Monday, October 01, 2012

EMPTY ORCHESTRA OR THURSDAYS AT NINE


A year and a half ago my brother finally died not from the cancer that he fought for five years, but from a massive heart attack caused by all the drugs he was taking to cure the cancer. The day of his death I had a show to do with my band Bric-a-Brac. I had been trying to come up with a new project that I could do myself, that would involve singing, and that I could just throw myself into for a few months as something to take my mind off things.

 The show we were going to play at was in the DePaul University Library and was an art installation where my friend Brian's rumpus room was recreated and all the bands who had recorded in it were invited to play. Brian had created a home studio in the real rumpus room and Steve Albini talked about sound insulation and PVC pipe to the delight of all the recording nerds. It was a fun night and afterwards I told Brian that I wanted to record a vanity project album using backing tracks I had collected on albums and tapes throughout the years. Just something to give to friends.  Brian said, do it in the Rumpus Room!  I was thrilled.

Every week for over a year I would go over to Brian's, who lives only about three blocks from me, and I would drink Scotch and sing over these old Music Minus One album tracks that I have or some Karoeke backing track... When it was done I had my vanity project completed and I called it Empty Orchestra (the Japanese translation of Karoeke). I offer it here for you to download and share if you like.

Oh, I took the album cover photo myself. I was coming home one night at 2 in the morning after seeing a band. These two poor souls were having a horrible time keeping the evenings festivities down... I thought it was a perfect image for this album of melancholy songs.
This was a moment from my Empty Orchestra record release party singing one of the songs with Jane Baxter Miller.

 

Monday, May 28, 2012

He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings
In the 1920s and 30s it was rare for a there to be a girl singer with a band; It was quite common for songs that were written for a woman to sing would sung by a man. The Columbia Art Deco series put out a CD of these type of songs called "Can't Help Lovin' That Man". The very idea of homosexuality was so far from the listening public's mind that no one questioned this practice. In transferring a few records this weekend, I came across this Kay Kyser song. By the mid-40s there is no reason I can think of for Harry Babbitt to sing this song that could have been sung by their girl singer, Ginny Simms.

In any case, it's a pretty song that just drips with male affection; And pre-dates 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' by about fifty years. It also reminded me of the book Affectionate Men. The photo above is from David Claudon's web-site.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Another year, another massive amount of transferring my record collection. This year for some reason I transferred a large number of vocal group and organ albums, plus quite a few albums that were made for small groups that played at nightclubs around town...

Some highlights from this compilation are: Art Newman, who runs the Night and Day TV Repair shop in Dayton Beach. In the 80's a friend of mine when to school at Avery Riddle and brought me back several of Art's homemade recordings. Arthur Newman would given them out whenever anyone got their TV or VCR fixed. I love his albums for their earnestness; The Irritants, singing Dead Rock Funeral, is off of an old cassette I had of some friends singing songs that either they or I recorded. I always thought this had the makings of a hit. It is definitely an earworm song.

I through a couple of my songs on here as well. Moon River is a discarded song from a project I worked on last year called Empty Orchestra. On the recording I sing along with either Music Minus One recordings or Karoeke tracks. After all the songs were done we through this one out because it just sounds too Karoeke and the other songs have a real band feel to them. Sunshine Day is also from those sessions; all the people involved with the recording participated in the song, Gary Ward, Brian McNally and his wife Gwen. Damn singing Cindy Brady's part was hard.

I've also put on a lost Bric-a-Brac song: Dreams of an Everyday Housewife.

The rest is a total mishmash. I tried to stick with my rules of only records or songs I transferred during the calendar year. But I think this came out o.k. I do have to say I compiled this with a new program and the levels are a little off... If I ever get around to fixing that I'll re-post it...

Happy New Year...!!!!



Stereo Balance

The Theme From S.W.A.T – Ray Conniff Singers

I Can See For Miles – Frankie Randall

We Can Work It Out – The Brothers Four

Steppin’ Stone – The Golden Gate Strings

Mountain Greenery - Frenchy Boutan

Happy Together – The 7th Sound

I Like How You Taste – Unknown

The Touch – Betty Johnson

Destination Moon – The Ames Bros

Life on Mars – The King Singers

Dead Rock Funeral – The Irritants

To Die in Summertime – Rod McKuen

The Impossible Dream – Liberace

Moon River – John S. Connors

A House is Not a Home – Art Newman

Going Out of My Head - Gene and Joey

Are You Lonesome Tonight – Bob Kames

Dreams of the Everyday Housewife – Bric-a-Brac

Feelings – Ford and Angel

Three O’Clock in the Morning – Wendy and Bonnie

Wonder Why – Joanna Gault

Where Does It Lead – The Little Sisters

Where Flamingos Fly - Linda Lawson

It’s Silk – India Adams

Sunshine Day – Empty Orchestra Singers

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - 101 Strings Singers.


Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Year of Transferring Dangerously

This year I spent a huge amount of time transferring my extremely huge record collection to mp3's... I've been doing this for ten years now and have barely made a dent...

Each year for friends I make a compilation of the best or most interesting songs I stumbled upon...

There are also three new songs I've recorded this year... I Will Follow You I did in my kitchen using CuBase and a Karoeke track...

