Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Music: More Merle

Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, shall keep Merle Haggard from his appointed rounds. All the above weather conditions were in effect as we struggled out to the Rosemont Theatre to hear Merle play with his buddy, Kris Kristofferson. It was a good show, although it deserved a better venue. The Rosemont, located in a suburb of Chicago near O'Hare airport, has all of the charm of your average mall cineplex. More relevant, the sound was awful--county fairgrounds quality. The place is a hole and should be razed.

Kristofferson, who never was much of a vocalist, still couldn't sing. When he started in on "Me and Bobby McGee," it was unrecognizable through the first verse. On the other hand, Haggard's voice was still beautiful, especially considering that he's in his 70s and has had part of a lung removed. Also notable was the guitar-picking of 17 year-old son, Benion. The kid is phenomenal!

Merle Haggard had 38 number-one hits on the country charts. Naturally, he couldn't perform every hit in one evening. He skipped this, one of my favorites.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Music: Soul Train

The very best time to enjoy Soul Train was, at least for teenaged me, when my folks were out of the house. Then, I could move furniture to the periphery of the living room and commence to bust some moves. It's a wonder I didn't bust a lamp or my own spinal column while attempting dances like the Electric Boogaloo.

Although Soul Train started in Chicago, the visual appeal of the show really took off after it was syndicated and moved to studios in Los Angeles. And, the early 70s was a golden era for street fashion--people raided their parent's closets for WWII-era platform shoes, zoot suits and uniforms, and combined this nostalgic attire with sports gear and truly outlandish hair. I chose the following clip of the "line dance" of Soul Train in part because of the inclusion of some excellent B-boy moves, and in part because the outfits are brilliant. What a long, hot fun summer it must have been in 1974, some where far, far from rural Ohio.

Chicago Reader. "Soul Train Local" [Link]

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

CTA Stories

The writing on the boxes: "Soul Unpriced" and "Priced Soul." Who knew that Mephistopheles used the Damen bus?

It took me a minute or two to figure out that they were vinyl records, not spirits of the eternally damned.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sunday Music: Sol Hoopii

Sol Hoopii points at a ukulele ("jumping flea" in Hawaiian)

When my father was a child in rural Ohio, some time between 1915 and 1925, he saw a group of Hawaiian musicians perform. I always found that extraordinary, although I had no reason to disbelieve him. As it turns out, native Hawaiian Joseph Kekuku, widely believed to be the inventor of the steel guitar, had been touring the U.S. since 1904. And, he wasn't the only Hawaiian musician or musical style capturing imaginations here in the states. The ukulele, an adaption of a small Portuguese instrument, became all the rage in vaudeville as well as in middle-class parlors. Hawaiian steel lap guitar, ukulele and "slack-key" guitar (tuning the instrument to a slack, un-fingered chord) cross-pollinated the genres of ragtime, jazz and hillbilly music. Some point to Kekuku for his influence on helping turn the latter into modern country, thanks to exposing white musicians to the steel guitar.

Just some delightful postcards of old Hawai'i

Of all the Hawaiian lap steel guitarists, Sol Hoopii was considered to be one of the greatest. Born Solomon Ho'opi'i Ka'ai'ai in Honolulu in 1902, Hoopii came to the United States mainland when still a teenager. Hoopii was accomplished at blending the Hawaiian sound with a sprightly, Hot Club de France-style jazz. In 1938, he became a born-again Christian, and devoted himself to mostly playing gospel standards.

Sol Hoopii and the group The Royal Samoans (which apparently was somewhat pan-Polynesian in makeup) also contributed music to a 1932 Max Fleischer animated short, "Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle." This animation is surprising in so many ways. First, the music is a sneak-attack of wonderful, with an opening sequence live song and hulu dance. Lest you think it's an early multicultural homage, the cartoon itself includes hostile dark-skinned natives with exaggerated lips. Near the end, there are two animated dance sequences which use rotoscoping, or tracing animation directly over filmed sequences. Betty does the hulu while looking eerily naturalistic, with the exception of her giant cartoon head.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Overheard: TMI

Cell phone convo, bench in Jackson station of the Blue Line:

"Sheila? Yeah...I'm on my way to Momma's. I got to tell her something bad. Yeah, something bad happened. I THINK I GOT HERPES! HER-PES. It had to be Corey. [long pause] I don't know for sure...but girl, it LOOKS like herpes."