Saturday, July 13, 2013

Stage Banter : Jim "Dandy" Mangrum

Awwwwwright we gonna do one more tune right heah!
        We gonna wind it so far up it's gonna take us all sun up to unwiiiind
                                                         -Jim "Dandy" Mangrum,
                                                             Black Oak Arkansas

In May of 1973 there were two million reasons why Atco Records thought radio stations should play the new Black Oak Arkansas single "Hot And Nasty" b/w "Hot Rod". That's how many people the hillbilly-embracing Southern Rock band attracted to more than 125 concerts they'd played since the previous May. The new singles came off of their Gold album Raunch 'N'Roll Live, recorded at the Paramount Theater in Seattle.

Gawd, it's laughably awful now but back then front man Jim "Dandy" Mangrum was a sex symbol. Fans loved the long-haired, shirtless carnival barker who made hilarious little speeches between lewd songs overflowing with sexual innuendo.

Well, he wasn't really a carnival barker . But you can be sure every carnival barker since 1973 has imitated Mangrum's growling stage banter. Hell, half the people you hear holding a live mic at any event in the rural South sound like Mangrum .

The Black Oak Arkansas run ended in 1977. The following year another front man with long flowing blond hair, sideburns, spangles and an aversion to shirts growled into the microphone in front of stadiums full of fans.

His name was David Lee Roth.

As a bonus:
Mangrum shows off his tour bus "Cli-Ty" which , when the AC isn't running, can sometimes get a little warm. Mangrum points out "When we had that thang painted black, it was hotter than a woman's you-know-what."

Friday, July 12, 2013


Sir Patrick Spens
Purchase link (more versions than you can shake a stick at)

Well thanks, Boss, have you any idea how difficult this is? Stage banter? Jeez, so I have been to a show or two over my 40 years of irregular gigging, and I mean irregular, but, WTF, how do I do this? I am no fan of live LPs, they seldom matching the studio version or the 4D live experience, where senses other than auditory drench the feed, and the youtube doesn't exctly concentrate on the intro's over the songs. So I e-mailed and said I'd take a raincheck on this one. This post reveals the reception that I got......

So, who does good banter? To be fair, this ought to be right up my street, as the folk canon is filled with witty raconteurs, remembering that both Billy Connolly and Steve Martin began as musicians, or, more accurately, as banjo players, their intros gradually taking over from the plucking and strumming. And Jackie Leven, whom I featured some weeks back, he was also a consummate story teller, a marvellous tale about the death of Sting coming to mind. Could I find it? Could I hell... could I find any early musical Connolly or Martin, blending banjo and blether? Nope, not that either. Then I remembered.....

Fairport Convention, the doyens of  British folk-rock, still going since time immemorial, or 1967 at least, with a revolving door of members dipping in and out, where able, as the grim reaper has also taken his toll. Anyhow, with one sole original member in Simon Nicol, if one discounts his time off for good behaviour in the late 70s/early 80s, and others racking up 20 - 30 years of service, in keeping with the folk tradition, they have always given as much importance to the progeny of any song, explaining either it's history or making up some equivalently preposterous nonsense thereabouts. It really doesn't matter, and with Mr Nicol they have an exemplary front man, with the modulated and melodious tones of  the family doctors son that he is. And does my example demonstrate this?

Um, no, as it comes from the year dot, but, hey, listen to it and delight. It is really rather good. You will have to take my word as to their banter. Or better, mosey down to Cropredy, their yearly festival in rural Oxfordshire, early August, and see what I mean. (What do you mean, it's in England. Of course it's in England, but the wife of one of the ex-members of the band can sort you out most years, with her L.A. based travel company: Mrs Richard Thompson (Yes, that one.)

Not a lot more to say, but, given my clip is so very old, can they still cut it? Be my judge. From December last year.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Stage Banter: Garrison Keillor


I imagine that most of the posts for our new theme will be introductions to songs, but I could not see letting the theme go by without featuring Garrison Keillor. Keillor is the host of the (usually) weekly radio show on NPR, A Prairie Home Companion. The show features many musical guests from the world of folk music especially, but notable exceptions include Emmy Lou Harris and Nancy Griffith. By all reports, this is a show that many musicians love to appear on, and some come back every chance they get. It certainly sounds that way, based on the quality of the performances.

