Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Fantastic Johnny Horton


In my last post, I mentioned about the easy-availability of Johnny Horton’s album, “Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits”. In fact, that was the only Johnny Horton’s title that I have collected since 2006. I thought he is only known for several battle ballads but not the rest. 
On one Sunday at end October 2012, I went to the usual Sunday market to hunt for LPs. As soon I reached there, I headed straight to my favourite store and started flipping through the albums. I was so pleasantly surprised to find a Johnny Horton’s LP of the title, “Johnny Horton Makes History”. Wow, I thought I wouldn’t have any chance of getting another Johnny Horton’s album since I bought “Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits” in 2006! The cover and the vinyl were also in extremely good conditions. My surprise didn’t end there because when I flipped through the stack of records further, another Johnny Horton’s album, “The Fantastic Johnny Horton”, appeared in front of my very own eyes.  There weren’t any scratches on the vinyl surfaces of both albums and the covers were as good as new. I think the previous owner must be a meticulous LP collector. Anyway, that made my day!
On that particular day, I decided to cut short the visit and head straight home after I paid the vendor. I was so eager to listen to several other Johnny Horton’s songs that I have never heard of. The catches have made my day!
While driving back home, I was humming “North to Alaska” all the way.  
Back to the 2 albums that I bought, the songs in “Johnny Horton Makes History” are quite similar to “Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits.  “The Fantastic Johnny Horton” contains mostly Johnny Horton’s early recordings between 1952 and 1955. This was the period when Johnny Horton’s narrative ballads of American history still hadn’t make inroad into his music.
I noticed that Johnny Horton singing style is somewhat influenced by Hank Williams. “Two Red Lips and a Warm Red Wine” is like a song written by Hank Williams.  But then, “Broken Hearted Gypsy”, “SS Lureline” and “All for the Love of a Girl” are so uniquely Johnny Horton. And these are the songs that I enjoyed listening very much.
This album was released in 1959.
Song List:
Side A – Broken Hearted Gypsy, First Train Headin’ South, Move Down the Line, The SS Lureline, The Child’s Side of Life, All For the Love of a Girl
Side B – The Mansion You Stole, The Train with a Rhumba Beat, Two Red Lips and a Warm Red Wine, Ridin’ the Sunshine Special, Big Wheels Rolling, Devil Made a Masterpiece

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Johnny Horton - Greatest Hits

Johnny  Horton (April 30, 1925 – November 5, 1960) was a great country singer. In Tex Ritter’s 1961 country song, “I Dreamed of a Hillbilly Heaven”, he sang about Hank Williams and Johnny Horton standing side-by-side smiling at him in the heaven. This shows the status of Johnny Horton in the world of country music.

 Johnny Horton’s remarkable singing and story-telling skill help him to open up a whole new world of music – the narrative ballads of American battle history. In fact, Johnny Horton’s best-selling song, “The Battle of New Orleans”, was sold 2.5 million copies. The song was also won the Grammy Award for Best C&W Recording in 1960. I think Johnny Horton must be a pioneer in championing the Blue Ocean Strategy!

I first knew about Johnny Horton when I heard the song, “North to Alaska” on radio when I was in my early twenties. Whenever I liked a song and wanted a copy of the lyrics, there was no Internet for me to google, copy, paste and print the lyrics.  I remember I had to record “North to Alaska” to a cassette tape when it came on air.  I then jotted the lyrics down by listening to the song from my cassette player repeatedly. I think “North to Alaska” was the only song of Johnny Horton I knew before I owned his CD. I finally bought his CD, “Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits” when I started working in late 80s. That was the sole Johnny Horton CD that I own.

In this album, there are several typical ballads of American battle history such as “Johnny Reb”, “The Battle of New Orleans”, “Sink the Bismarck”, etc. There are also beautiful ballads such as “Whispering Pines” and “All for the Love of a Girl”. And there is “North to Alaska”, the first Johnny Horton’s song that I know.

 “Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits” LP is an easily available LP in the market. After I bought this LP in October 2006, I have seen this LP for countless times. However, I don’t understand why there wasn’t any other LPs of Johnny Horton surfacing in the market ever since I bought this LP. Every time I came across a Johnny Horton’s album, it was definitely be this album.  

Johnny Horton’s singing career came to an abrupt end when he was killed in a road accident in 1960. It was a great loss to his music fans.

This album was released in 1961.

