A Whiter Shade of Pale

January 6, 2018 § Leave a comment

  Download    I never really liked playing an organ. It seems like if you hold a chord for just a hair too long the sound becomes dissonant and downright unpleasant. I never got the hang of it.  Besides, they’re too heavy to haul around.  But I do like songs that feature the instrument, and this is one of the best.

“A Whiter Shade of Pale” was recorded by the British group “Procol Harum” (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) in 1967.  It’s considered one of the best rock ballads ever put to vinyl and has sold over 10 million copies.  A chap named Keith Reid wrote the lyrics and claims he overheard the phrase “whiter shade of pale” at a party.  He thought it had potential to be a song, but ol’ Keith thought almost everything could be a song.  He was strictly a lyricist – couldn’t play an instrument or sing – so he scrambled around and put together a band to record the many compositions he had written.  Even though he was not a musician per se, he was considered an official member of “Procol Harum” – as well he should have been.  He was the brains behind the whole operation.

The words are a little convoluted and many insane interpretations of their meaning have been offered up over the years.  But, trust me, they don’t refer to drug use or UFO’s or even the Holocaust – they’re about getting drunk and trying to score.  It’s just that simple.  Besides, it’s not the lyrics that are the beauty of this masterpiece – it’s the music itself and how it flows.  Our Mr. Reid listened primarily to classical and jazz music, and this one has definite Bach overtones.  In fact, if you listen closely, you can pick out a few bars of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Air on the G String composition.  And, if memory serves, I believe Bach played the organ every now and then.  Pretty sure of it.

Some people can play an organ like nobody’s business – the intro to “Light My Fire” by The Doors comes to mind.  Then there’s Booker T and the MG’s with “Green Onions”.  I don’t play the organ very well, but maybe you do.  Put  “Whiter Shade of Pale” in your repertoire, if it’s not already there.  The lyrics are not relevant or even particularly poetic.  It’s the music, man… it’s almost always about the music.

Check out this YouTube video.  It’s the band playing live in Denmark in 2006 with a full orchestra.  Freakin’ beautiful!

Hello, Mary Lou

December 30, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download Instrumental    Ricky Nelson never sounded better.  However, some of you out there may not have a clue who Ricky Nelson is.  You’ll have to go back to the late 1950’s and early 60’s (best time ever for music) and get acquainted with a TV program called The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.  Go ahead – google it.  I’ll wait…

The program ran for 14 straight seasons with 30 episodes per season – all written by the dad, Ozzie Nelson.  It has the distinction of being the longest-running live American sitcom and served as the springboard for the youngest son’s music career – that would be Ricky.  Ozzie knew his boy had talent, so he began writing situations into the show that highlighted Ricky’s singing.  He first performed on an episode in 1957 – covering Fats Domino’s hit, “I’m Walkin”.  That’s all it took to make him a bona fide teen idol…. much like me.  Yeah… right.

“Hello, Mary Lou” was written by Gene Pitney (of “Town Without Pity” fame) and first recorded in 1960 by Johnny Duncan (don’t know who he is).  Our boy Ricky recorded it the following year and had a pretty decent hit with it.  In the United States, this song was on the B-side of the record with a little tune called “Travellin’ Man” as the main feature.  However, in the United Kingdom, “Mary Lou” was released on the A-side, with “Travellin’ Man” taking a back seat.  I always knew the Brits were smarter than us, except for the way they spell “traveling”.  You’ll notice my arrangement is a bit on the “country” side, but it still works, I think.

My only problem with Ricky Nelson is I always thought he was gonna nod off at any minute.  Oh, I know… that “sleepy-eyed” look is supposed to be really sexy, but a little energy couldn’t hurt.  Wake up, Rick!  And say hello to Mary Lou…

I think he’s shaking his right leg on the link below to stay awake:



Christmas Time is Here

December 23, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download Instrumental    Christmas is a joyous time of the year, is it not?  Celebrating the birth of our Savior – gatherings of friends and family – decorating trees and wrapping gifts – children screaming in delight ’cause they got just what they wanted under the tree…  all contribute to the joy of the season.

But the holidays can also be a bit sorrowful for some folks.  Perhaps it brings back memories of a Christmas spent entirely alone without  friends or family, or the loss of a loved one around this time of year – or just disappointment  with that ugly sweater Aunt Clara gave you in 1967.  Christmas can be a sad time for some of us – maybe even depressing.  We all have our crosses to bear but, somehow, when these holidays roll around, it all seems worth it – even if bittersweet.

