2, the BBC has concluded that the most effective and efficient way to deliver popular music on radio is to focus investment on these core networks.

This argument baffles me. The BBC are unwilling to try to increase 6 Music's reach because they believe commercial radio will well serve its average audience. Really? On page 56 the report states, "it is clear that commercial radio effectively delivers mainstream popular music broadcasting to younger and middle-aged adults. This audience is commercially attractive and the BBC’s digital services in this space (for instance, Radio 6 Music) do not currently deliver significant enough public value to justify their intervention." But which commercial stations are going to step up and fill the void left by 6? Certainly none of them do so at present. In a blog post last week Adam Bowie, who works for Absolute Radio, wrote, "One less major brand is never a good thing. Perhaps there'll be opportunities for services like Xfm or NME, but I'm really not sure."

I agree. One of 6 Music's great appeals is the vast and diverse array of music it plays in from many genres and eras. According to the Compare My Radio website in the last 30 days 6 Music played a whopping 2723 more unique tracks than XFM and 1317 more than NME Radio. Another of 6 Music's unique selling points is its creative and extensive use of the BBC archive. How will commercial rivals tap into this wonderful resource?

I think the Strategy Review's authors, gentlemen who evidently don't know their Art Brut from their Elbow, are confusing mainstream music with popular music. They are right that there's plenty of mainstream music on commercial radio (as there is on BBC Radio 1 and 2). But 6 Music is not a mainstream channel and it's frustrating to read that they think the station lacks significant public value. It's closer in spirit to Radio 3 than Radio 1 or Radio 2 in that its witty and engaging DJs expose their listeners to the rich cultural seam of popular music (in the very broadest sense) from the last 60 years.

I'm listening to the 6 Music Breakfast Show right now. Arcade Fire has just followed Jerry Lee Lewis. When I came home on Friday Tom Robinson played some grand old-timey twang I'd never previously heard and then had a beautiful live session by young folkie Emily Portman. While it's amusing to think about Golden Wonder sponsoring the Steve Lamacq show and Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service brought to you by the good people at Harris Tweed is there any genuine likelihood that 6 Music's intelligence, breadth and depth will be met by commercial radio?

On Wednesday's edition of Radio 4's Media Show John Tate, the BBC's Director of Policy & Strategy, stated that his review "sets Radio 1 and 2 a challenge to take up the best of what Radio 6 (sic) did and so become even more distinctive". Mark Thompson told Jon Snow on Channel 4 News the previous day that, "Some of the best stars and some of the best output on 6 Music could find a place on other networks".

This not only seems wrong-headed but also contradictory to what Putting Quality First proposes is "the most effective strategy for its popular music radio services" namely that "Radio 1 focusses on its target audience of 15-29 year-olds" and to "implement the findings of the recent Trust review on Radio 2, including the need to ensure that the average age of the station's audience (50) does not fall and, if at all possible, goes up". So presumably if some elements of 6 Music do migrate to Radio 1 or 2 then the station's 37-year-old average listener will not be encouraged to hear them.

It's unlikely that the playlist dominated output on Radio 1 and 2 will ever appeal to 6 Music fans especially if Radio 2 adopts the Strategy Reviews's proposal to commit "to at least 50% speech during daytime". This means that if elements of 6 Music's output do find a new home they'll likely be in "specialist music" slots. The joy of 6 is that you can turn it on at any hour of the day or night and hear a new song you've recently discovered, an old one you've forgotten you loved or something amazing that you've never heard before. Best of all, for the most part you'll be guided to that music by a presenter who's passionate and knowledgeable about what they are playing.

The Strategy Review begins with an introduction by Mark Thompson titled The BBC and Public Space. Public space he writes is "an open and enriching environment" that the BBC is part of. He discusses ITV's cancellation of the South Bank Show in this context: "Audiences lose a precious connection to arts world; the UK television industry loses an important documentary platform; but at the same time, many artists and cultural institutions lose a significant pathway to the public. Public space is diminished".

I'd argue that canning 6 Music will have a similarly negative impact. The artists and institutions that will "lose a significant pathway to the public" are new or non-mainstream bands and independent record labels. In a joint letter to Mark Thompson opposing the the cut the chief execs of the British Phonographic Industry and Association of Independent Music write, "There is no other radio station which is remotely comparable in scale or depth for showcasing new music". Today's Telegraph quotes Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien on a similar point, "I wonder if those who made this decision are actually aware of the hugely important role that 6 Music plays in fostering and promoting new bands, as well as still playing the likes of the band that I am in. It literally is the radio lifeblood for music outside of the mainstream."

6 Music is not perfect. Since Bob Shennan became its controller in January last year it does seem to have developed a stronger identity and the addition of Jarvis Cocker and Cerys Matthews to its DJ roster have both been well received. Still, some its other presenters are irksome and the station could do more at defining its purpose. It does have a relatively small audience and only 20% of the population has heard of the station. But let's not forget that 6 Music is only available on digital platforms and the station has never been well publicised. The only TV ad for it has been this bizarre one that does little to promote what makes 6 Music unique and worth investigating. I am convinced that with cross-promotion and a continual and sensible marketing push 6 Music audience's could grow significantly.

As a proud BBC employee and as a licence fee payer I'll be hugely disappointed if 6 Music closes down. There is no other station like it and I doubt that another one will spring up in its wake. To my mind it epitomises what the BBC can do that no other broadcaster can or is willing to do.

The BBC Trust may yet reject the proposals. If you have any thoughts on the Strategic Review the public consultation runs until 25 May 2010 and you can feedback via the BBC Trust Website. If you've never heard 6 Music and thinks it sounds appealing start listening.

On Monday Lauren Laverne ended an emotional show with Lambchop's Up With People. This morning she kicked off with Positively 4th Street. It seems appropriate to share them both.

MP3: Lambchop - Up With People

Buy Lambchop - Nixon: 7digital | Amazon

MP3: Bob Dylan - Positively 4th Street

Buy Bob Dylan - Biograph| 7digital | Amazon

Note: The views expressed above are my personal opinions and not those of the BBC.

Related Links
6 Music - listen online to every show from the last seven days
Save 6 Music Facebook Group
BBC Strategy Review Public Consultation - have your say
Related Posts with Thumbnails



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