Song List:

Side A – North To Alaska, Whispering Pines, Johnny Reb, The Mansion You Stole, “I’m Ready, If You are Willing”, When It’s Springtime in Alaska
Side B – The Battle of New Orleans, All For the Love of a Girl, Sink the Bismarck, Commanche, Jim Bridger, Johnny Freedom

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pete Seeger - Freight Train


In my previous post, I mentioned about a folk group named The Weavers. The Weavers was formed by Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman.
I learned about Pete Seeger from my search on Internet about the song, “On Top of Old Smokey”. Pete Seeger was born in 1919. He is a ardent folk singer and an accomplished old-fashioned long-neck, five-string banjo picker. Pete Seeger is best known as the author/co-author of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and "If I Had a Hammer”.
The note at the back of this album describes that “Pete Seeger learned to play banjo the hard way. In order to learn more about banjo picking, Pete Seeger went hitch-hiking with his banjo over his shoulder, looking for the old-time great instrumentalists. He hitched his way through the Appalachians, staying all nights in barns. When he found a fellow banjo picker or a housewife who sang the old ballads he would swap songs and watch and learn.”   
During the forties, Pete Seeger sang with a group of friends called the Almanac. In late 40s, The Almanac Singers was re-shuffled as The Weavers. When The Weavers was disbanded subsequently, Pete Seeger went solo to continue his folk singing career.
In this album, Pete Seeger demonstrated that he could play the simple “Red River Valley” at ease and also the dazzling “Old Maid Song” skillfully. Most of the songs are accompanied by one or two musical instruments, the main one being a banjo picked by Pete Seeger himself.
This album was released in 1964.
Song List :
Side A – T.B. Blues, Dollar Ain’t a Dollar Any More, Careless Love, Bank of Marble, Cayote, Red River Valley
Side B – Freight Train, Old Maid’s Song, Jimmy Crack Corn, John Henry, “Oh, What a Beautiful City”, This Train

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Weavers and Others - Folk Songs

When I was in the first year of my secondary education, besides recess and physical education class, my most enjoyable time in the school was during music class. Although I did not sing well, I really enjoyed the harmonious sound when the classmates sang together.

Reminiscing about the event, I have forgotten why there was a music class for secondary school? It was most probably a noble effort by our form teacher who tried to instill us with interests to learn and improve our English.

I remember most of the songs we sang then were campfire songs and folk songs. There was one particular song that left a lasting impression in me. The song is “On Top of Old Smokey”. I liked this song because it sounded so good when the class sang together. I didn’t care much for the lyrics though.

When I started to collect records, I had a wish list of songs and singers to collect. “On top of Old Smokey” was one of the songs in my wish list. My first collection of the song was Harry Belafonte’s blues version followed by Mitch Miller’s sing-along version. I also have Slim Whitman “Down in the Valley” and “Birmingham Jail”. These 2 songs adopt the music of “On Top of Old Smokey” but with different lyrics. I was delighted to add this “Folk Songs” album that has “On Top of Old Smokey” to my LP collection.

Anyway, this album is not just about this song. It comprises songs from many great folk singers/groups of the 50s and 60s. Two songs from The Weavers are featured. In fact, The Weavers recorded 2 of their biggest hits “Goodnight, Irene” and “On Top of Old Smokey” during the 50s. Another folk singer appeared in this album is Terry Gilkyson. Terry Gilkyson co-wrote “Memories Are Made of This” which was also sung by Jim Reeves and Dean Martin in the 60s.

This album also contains 2 songs that I like very much, “Wreck of Old Number 9” and “Colorado Trail”. These 2 songs were recorded by many country and western singers in the 50s and 60s too.

This album was released in 1964. However, I notice many of the songs were recorded in the 50s. It is an enjoyable folk song album.

Song List:

Side A – On Top of Old Smokey (The Weavers), Black Eyed Susie (Terry Gilkyson), Hey Young Rider (The Ivy League Trio), I Never Will Marry (Tompall and the Glaser Brothers), Greensleeves (Richard Dyer-Benett), Candy Mountain Land (The Gateway Singers)

Side B – Wreck of Old Number 9 (Tompall and the Glaser Brothers), Sweet Betsy from Pike (Oscar Brand), Colorado Trail (The Gateway Singers), Deep Blue Sea (The Ivy League Trio), Billy Boy (Terry Gilkyson), When the Saints Go Marching In (The Weavers)  

Friday, June 4, 2010

150 Best-Loved Melodies

When I was studying in Singapore in early 1980s, I had 5 very good friends in my class. They were K. Kamalanathan, Bikar Singh, Surinder Singh, Yu Huat and Wei Keong. We were so close that we had breakfast and lunch, studied, talked nonsense together almost daily. We even spent many Saturdays staying overnight at various parks, sea sides, river sides and off-shore island together.

