Monday, November 7, 2016

Loof

I've had the idea for this song banging around in my head all summer and the first couple of verses were written months ago. I finally came up with an ending to the plot that more or less makes sense. There are only so many places you can go when you start a song off with a young boy being enticed to sit upon an old man's knee.


You've heard the old joke: Be a lert; the country needs more lerts. That's all this song started out to be, a joke song. One of the lines in the song is "I checked the dictionary and loof just cain't be found," and it is imperative to the song (and the joke) that there's no such word as "loof" in the dictionary. And sure enough, it's not in my favorite dictionary, Winston's Simplified Dictionary, the 1932 Advanced Edition. It doesn't have modern words in it, but it has almost all of the words I want to look up.

But wouldn't you know it, the Millennials (or whoever runs the internet) sabotaged my song and my joke by coming up with a definition for "loof" in their Urban Dictionary. Go ahead, look it up if you dare.

When I was a young boy
An old man sez to me
Get yo self on ovah hyar
An hop up on mah knee
I’m gonna tell you a secret, kid
An I swear it’s the gospel troof,
You gotta be cool when them girls come ’round
Don’t be a fool — be aloof.
Be aloof.

Let em know yo interested
With a quick and easy smile
Then don’t let em see it again
Not for a long long while
Ya gotta keep em guessin
I swear it ain’t no spoof
You gotta be cool when them girls come around
Don’t be a fool — be aloof.
Be aloof.

So I checked the dictionary
An loof just caint be found
And that just gets me thinkin,
He’s givin me the run-around.

So I axed that ol man
As I hopped down off his knee
If yo such a big loof
What you doin here wif me?
He say well it worked wif yo mama
An yo’re the livin proof
You gotta be cool when them girls come around
Don’t be a fool — be aloof.
Be aloof.
 

Gavin O'Keefe added some viola to an already busy song. As usual, I need somebody who can really sing the blues to handle the vocals on my R&R songs.

 

Monday, August 1, 2016

If It Ain't Fried

I think it's time for a new genre, something like "Literary Mining" where a songwriter will find the lyrics of a song in a novel and put some music to it. The author of the novel probably had a specific melody and arrangement in mind when he wrote it, but the charm of the genre is that the listener gets a vicarious version of the song. Ideally, the novel would come with a link to a recording BY the author so you could hear both versions, but of course it would be wrong for the songwriter (me) to listen to the author's version before doing his own.

The genre, while not named, has been around for a while. The first one was "The Doper's Dream" which was taken from Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Next was "Maybe It's the Wind" from Jim Thompson's South of Heaven, followed by "Tommy's Trains", also from Rainbow. Now the genre is embiggened by the latest: "If It Ain't Fried" from Donald E. Westlake's Branson Missouri murder mystery, Baby Would I Lie? 

As far as I know, neither Pynchon, Thompson nor Westlake has made their versions of the songs, if there is one, available.

As for the lyrics to "If It Ain't Fried" they sounded perfect for Elvis to sing, so I used the most obvious rockabilly melody I could think of. I even let the Snidenaires (my Jordanaires-like backup group) echo every line in case you missed it. Then Gavin O'Keefe added some viola chops.  All that was left to do was to fry up some delicious bacon and start singing.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Once More With Feeling

   Knees wrote the words to this song in the early 70s but only played around with it on piano. He had been inspired by a Conway Twitty song that was controversial because of its explicit lyrics (As my trembling fingers touch forbidden places . . .) and wanted to write an explicit song of his own.


Last night the words we spoke after makin' love
Were so tender, like your warm red ruby lips.
You said "I love you" and you've shown it
In so many different ways now I hunger
For your trembling fingertips.

And then you said, "Once more with feeling,
There's no mountain we can't climb,"
And with bodies a-glow from the time just befo'
And nothing but love on our minds

Then we came to a place
Where only lovers go,
Inching our way up another plateau. Oh. Oh!


And then you said, "Once more with feeling,
There's no mountain we can't climb,"
And with bodies a-glow from the time just befo'
We go for it just one more time.

And then we came to a place
Where only lovers go,
Inching our way up another plateau. Oh. Oh!
 

    Recently I read one of the best books about songwriting, Jimmy Webb's TUNESMITH. In it he talks about melodies and how they usually fit a "scale". But he says that if your melody has more than three or four notes in a row in a CHROMATIC scale, you're probably doing something wrong. A chromatic scale is one that has every note in it. C to C# to D to D# to E to F to F# . . . But when I figured out the melody for the chorus of this song I realized that it had a phrase that consisted of SIX chromatic notes in a row. Should I change it?

    But let me first bring up "prosody". Prosody is a musical term for the rare occasion when the lyrics of a song and the music complement each other. Or the words of a poem and its rhythm. Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells" is usually given as an example, where the words are about tinkling bells and the poem itself has many, many tinkling-sounding words and rhythms. Prosody is very difficult to do and if a songwriter pulls it off he should be quite proud.