Garrison Keillor hosts the show and sets the tone. Companion is modeled after old-time radio shows that featured a mix of music and friendly monologues from the host, and this is where Keillor shines. The show takes place in the fictional town of Lake Wobegone, Minnesota. Lake Wobegone is a Norwegian-American Lutheran enclave, (got all that?), and Keillor presents the local news every week. This is really Keillor’s humorous and affectionate tribute to the small town America that exists partly in the American Midwest, and partly in Keillor’s imagination. You can tell that Keillor grew up around people who either lived this way or wanted to remember a fanciful version of their past. Keillor’s gift is to find a wonderful dry humor in this, while never making fun of his subjects. He may tweak them for their foibles, but he remains someone they would want to tell their stories to. The video I have posted comes from a show from January of this year, and Keillor addresses the question, “How cold was it?” This monologue is not collected anywhere, so my purchase link is for an older album that does a great job of showing you what a complete program is like.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Stage Banter: Jeff Tweedy

[purchase Sunken Treasure, which includes more Tweedy banter]

The theme this week is Stage Banter. I know that when I go to a concert, I like it when the performer talks to the audience—it makes it seem like he or she is having fun, and we often learn something about the artist. Of course, some performers are better at this than others. Some performers readily regale the audience with stories and anecdotes and some drop amusing quips but others simply seem to have trouble even telling you the name of the song or introducing the band.

A few weeks ago, I attended the Clearwater Festival on the Hudson River, and for the most part, the music was memorable. But I also know that my experience was improved by hearing Judy Collins’ tales about the various protest marches she participated in and her arrests, or how her apartment in New York seemed to host a revolving door of fellow folkies. And Mavis Staples’ stories of playing for Martin Luther King, and her statement that even an injured knee wouldn't keep her from performing. And gruff voiced Jason Isbell asking the sign language interpreter to tell the crowd that he sounded like the smooth, soulful Solomon Burke—and his story about how back in his Drive-By Truckers days, another interpreter just stopped signing when faced with a particularly ribald Mike Cooley song.

It has been said that some comedians say funny things, and others say things funny (note the use of the passive voice, so that I don’t have to find an actual quote), and the same is true of stage banter. Jeff Tweedy is one of those guys who says things funny, and it doesn’t seem like he is trying. It is a matter of timing, of inflection, and of course content.

For those who don’t know, Tweedy and Jay Farrar were members of the band Uncle Tupelo, another of those bands that are more influential than they were popular in their day (which is referenced in the clip). Tweedy and Farrar were high school friends who bonded over their shared tastes in music. After Tweedy joined Farrar and Farrar’s older brothers in a band, Jeff and Jay continued to play together in various groups which ultimately became Uncle Tupelo. That band was best known for its blending of punk with more traditional Americana music (although that term wasn’t around yet). Their debut album No Depression gave a name to the emerging sound, sometimes also called “alt-country.”

Initially, Farrar was the dominant personality in the band, doing more of the songwriting, lead singing and guitar. Tweedy played bass and was, if you will pardon the reference, the “Other Guy.”  As time went on, however, Tweedy began to take a more assertive role in the band. And like so many friends who have one thing in common, it turned out that Tweedy and Farrar really had very little in common. Much has been written about Uncle Tupelo’s split, but based on what I have read, it seems like both protagonists are difficult personalities who have to share the blame. Farrar claims that Tweedy was resentful of his talent and tried to hit on his girlfriend, while Tweedy has asserted that Farrar was domineering, refused to treat him as an equal and even refused to sing harmony on his songs. Farrar quit the band, passing the word to Tweedy through their manager, and a farewell tour resulted in more fighting and recrimination.

Farrar formed Son Volt and Tweedy formed Wilco. Although most critics seem to agree that Son Volt’s first album was better than Wilco’s, since then Tweedy’s and Wilco’s popularity and critical acclaim have outstripped Farrar’s and Son Volt’s. Personally, I’m a fan of both bands, and I think that they have both put out excellent music. Son Volt was even better than I expected at their Clearwater performance, but Wilco has become, to me, one of the best around. Having seen both bands a few times, I can attest to the fact that Tweedy’s stage banter is usually brilliant, while Farrar seems to avoid talking on stage as much as possible.

The enmity and hostility between Jay and Jeff has continued. The odds on a Uncle Tupelo reunion, or seeing, say, Farrar sit in at a Wilco concert, seem unfortunately pretty slim. I was struck by that at Clearwater, where I saw former band mates Jason Isbell and Patterson Hood play together, and I later saw pictures of them hanging out together watching Son Volt from backstage.

Which is all background to the clip, in which Tweedy tells a story of being on vacation in Mexico, and finding out that Farrar is staying on the same beach. I won’t ruin the clip by describing it—as I said, Tweedy has a gift for saying things funny, and I won’t do it justice—but Jeff’s mumbling recreation of their awkward greeting after 10 years of silence is priceless.