The Way We Were

August 20, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download Instrumental   I can’t stand Barbra Streisand.  It’s not just her politics.  There’s something about her whole persona that makes me go “Ewww”.  Now, before I start getting hate mail from all you “Babs” fans out there, let me say that I know she’s a fantastic vocalist and actress and she’s won Oscars and Grammys and is an icon and I’m not.  I know all that.  She’s just not my cup of tea.  But this tune belongs to her.

That being said, “The Way We Were” was a perfect fit for Streisand.  However, the arrangement was soooo sweet and sappy, much like most of her other recordings.  I can understand the movie soundtrack having to be melodramatic (saddest movie ever!), but she recorded it again a year or two later and it was just as maudlin… only in a different way.  I guess that’s why I lean toward the Gladys Knight version for my arrangement here.  If you plan on using my backups of this song, be sure to give Gladys a nod when you perform it.  Don’t mention me, unless you want to confuse the crowd – “Who’s that?”  “Wha’d she say?’  “Who?”  “Never heard of him”.

Marvin Hamlisch wrote the music for “The Way We Were” in 1973.  Sadly, he died in 2012 at the tender age of 68.  Streisand sang this song as a tribute to Hamlisch at the 2013 Oscars ceremony.  She stepped out onstage when his picture was displayed, humming the lyrics and seeming to float across the stage (she floats everywhere).  Then she said a few words about her friend Marvin, ending with, “Marvin left us way too soon, but I’ll always have those wonderful…” (then she deftly moves into singing the famous first line of the song)  “memories, like the corners of my mind”.  It was pretty cool and well performed – much as it pains me to say it.

See her Oscar performance on the link below:

At the Hop

August 13, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download Instrumental   Let’s go back to 1958, shall we?  Rock’nRoll was really coming into its own that year, and “At the Hop” was at the top of the charts.   Always liked this one, mostly because it featured a boogie-woogie piano (not a guitar in sight). Those repetitive eighth notes are a bit tiresome to play live, but it can be done –  it’s all in the wrist.

Danny and the Juniors were four guys who met in high school in the mid-fifties.  They were all fascinated with “doo-wop”, a music genre that usually consisted of 4 or 5 people who sang but couldn’t play an instrument.  There would be one lead singer and 3 or 4 other singers gyrating behind him –  inserting harmony in all the right places.  The bands behind the doo-wop artists never got any recognition… ever.  Don’t get me wrong – I like doo-wop.  But a little of it goes a long way.  Kinda like bluegrass music.

The original title of this tune was “Do the Bop”, but a certain DJ at the time convinced them to change the name.  That DJ was Dick Clark.  In fact, “At the Hop” didn’t really get popular until Clark invited them to perform on American Bandstand in January of “58.  They soon recorded “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay” and “Dottie” – both of which did moderately well on the charts.  Dick Clark signed them to Swan Records in 1960, where they recorded their final hit “Twistin’ USA”.  After that, they just sorta disappeared…. much like doo-wop.

Click on the link below to see the boys sing this one on American Bandstand:

When Sunny Gets Blue

August 11, 2017 § Leave a comment

    This is one of my all-time favorites.  It’s sad, sultry and romantic – everything a great jazz song should be.  I’m the first to admit I’m not a good vocalist (I’m a player, NOT a singer), but I just had to try this piece.  If you’re a for-real singer, take my arrangement and blow your audience away with something they may not have heard before.

“When Sunny Gets Blue” was written by Marvin Fisher and Jack Segal – originally recorded by none other than Johnny Mathis.  But it took Nat King Cole to really put this one over the top and make it the jazz standard it is today.  This tune is perfect in every way, but an idiot DJ named Rick Dees almost derailed its popularity by doing a stupid parody that somehow caught on with the masses.  The first line is “When Sunny gets blue, her eyes get grey and cloudy”.  But this creature Dees recorded it as “When Sunny sniffs glue, her eyes get red and bulgy”.  That was 50 years ago, but I’d still like to wring his scrawny little neck.