    Well, the melody on the last line of the chorus uses the chords A7 and D7 and ends with G7 on the last note. Like this:

A7                                   D7                          G7
Inching our way up another plateau. Oh. Oh!

and the ending notes of the melody are:

                                        F#  G  G#    A    A#    B
Inching our way up an-oth-er plat-eau. Oh. Oh!

    So, according to Jimmy Webb, the melody shouldn't work, but when it comes to prosody, can you imagine better words for a melody that climbs up six steps, one half-tone at a time, than "Inching our way up another plateau. Oh. Oh!"

    Let's face it, when it comes to sex, inching is by far the best way to go.
 
   I'm not even going to mention the prosody that follows the words, "Then we came": a huge major chord, followed inevitably by the satisfied lassitude of its minor.
 
   Some of the sound effects were supplied by Gavin O'Keefe who snatched them from the internet.
 

  
  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Birds

This was a real quickie from Knees. The song started playing in his head while he was watching the Alabama-Clemson game and when it was over he laid down some tracks and sent an MP3 to Gavin O'Keefe, who added a couple of viola tracks. All in one day.


By the way, the old song is by Neil Young. There's a strange measure in the chorus where Neil skips a beat or two, but nothing I tried in Band in a Box sounded right so I smoothed the song out and kept it all in 4/4 time. Easier to dance to, I imagine.

Which brings me to an observation I recently made about my 25-year musical career. Other than a year I spent playing piano in a small lounge with a trio (1983?), my whole career was playing for people to dance. I don't remember EVER playing where people were seated and looking, as in an audience. I don't think we ever played a song that had an odd measure. If people danced, we felt we played well. If they didn't, it was a bad night.

I guess this is why I prefer to put my songs here rather than on YouTube, and why all of the Knees Calhoon songs are danceable. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

My Little Red Book

I recorded this song by mistake. I knew that Gavin O'Keefe was a Jimmy Webb fan and I vaguely remembered a song from 1965 by the LA band Love called My Little Red Book that was by Webb. Or so I thought. But it turns out to have been written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach. I had my unlikely folkrock songwriters mixed up. I didn't discover that until I had recorded it and sent it to Gavin, who said he had never heard it before, but found it catchy.


I used my Casio WK-200 keyboard for the muddy drums and chugging bass. Gavin added some viola chugs on the right and left. It's a little slower than the Love version and the compelling rhythm set up by the accented 8 beat is more insistent because of it, I think.
 
A kind listener mentioned to me that I've been mixing my vocals lower lately, making it harder to understand the lyrics. This is probably true, and this song certainly is guilty of having the vocal challenged by the instruments. I always use headphones at home and in the car I have 4 speakers so I can really hear the separation. I imagine that the music I make sounds pretty muddy on a 2-inch computer speaker system. Or any speaker at a low volume. I don't do any "mastering", which is the last stage where the wizards make every instrument stand out perfectly at any volume on any speaker setup. I just make them sound good in my headphones. And since I identify more with the Rolling Stones than I do Frank Sinatra, I mix the songs accordingly.
 
I spent just about every night during the years 1970 - 1987 at a bar playing and singing and when I hear music I hear it pretty loud. Not necessarily loud in volume, but loud in feel. If you can't understand what I'm saying, then crank it up a bit. Hey, it's a bar. No one will mind.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Lizard Land

Where the hell have I been? And what happened to the LOADSTAR project? I dunno, but thanks to good ol' Torque buddy Skip Batchelor, I have been jolted out of my months-long doldrums to come up with a new, old song.

Skip was rummaging through his garage recently and found a bunch of Torques memorabilia from 1965, including some business cards, song lists, KWYK Top 40 lists, posters and the piece de resistance, a lyric/music sheet for a song written by "Fender Fletch" and completely forgotten by all humankind for the past 50 years.

 There are some clues on the double-sided sheet as to when it was written. After "Nowhere Man" and the Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things", probably when Knees was in Las Cruces at NMSU and Skip was in the Navy. Late 1965. Fifty years ago.



The lyrics are on the other side.





Things get done in Lizard Land
Girls are just like grains of sand
The key is always in your hand
To Lizard Land

You will know the things to say
But words are useless anyway
You will find it all someday
In Lizard Land

Lizard Land — Times are pressing
Lizard Land — It’s a blessing
It’s a land where you can lose yourself.

It’s so dark it’s out of sight
But lizards have no need for light
They know just how to ease your fright
Of Lizard Land

Things are never out of line
Lizards don’t like crude design
It’s the place to cool your mind
It’s Lizard Land

Lizard Land — You breeze along
Lizard Land — You’re never wrong
It’s a land where you can see your mind.


  So what does it mean? As I remember, in the summer of 65 the boys of Farmington called the girls "lizards". I'm sure the girls called us much worse. It didn't really catch on but apparently the idea of a place where lizards happily fulfilled the fantasies of teenage boys was enough to inspire at least one song. 

   There are 5 or 6 other songs I wrote back in the 60s that have been lost. I remember only a verse and a few chords. But this song was completely forgotten for 50 years. I bet Paul McCartney wishes he had a song like this socked away in a chest.