The Sea and Sand was a demo I did with Mike Armstrong to play for our band so we could learn it... we sent it a former band member Erik Johnson who over laid strings and punched it up...

and A Taste of Honey is a preview of some of the work I've been doing with Brian McNally in recording an album using found backing tracks...

Below is a player where you can listen to the whole CD as a podcast...

Enjoy and Happy New Year 2011!!!


The Ghost and Mr. Chicken - Vic Mizzy
Rubber Bands and Bits of String - Telly Savalas
All My Friends Have Gone to California - Anthony Perkins
I Will Follow You - John S. Connors (from the kitchen sessions)
Don't Rain on My Parade - Nelson Riddle
Bye Bye Brown Eyes - Anthony Newley
Let's Fool Around - Johnny Charro
The Green Grass Starts to Grow - Percy Faith
The Sea and Sand - Bric & Brac (produced by El Nazn)
I've Been Wrong Before - Julius LaRosa
What Became of Life - Jimmy Durrante
Forever - The Carravelles
Holiday For Strings - Sue Raney
Soul and Inspiration - Jane Morgan
A Bad Case of You - Dolly Holiday
I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face - Nino Nanni
The Ballad of The Shape of Things - Blossom Dearie
Shapes - Eileen Fulton
A Taste of Honey - John S. Connors (produced by Brian McNally)
My Cigarette and I - The J's With Jamie
Theme from The Stowaway in the Sky - Nelson Riddle
We've Loved Before - Henry Mancini
Over The Sun - Tony Bennett
You Were Meant for Me - Peggy Lee/Michael Franks
When It Doesn't Work Out - Cass Elliot
Nessun Dorma - Joah Valley


Monday, June 08, 2009

RIP Kenny Rankin...

One of the all time best jazz/folk singers...

Sunday, May 03, 2009

On Rainy Afternoons

This performance was from 2002 when I hosted a night of video clips of Barbra Streisand.   It was good evening.  Dan Wingate put together a fantastic collection of rare clips, I had a few people get up and do some Barbra songs; However, in the back of my mind I thought that it might be a good place to meet someone. but to my surprise there were very few gay guys there, mostly uber fan women.  Some of whom drive in from the suburbs. 

This song is a little clunky but I like it... Larry Blustain is on the Hideout upright piano which always sounds like it belongs in a 3rd grade classroom and Seamus Harmey is playing the violin.   We had only gone over these songs once the night before and poor Seamus didn't really have anyplace to noodle over in this turgid tune.    So, for most of the song it looks like he is frozen in space and time.  

(Note:  I'm almost done with this walk down my musical memory lane...  Soon back to regular programing.)


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Viva Las Vegas

From Milly's Orchid Show 1990. The Elvis Show. I'm playing with Peter Allen who at the time was going by the name Peter Mitchell because he didn't want to be confused with the flamboyantly gay singer/songwriter of the same name. During my tenure with the Orchid Show we must have played this song dozens of times. I always thought Peter's arrangement of it was really fun and inventive.

Peter was my next door neighbor at this time. He and his twin brother Paul were two strikingly handsome guys.   Peter was a fantastic musician and I should credit him with teaching me to sing on the beat. Before him I just sort of wandered around the notes (and issue I guess I still deal with.) 

 These clips make me cringe a little; doing this fake nightclub act, acting like I'm some smooth son-of-a-bitch, when I couldn't have been more naive and un-smooth.   However, it was a fun time back then; if only because we didn't know what we were doing and all that counted was we were getting reactions from the audience.  

This was soon after I was in Interview Magazine.  Cartoonist Linda Barry was a fan of mine from seeing me at these shows and talked about me when she was being interviewed. Before I knew it I was in a national magazine when I had maybe sung before people a half a dozen times. I thought I was pretty hot shit because everyone was asking Peter and I to play at parties, and opening for bands.   At the height of this whirlwind I was asked to open for Dread Zeppelin, a Led Zeppelin cover band where the lead singer was an Elvis Impersonator sang songs with a  reggie beat.  So, who better to open for them but me and faux lounge Sinatra singer.   Opening up for them was a pretty big deal at the time (Robert Plant was touting them as his favorite cover band);  it was going to be the place to be on St. Patrick's Day.  

So Peter and I were all set to do the show and then Peter called me up because he wanted billing in the advertisements. He wanted it to say John Sinatra Connors & Peter Mitchell. I had no idea how I was going to do that considering it wasn't my show and I wasn't in charge of the advertising. But Peter said either I did something about it or he wasn't going to play.  I remember telling him that in future shows we could do it, but not this one.    It was a strange power play and I was stuck.  

Blurb in the Suntimes about the show

I paniked because I thought I was going to have cancel this gig and asked another guitar player I was working with at the time if he wanted to do the show.  Peter was hurt and that was the end of our musical relationship together.  In retrospect I should have more sensitive to Peter and tried to make him change his mind,  but I was being pigheaded too thinking the act was really about me.  Me. Me. Me...  I was 24 you know... As it turned out my performance was a complete failure. The show was sold out. Alice Cooper was even there.  I was completely out of my element trying to do these rock songs like slow ballads and I was booed off the stage while people threw beer bottles at me.   I think I lasted ten minutes.      

I wish Peter and I could worked longer... we were starting to come up with our own style just as it fell apart.    We made up later on and played some shows together again.   The last being about four years ago doing this song.  But you can't go home again.