My Yamaha has great saxophone sounds, and they really shine in this arrangement.  Everybody loves a sax solo.  Trot this one out in the middle of your last set.  Hit the blue spots, wait for the crowd to quiet down a bit, then take them back to when music was really music.  It would be a nice effect if you could squeeze out a tear or two, or at least let your voice crack a little.  Just sayin’….

Rocky Top

August 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download Instrumental    “Trapped like a duck in a pen”.  That piece of lyric in the last verse pretty much sums up the premise of this song – country boy stuck in the city and hating it.  Been there – done that.   All the noise – the traffic – the crush of people – rush hour….. thanks but no thanks.  Although I’m by no means a country boy, I despised city life.  It’s been “Green Acres” for me for a very long time now.  Still looking for that mountaintop in Tennessee though.  Guess I’ll have to settle for a sand dune on the beach… and a Margarita.

This piece was written in a Gatlinburg hotel room by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant – the husband and wife song-writing team largely responsible for the success of The Everly Brothers.  They were working on a few slow tunes for the TV series Hee Haw and decided to take a break and work on something a little more up-tempo.   They wrote “Rocky Top” in ten minutes.  Guests at the Gatlinburg Inn can now stay in “The Rocky Top Suite” for the bargain price of $600 a night.  Think I’d rather go with the “Duck Pen Special” for 75.

This is a great semi-bluegrass tune you can suddenly spring on your audience in the middle of the third set.  It will surprise and delight, believe it.  A word to the wise, however.  We discovered that you don’t want to play this one if you have a room full of Alabama football fans.  Trust me…. the “Roll Tides” will overpower the music and you may not make it out of the club in one piece.

Stoned Soul Picnic

July 22, 2017 § Leave a comment

    Being “stoned ” doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with marijuana.  In this song, what’s getting us stoned is moonshine mixed with honey and sassafras – sounds like a good combination to me.  That’s the same concoction Granny mixed up as “rheumatiz medicine” on The Beverly Hillbillies.  She joked that it might not cure your aches and pains but “it sure made you happy you got it”.  Those were different times, folks.

The 5th Dimension released this one in 1968.  They loved the song and couldn’t believe it was written by a white girl from the Bronx.  I guess the attitude then was white people can’t write soulful songs.  The writer’s name escapes me now…no, wait… Laura Nyro, that’s it.  After this tune became a huge hit, they recorded several more Laura Nyro masterpieces, like “Sweet Blindness” and “Save the Country”.  But none of these measured up to “Stoned Soul Picnic”.

Now I’m going to clear up one of the great musical mysteries of all time.  What does “surry” mean? The very first line is “Can you surry, can you picnic” – then the chorus is “Surry down to a stoned soul picnic”.  I always envisioned people traveling to this great picnic in a horse and carriage (a surrey) – women in big hats carrying parasols and men with ascots around their neck.  But you’ll notice that the “surry” in the song drops the “e” – so it’s not a horse and carriage thing.  When asked what the word “surry” means, Nyro said, “Oh, it’s just a nice word”.  Turns out, it’s actually a slurred play on the phrase “Let’s hurry”.  Surry.   Say it and think “Let’s hurry”.  Works, doesn’t it?  Now the song makes sense.  You were a sly one, Laura.

Build Me Up, Buttercup

July 15, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download MP3    Over dinner the other night at Ruby Tuesday, my wife/mistress/best friend/chick singer suddenly asked. “Why didn’t we ever do the song Build me up, Buttercup?”  Now, where did that come from?  Did I miss something between the Shrimp Fondue and the Cajun Rib Eye?  “Uh, I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe because you never asked.”  She looked at me kinda funny and said, “Do you think I should have?”  Okay… this could be a trick question.  Did she ask me to work it up in 1997 and I forgot?  Entirely possible.  I scanned the menu for buttermilk biscuits which could have, you know, reminded her.  Nothing.  Best to admit I was wrong.  About what, I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter.  I was just wrong not to have ever performed that song…. period.