This song,”Christmas Time is Here”, falls into that melancholy category, I think.  Oh, it’s not the lyrics.  They’re all happy and full of cheer.  It’s the melody and general aura of the music itself.  The notes take you back to past holidays that maybe weren’t quite so good.  The tune was written by Vince Guaraldi and was supposed to be an instrumental introduction to the animated Christmas special A Charlie Brown Christmas (that’s Charlie above with that slightly crooked smile on his face – he was never a very happy character – the boy had a lot on his mind).  Just before it aired, the producer of the special decided that it would work better with words, so he sat down and penned the entire song in 10 minutes.  He had the Peanuts characters all sing it together while Charlie wonders why he’s not feelin’ the buzz.  Can you say “neurotic”?

It’s good to feel just a little sad this time of year.  It counters the hysteria of department stores and Santa Claus wannabes and some really bad holiday tunes (Grandma and an errant reindeer come to mind).  A little tug at the heart gives one pause to reflect on what the true meaning of Christmas is –  it’s good for your soul, you know.

Click the link below to experience Charlie’s neurosis:


Whatever Will Be, Will Be

December 10, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download Instrumental    I walked into a convenience store the other day and there was a young lady behind the counter with a tatoo around her neck. Upon closer investigation (I had to lean in), I realized it read “Que Sera Sera”.  That made me remember a song I hadn’t heard in years and I told her so.  Her reply was, “It’s a song?”  After assuring her that, indeed, it was a very nice song, she told me she also had a tatoo on her back and did I want to see it?  “Uh…. no, thank you – I’ll take your word for it.”  Sheesh!

Anyway, “Que Sera Sera” IS a song and quite a good one at that.  Some may consider it a bit “hokey” (me included), but it has a nice set of lyrics that tell a little story.  The entire life of the narrator is portrayed in just three verses – no, it’s not you’re born, you live, you die (well, maybe).  First there’s childhood – “When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, what will I be?”  Then there’s the young adulthood stage –  “When I was young I fell in love, I asked my sweetheart, what lies ahead?”  Finally, parenthood – “Now I have children of my own, they ask their mother, what will I be?”  Of course the answer to all three questions is  – “whatever”.  That’s my convenience store clerk’s interpretation.  Rather blunt, I think.

The translation is actually a much sweeter “whatever will be, will be” and is of French origin, or Italian, depending on how it’s spelled.  Doris Day introduced the song in the film The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1956, and also used it as the theme song for her TV series.  It’s a wholesome tune – innocent and not of this time, but sometimes a little nostalgia does us all some good.  Try it onstage, but choose your audience carefully – not everyone will like this one. I used an Italian accordion for the lead because I thought it fit the style of the song and I happen to like everything Italian.  You, of course, will sing it – beautifully, I hope.  Arriverderci…

To Love Somebody

December 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download Instrumental    You remember the Bee Gees, right?  And who can forget the movie Saturday Night Fever?  Well, you might not have been born yet, but surely you youngsters have seen it.  In that iconic motion picture,  the brothers Gibb introduced us to the driving bass and drum arrangements that came to be known as “disco”.   We all had big fun with the disco craze, back in the day.  I still have a big disco ball buried deep in my closet.

But, believe it or not, there was life before disco for the Bee Gees.  There was a time in the late 60’s when they were writing and recording actual love ballads – “To Love Somebody” was one of the best.  But I’m about to upset all you females out there who swooned over Barry Gibb.  Handsome lad, that one.  It seems their manager, Robert Stigwood, was an integral part of the gay show business crowd in London (you can see where this is going, can’t you?).  He asked Barry Gibb to write a song just for him.  Gibb said in an interview much later, “Personally, the song was for Robert.  I don’t think it was a homosexual thing”.  Well, take from that what you will, it’s still a great love song.  Sorry ladies… this Bud’s not for you.

As is the case with so many tunes, the Bee Gees let this one fade out at the end.  I hate that!  And it certainly doesn’t work on stage.  The ending on this arrangement is a bit unorthodox, but I think it works.  Might make you smile… wait for it.

I Saw the Light

November 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download Instrumental    Hank Williams was asleep and slightly inebriated in the back seat of his car. It was 1947 and he was returning to Montgomery from a show in Fort Deposit, Alabama. His mother, Lily, was at the wheel, driving Hank and his band back home as she did quite frequently.  She had put a guitar in her son’s hand at the tender age of 8 and acted as his manager until he married Audrey Shepard – who took over as his manager with a vengeance (that’s her in the picture above).

But back to the car.  It was the middle of the night and Mom spied the lights of the airport outside Montgomery in the distance. She roused ol’ Hank  and told him, “I saw the light”.  Bam! Inspiration strikes!  Hank wrote this song and had it ready to record in less than a month.  It has since become a standard country gospel tune and has been recorded by zillions of artists.

Audrey Shepard married Hank in a gas station – how romantic – and insisted on taking charge of his career.  She was also the bass player in his band.  Quite a lady, this one.   After Hank recorded “I Saw the Light”, she decided it would be better if she sang it with him.  Trouble was, she couldn’t sing a lick.  But like all bad singers, she thought she was just the best ever.  Williams reluctantly recorded another version with her, but sent a note to his producer letting him know he did NOT want that version released.  It never was, and I think we’re all the better for it.