We always pooled our brains by studying together, even on some Saturdays. However, in most study sessions, we usually ended up arguing and debating on all kinds of nonsensical issues.

During one study session, we ended up discussing classical music. Bikar Singh was the one who talked the most that day. He brought up a series of names like Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, their styles of music, names of their masterpieces, etc. The rest of us were dumbfounded and listened with full admiration as we had so little knowledge on the subject. Bikar Singh was our hero of the day.

A few weeks later, five of us went to Bikar Singh’s hostel to play football. After our football session, we went to Bikar’s room to take shower. In his room, some of us requested Bikar Singh to show us his grand collection of classical music. Bikar searched through his cassette tapes and coyly pulled out one miserable cassette tape with the title “Hooked on Classics” and declared that it was his one and only classical music collection. Needless to say, Bikar Singh was verbally bashed by us for the rest of that day.

When I listened to music on CD in late 80s, 90s and 2000s, the only classical music CD that I ever purchased was “Hooked on Classics” too.

When I started to collect LPs, I noticed that there were many classical music LPs but they never attracted my attention. During one LP hunting session in October 2008, the glossy-finished cover of a classical music box-set attracted me. The title of the box-set was “150 Best Loved melodies”. Reader Digest produced that box-set in 1981. It contained 8 LPs. Each side of an LP contained classical music of a certain theme. After close inspection, I found that the all the LPs were in mint condition. So I bought the box-set.

As the condition of all the LPs was so good and the music selection was equally great, I enjoyed listening to the classical music in this box-set very much. Subsequently I bought another 3 classical music box-sets.

If I ever have chance to meet Bikar Singh again, I will declare proudly to him that I know who is Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Chopin and many more now.
Song List:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Song - Spanish Lullaby

(Sung by Marty Robbins)

This my friends is an old Spanish lullaby.
And it's been handed down from generation to generation.
And in it, a father is singing to his baby son.
And he's telling him, "Close you eyes little one and sleep.
And dream while the angels watch over you.
I will hold your hand.
And when you wake with the morning, I'll still be here."

Cierras ya tus ojitos.
Duermete sin temor.
SueƱa con angelitos
Parecidos a ti.
Y te agarrare tu mano.
Duermete sin temor.
Cuando tu despiertes,
Yo estare aqui.

Da, da... da, da... da... da, da... da...
Da, da... da, da... da, da...
Da, da... da, da... da... da, da... da...
Da, da... da, da... da, da...

Y te agarrare tu mano.
Dueremete sin temor.
Cuando tu despiertes,
Yo estare aqui.

* * *

“Spanish Lullaby” is collected in Marty Robbins’ LP album, “Tonight Carmen”, another Marty Robbins’ album that I own. From the song’s title, lyrics (I presume that part of lyrics is in Spanish) and musical instruments, this song is Spanish from head to toe,

This is a lullaby sang by a father to baby song. The song is filled with fatherly love and the music is so warm and delightful. I fell for this song right from the very first moment I listened to i

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Marty Robbins - More Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs

I bought my first Marty Robbins’ LP, “Best Loved Hits”, in October 2006. The songs in the LP did not excite me at all. I bought my second Marty Robbins’ LP , “Gun Fighter Ballads & Trail Songs” in December 2006. Two songs in that LP, “El Paso” and “A Hundred and Sixty Acres” thrilled me so much and got me started to search the Internet for more information on this singer.

I got my third Marty Robbins’ LP, “More Gun Fighter Ballads and Trail Songs in January 2007. Marty Robbins music is quite different from most of country and western singers. I personally classify Marty Robbins as “cowboy songs” as he sang many songs on the stories of good men, bandits and gunfights. And I am always cherished by these types of stories and songs. The note at the back of one of Marty Robbins’ album aptly describes my liking for cowboy songs. The note goes like this:

“The man of the west is one of the most cherished figures in Americana, a rugged symbol of the making of the country, of a hard life and of elemental existence. The lonely life of the cowboy and the gunfighter is reflected in their ballads, which are melancholy even when the tune itself is lively. There were lost families, lost sweethearts, lost friends, and around the men of the west those endless plains, magnifying the solitude. And there was work to be done, hard work herding cattle and sheep, building the railroads, and guarding them all from the bad men.”

This album was released in 1960.

Song List:

Side A - San Angelo, Prairie Fire, Streets Of Laredo, Song Of The Bandit, I've Got No Use For The Women

Side B - Five Brothers, Little Joe The Wrangler, Ride Cowboy Ride, This Peaceful Sod, She Was Young And She Was Pretty, My Love