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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Billy Barnes

On September 25, 2012, Billy Barnes passed away. According to the L.A. Times, he earned a reputation as "The Revue Master of Hollywood" after hitting his stride in 1958 with "The Billy Barnes Revue." And many more revues followed. He also was a master of "special material," contributing to "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," the Oscar Awards, and various television shows such as Cher's variety show. He is survived by his partner of nearly 30 years, Richard T. Jordan.

Most of his recordings were that of the casts of his various shows, which helped launch the careers of Bert Convy, Ken Berry and Jo Anne Worley. But I happen to have in my collection the LP shown above, from 1976, which I gleefully grabbed from a bin at Amoeba Records in Los Angeles a few years back. It's Barnes on his own, with the help on piano by Marvin Laird. You can hear it on my website's tribute page, and view many of his other recordings.

One of Barnes most gay songs was the title track of the
musical "The Gay Nineties," captured on "Family Jewels"

Richard T Jordan & Billy Barnes celebrated their wedding, in 2010

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sean Wood - Sudden Love

I happened upon Sean Wood on another blog, and what a treat. On some of tracks I thought of the more mellow Beach Boys songs, but with modern production. I was immediately attracted to the most "out" song, "Slow." It starts out with meeting a boy, hey, there's immediate mutual attraction, but let's take it...slow. And the song "Ok, Stupid" is at the opposite end, opening with an infectious beat. But, you can sample his music for yourself...right now he just wants to get his music out there, so his bandcamp page says: "Download SUDDEN LOVE at any price you like. BUY IT, BURN IT, SHARE IT, LEAK IT, SPREAD IT, LOVE IT."

Also, check out Sean's 2009 CD, "The Cannonball"

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jeff Straker - Vagabond CD

I'm very pleased add to my blog entries a brand new CD by Canadian Jeff Straker. His albums are always an event with me, and the new one is called "Vagabond." This album, like a lot of his, seem to be complete works of art, so it almost seems wrong to just pick single songs to hear, but you can hear a bunch of them on his site. The ones that stick out for me so far are "Birchbark Canoe" and "Botanic Garden."

And, I confess, I've been a fan of his music since 2006, when he released "Songs from Highway 15." I got to interview him in 2010 when "Step Right Up" came out. That was the one that really solidified my fandom. He told me at the time that CD got a lot of comparisons to early Elton John meets Rufus Wainwright, with a dash of Mika. Well, I think in that CD's case, more than a dash...there's a bunch of theatrical pop on it, with infectious energy and fun. But I don't mean to slight 2011's "Under the Soles of My Shoes." I saw him sing just a few songs in a showcase in 2006, so I know I would love to see a whole concert. Next time he gets down from Canada I sure hope he comes my way.

Above, Jeff & me, 2006, NYC

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lavender Cowboy - A Song History

In an article in Time Magazine, March 25, 1940, NBC revealed that 147 songs were on their list of "blue recordings," with "blue" meaning they were blacklisted from radio. This may have been prompted by ASCAP's concern about what they perceived as a wave of "salacious and suggestive songs." It seems difficult to believe these days that the country song "Lavender Cowboy" would be on that list. Written as a poem in 1923 by Harold Hersey, it was set to music and recorded in 1927 by Ewen Hall. Country legend Vernon Dalhart recorded a version that stuck strictly to the words of the original poem. But it didn't take long for the lyrics to gradually change, and to more explicitly portray the cowboy as homosexual, or at least (in 1937) as a "cream-puff," as done by Bob Skyles and His Skyrockets.

Burl Ives recorded a quite tame rendition in 1950, one without a chorus, the version most people know and most recorded by others. But then in the UK Paddy Roberts turned things darker and our hero does not survive the song, after they quite nonchalantly shot him.

The song got one more change, and quite a drastic one in 1980, by the Newfoundland group, Sons of Erin. This time the cowboy survives, and their approach is quite campy and stereotypically gay. They even performed it on their TV show.

You can find a Lot more information on a special page of my site, view the lyrics, and hear many of the recorded versions.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Love To Be Queer

Here's a queer anthem, literally, that I have been nuts about since I first heard it in 2000, but over the years I've found very few people know about it. The duo Sponge Finger is comprised of Clayton Littlewood and Rob Brown, and their 12" release of four mixes of "I Love To Be Queer" came out of the UK, with a quite Pet Shop Boys feel to it, in 1995.

I first found this and a handful of other tracks by them on the once-wonderful website, in 2000, only the act was billed as Rent. I searched at the time on the net but could really find nothing about them, and then changed and all the good stuff was gone. Fast forward ten years and I saw a listing for "I Love To Be Queer," but by Sponge Finger, so on impulse ordered it...and found it identical to the Rent recording. From that I easily tracked them down, and learned that Rob, trying to get some more life out of the tracks, had uploaded them to under the Rent name, getting the idea from the PSB song, and also having fun with "rent" being slang for a male hooker.

Below, Clayton Littlewood and Rob Brown

The guys have not been active much musically in recent years, but just lately have been working on a new album, perhaps for next year, and some of the likely tracks can be heard on YouTube.

I also recommend Clayton's website, as he's become an acclaimed author. I've read his first book, "Dirty White Boy - Tales of Soho," and thought it delightful. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, "Goodbye to Soho."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Many Sides of Zebedy Colt

Zebedy Colt was born Edward Earle Marsh and had two parallel careers. As Edward Earle, he was active in theatre, with several small Broadway roles, and many more regional theatre credits. And he was a musician, and that work included appearing on one of Ben Bagby's albums in 1967. Those albums paid homage to the forgotten music of major composers and there a whole series. The LP I found him on was "Ben Bagby's Noel Coward Revisited," and on it he gave us the only full-song version I know of for Coward's "Green Carnations." That was originally was from "Bittersweet," in 1929, and that made it a very early lyrically gay song.

The other side of Zebedy Colt attracted much more attention. Of interest to me was his 1969 LP "I'll Sing For You," of mostly standards, with those songs intended to be sung by women...but this time sung man to man, and without any campy nuances, they were, straight. Included are the songs "The Man I Love" and "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy." Now this was not the first time an album of standards were done in this fashion...I give "Love Is A Drag," from 1962, that honor. But it certainly was a very early approach considering the young genre of "gay music."

By the mid-1970's, Colt had found an additional career, in straight porn, with "The Story of Joanna," (1975) being his best known title. This was at the same time he was appearing on Broadway, under the name Edward Earle. His cast-mates in the Royal Theatre Company were quite surprised when they went to the film and recognized Zebedy as their fellow actor Edward. There's a lot more info at the link.