Ring of Fire

November 23, 2017 § Leave a comment

    Download Instrumental    I was in what I’m pretty sure was an awful rock band in high school.  Then helping pay for college playing restaurants and Holiday Inns.  The Air Force found me playing dinner music on a white grand piano in the Officer’s Club.  Then it was a wedding band for eight years – next a jazz band for seven more.  South Florida next – cruise ships and fancy country clubs.  Finally the Gulf Coast in beach bars and honky-tonks for nearly ten years.  Not once during all that time did I ever play a Johnny Cash song – not once!  Why?  I honestly don’t know.  Just never occurred to me.

So what’s wrong with Johnny Cash?  Nothing really, other than he couldn’t sing.  Neither can I, so that’s no excuse for ignoring Johnny for 40 years.  I think it had something to do with every song sounding alike.  Except this one.  “Ring of Fire” has trumpets – I love trumpets.  So, in order to make things right, I’ve arranged this one to suit me and, hopefully, you other singers out there.  This one belongs in your set list.  And when you perform it, apologize to Johnny for me.

Jump, Jive and Wail!

November 19, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download Instrumental    Just what is the “Jitterbug” anyway? Anyone over 50 knows that it’s a dance (it’s also a fishing lure but that’s of little consequence here).  Cab Calloway introduced the term “jitterbug” in his 1934 hit Call of the Jitterbug.  Apparently, there is a strong relationship between jitterbug dancers and liquor – the first line of Cab’s song is “If you’d like to be a jitter bug, first thing you must do is get a jug”.  If you’ve seen the dance, you know there has to be a jug involved somewhere.

Whenever anyone asked us to do a jitterbug tune, we’d trot out “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” or this one – “Jump, Jive and Wail”.  This was the more interesting of the two.  I get a kick out of arranging big band music anyway – so many instruments, so little time – but the beat is what makes this a terrific jitterbug swing number.  Louis Prima came out with this one in 1956, then due to a resurgence of swing in the 90’s, The Brian Seltzer Orchestra (love that band) re-recorded it and made it into something way more hip.

So, the next time someone cries out “Jitterbug”, it’s not time to find an exterminator – it’s time to play “Jump, Jive and Wail” and watch them hit the dance floor.  You know that’s what you want them to do…. and tip.

You might see a little jiggerbugging on the link  below:


This Magic Moment

November 12, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download MP3    “This magic moment, while your lips are close to mine/will last forever, forever ’til the end of time”.  Now this is a love song, my friends.  But do  you hear lyrics like this today?  Well, no.  What passes for a romantic verse now is something like: “He wanna feel my summer rain, the thunder roll YEAH he wanna bang/All these bitches, but he want the coldest YEAH”.  Oh, please… spare me your song-writing genius, Rihanna… yeah.  I can’t even begin to listen to that kind of crap…. so I don’t.

Anyway (sigh), “This Magic Moment” was written by the songwriting team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.  (Mort?  Somebody named Mort can write an R&B classic?  I guess so.)  The Drifters had the original hit in 1960, which is the one I’m basing this arrangement on.  I thought the “calypso” feel to the tune was appealing – more so than the Jay and the Americans white mainstream version 8 years later (even though that was the bigger hit).  Singers, put this one in your repertoire – you can’t go wrong with a Drifters tune.  And if you have backup vocalists, even better.

“This magic moment, so different and so new/Was like any other, until I kissed you”.  Now that’s a love song…. yeah.

Cracklin’ Rosie

November 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

    Download Instrumental    This was Neil Diamond’s first American # 1 hit – recorded in 1970.  It’s a dynamic and memorable melody coupled with terrific instrumental backing by L.A studio musicians called The Wrecking Crew  (I’ve written about them before).  The lyrics to “Cracklin’ Rosie” suggest his devotion to a certain “woman of the night”.  Or does it?

Diamond swears it’s not about a woman at all.  “Cracklin’ Rose” was a  wine favored by lumber jacks in the Northwest.  It seems many a lonely night was spent “lumber-jacking” without a woman in sight.  So they turned to their favorite beverage to help ease their..uh… tension.  Now the lyrics take on a whole new meaning.  “Cracklin’ Rose, you’re a store bought woman”  (I’m thinking local liquor store).  “You make me sing like a guitar humming”  (ever sing at the top of your lungs when you’ve had a few drinks?)

Then there’s “Cracklin’ Rose make me smile” (ever had a stupid grin on your face after 3 scotches?).  “If it lasts for an hour, that’s all right – we got all night”  (now I’m thinking we need TWO bottles).  It’s about a bottle of wine, folks!  Disappointed?  Me, too… kinda.  Still a good song with a great beat for your dancing crowd.

You know, it strikes me that this could also be about one of those sexy blow-up dolls.  Just sayin’…