“Build Me Up, Buttercup” is one of those tunes that you hear and think it’s pretty good, but then promptly forget you ever heard it.  Then, two years later, you’re wandering through the produce department at Winn-Dixie and there it is again – happily streaming through the ceiling speakers.  You leave the store and it’s out of your head again for another two years.  The song is just…well…forgettable.

“The Foundations” recorded this one in 1968 – bet you don’t remember them either.  They were the first multi-racial group to ever have a hit.  Interesting.  It really is a good piece of music and could work in a small dance venue.  I won’t ever do it – can’t remember the lyrics – but you might want to give it a try.  The original had lots of backup vocals but I’m using horns instead since I arranged it with “solo performer” in mind.  It’s on the Pop/Rock list.

Quick!  Download the backing tracks…. before you forget!  D’oh!

Mony Mony

July 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download Instrumental    “Mony Mony” has everything a rock song should have – pounding bass, heavy beat with that double snare, and guitars on overdrive.  It’s a great song to perform for a dance crowd that wants old-style, solid rock’n’roll – as long as you don’t do it like “Tommy James and the Shondells”.  Do it like Billy Idol, please.  He turned a good rock song into a great rock classic… yes, he did.

Oh, I know, Tommy James is the original artist and we always like the original best.  Well, not this time.  James wrote this piece with three other people and it took them nearly a year to get it together.  If you listen to the lyrics, you wouldn’t think it could take more than five minutes.  Problem was, they had the music down and all the so-called lyrics except for one little thing – the name of the song.  What were they going to name the girl?  The melody needed a name with two syllables.  Rhonda maybe?  Nope – The Beach Boys had that one wrapped up.  Susie, perhaps?  No… too cute and cuddly.  How ’bout Michele?  The Beatles snagged that one.  Besides, the girl in this song isn’t French – I just know it.  Oh, my… what to do, what to do?  They just couldn’t come up with a name that was offbeat enough without being totally bizarre.  Boy, the things we humans agonize over (never end a sentence with a preposition – just sayin’).

But then inspiration struck!  Tommy and one of his songwriting partners were working on this tune in his Manhattan apartment and were still getting nowhere with the title.  Finally, disgusted, they threw down their guitars (I’ll bet they didn’t actually throw them down) and stepped out on the balcony for a smoke.  They looked up and started laughing – a huge sign on top of the building across the street read “Mutual Of New York Insurance Company”.  There it was… M-O-N-Y.  Ain’t life funny?  And now they had a hit song – but it took Billy Idol 15 years later to get it right.

Summer Breeze

July 2, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download Instrumental    It is Summer, after all.  And what better song to introduce sunny beaches, hot dogs on the grill, and Spf 30 sunscreen than “Summer Breeze” by  Seals and Croft (as opposed to “Summer Wind” by Sinatra).

Jim Seals and Dash Croft were  Texas boys who played in a band called “The Champs” in the early sixties.  You might remember their instrumental hit (well, there was one word) called “Tequila”.  That group broke up in 1965 and for years Seals and Croft bounced from band to band, even playing a stint with Glen Campbell for awhile.  In ’72, the duo released “Summer Breeze”, which soared to number 6 on the charts and ranked number 13 on Rolling Stone’s “Best Summer Songs of All Time”.  Who knew there was such a list?  Number one on that list is “Dancin’ in the Streets” by Martha and the Vandellas.  Wouldn’t have picked that one myself, but supposedly it’s the ultimate invitation to get outside and boogie.  Okay.

“Summer Breeze” is much more laid-back and has an ethereal quality about it that just oozes harmony and love of life itself.  If you’re playing a beach party, this is a great tune to trot out just as the sun sets over the water.  Make this summer a fun one… chances are, you’ll only  get 85 or so of them.

Margaritaville: Country-Style

June 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download Instrumental    To all you working musicians out there, let’s face it – when you play a tune night after night for years, you can get mighty sick of it.  Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” is one of those unfortunate songs… as is “Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison (I USED to love that one).  But your audience is unforgiving – they want to hear it just like the original artist (sigh).

That’s why I loved it when Alan Jackson came out with a country version of “Margaritaville”, even though Buffett joined him on the last verse.  Jackson got a nice hit out of it, which gave bar band musicians leeway to play it a little differently and get away with it.  Now your crowd is saying, “Oh, that’s Jackson’s version…cool!”  See?  Everybody’s happy.  We stopped doing it Buffett’s way a long time ago.  I happen to like the country styling better (still kept the marimba though).

There has been a rumor floating around for years that Elvis was supposed to record “Margaritaville”.  When Buffett first penned the tune in Key West (sitting on his front porch strumming a guitar, watching tourists bake and shrimp boil), his first idea was to give it to “The King” to record, but Elvis died before that could happen.  Don’t know if I believe that story and Jimmy’s not talking.  I can’t see Elvis complaining about stepping on a pop-top on his way home to drink a gallon of Margaritas.  Just doesn’t fit somehow.

So, if you’re still singing this song the “Buffett” way and can’t stand it anymore, use these backups and go country!  As for “Brown-Eyed Girl”, we went from performing Van Morrison’s original to using the cover by….. Jimmy Buffett.  Go figure.

The Sax Man

June 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

  Download Instrumental     “Harlem Nocturne” is one of the more famous saxophone instrumentals of the 20th century.  It was written by American composer Earle Hagen, who was best known for writing the theme songs for television shows.  His credentials include The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mod Squad, and That Girl.  He co-wrote the theme to The Andy Griffith Show and was the guy who did the actual whistling.  You remember that one, don’t you?  I use “Andy” as the ringtone on my cell phone – that’s how old I am.

Anyway, the jazz standard “Harlem Nocturne” came about when Hagen was commissioned to write the theme music for Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.  That particular TV series  starred Darren McGavin as the gritty, hard-boiled detective who fought crime when he wasn’t “chasing skirts” (Stacy Keach later played the role).  The setting was dark and brooding, which was a perfect pairing with the haunting sound of the saxophone melody introducing the show.  It’s been recorded a thousand times, but by far the best is the version by Gato Barbieri – talk about haunting!  There are also lyrics for this tune, so all you singers out there take notice.  Use these backups, mute the sax track, and go for it.

My all-time favorite rendition of this song was by a great friend of mine named Arnie Kole.  I first met Arnie in Ft. Lauderdale at a bank-opening celebration.  A talent agency needed “greeters” who looked like certain celebrities.  Arnie and I  had been hired and just happened to get on the same elevator.  It’s extremely rare for me to like anybody immediately, but Arnie was a different breed.  I could tell he was playing Gabe Kaplan (Mr. Kotter) cause the resemblance was obvious.  He asked me who I was supposed to be (not a good sign) and I said, “David Cassidy”.  He looked at me for a long moment and finally said, “Okay”.  It was just a few nights later that he walked into a Boca Raton club I was working, carrying a saxophone.  He walked up to the piano, handed me some sheet music, and asked, “Can you play this, Mr. Cassidy?” (cute).   Well, yeah… I mean you’re waving the music in my face.   Long story short, he ended up onstage and blew us all away with “Harlem Nocturne”.  From that moment on, we were comrades-in-arms.

Arnie and I got along so well because we were musicians, of course, but we also had the same philosophy of life.  You know how they say good friends laugh and cry together, sharing the good times with the bad.  Neither of us believed in the crying part.  We could laugh our way through anything and found ways to make everything fun.  Arnie and I went our separate ways several years ago, but still kept in touch.  Sadly, I heard recently that he passed away and I will never completely get over his death.  Life isn’t quite as much fun as it used to be.  I’m crying now, ol’ buddy.