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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Clifton & Gladys Celebrate Easter

Queer Easter Songs? Well, this is as close as I can get...ones by Clifton Webb and Gladys Bentley. Webb was in the 1933 hit revue "As Thousands Cheer," and therefore brought into the world the classic Irving Berlin song "Easter Parade"...the vocals start at the 1:17 mark. The show made sketches ripped from the newspaper headlines of the day...wonder if "Newsical" thought of that...and covered such notables as Noel Coward, Joan Crawford, John D. Rockefeller, Ghandi, and many more. Ethel Waters was also in the show.

And Gladys Bentley covered Easter and Mardi Gras in one effort: "Easter Mardi Gras," from circa 1952. I included it in my QMH Tribute Show to Gladys Bentley, but you can stream it below.

Above, Gladys on the Groucho Marx show "You Bet Your Life," 1958,
and below, I never get tired of this cartoon

Thursday, March 28, 2013

John Day - Houston's Gay Pride Singer

I moved to Houston in 1981, and in my early years here I often saw John Day perform, at clubs like EJ's (then on Richmond, where I tended bar for the summer of 1982) and Baja's (on Lovett Street). As a record collector, especially of the queer variety, he definitely caught my attention when he recorded the official Gay Pride Song, "Unity and More in 1984." I definitely saw him sing that at EJ's, though I didn't track down the actual 45 until many years later. Our own "What a World" & "Dyke Show" Nancy Ford gave me a copy, and shared with me that she helped sing backups (along with Dana Rogers and Richard Askin) on both sides of the 1984 record, and also the one for 1983. I don't think that one made it to disc, but they did sing it at the Summit for the Gay Pride Concert, starring Tina Turner...those were the days. Oh, I'd also like to note that it was just called "Gay Pride" in those years, the alphabet came later.

Last summer one of my side projects was to digitize about 60 hours of the KPFT radio show Wilde 'N Stein, from tapes ranging from 1981 through to its last show in 1992. A few months later Lesbian & Gay Voices began airing, changing its name to Queer Voices in January 2002. Anyway, while going through those tapes I uncovered some more John Day goodies, including the 1983 Gay Pride Song, which was called "Unity Through Diversity," and even found a radio ad for the 1983 Pride Parade. You can hear all of these tracks below.

Below, an article and ad from This Week in Texas.

Thanks to my friend Nancy Ford, who knew John, for writing this bio for me

John Day Bio

by Nancy Ford

John Day, a prolific pianist, vocalist, composer, and arranger, was the genius behind John Day and Company, a trio-sometimes-quartet that performed largely in Houston’s gay bars and cabarets, beginning in 1981. And the gays loved him and his talent.

John was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in the early 1950s, and the harmonies he and his sister Doris learned to weave at church were easily transferable to arrangements of pop tunes and standards in a Manhattan Transfer-flavored treatment when they migrated to Texas when both siblings were in their twenties.

John’s cousin Joseph was part of JD+C's original trio, with John and Doris. Vocalist Dana Rogers joined the group in 1983 when Doris lost interest. Rogers, a soaring soprano and brilliant musician whose learned her trade in Las Vegas at the feet of her father and renowned Rat Pack arranger and conductor, Bill Rogers. Dana joined the group at just 18 years of age. Jerry Quinones sometimes sat in with JD+C, a fiery little Latino whose specialty number was “Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home” peppered with impressions of Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, and others whom few in the LGBT club demo would recognize now. When John didn’t accompany on piano, Richard Askin, who worked as something of an assistant to The Copa’s owner, Gene Howe, did.

With and without his beloved Company, John Day performed at countless venues in Houston including EJ’s, Studio 13, The Copa, Baja Sam’s, Upstairs/Downstairs, Cody's, Rascal’s, Kindred Spirits, and many other venues that didn't shy away from John's openly gay presentation—still a rarity at that time, even among entertainers, when AIDS was considered a gay disease.

John independently recorded “Unity Through Diversity” in 1983 & “Unity & More in 1984” on 45 RPM records both as John Day & Company for Pride Committee of Houston’s June Pride celebrations. He also wrote and indepedently recorded the single, “There Goes The Neighborhood" in 1984.

John, Dana, Joseph, Jerry, and Richard joined together to lip-sync to “Unity Through Diversity” at the Houston’s Summit Arena (now Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church) for Pride Committee of Houston’s 1983 Gay & Lesbian Pride Festival; Tina Turner headlined that festival. Dana Rogers also sang The Star Spangled Banner that night, ironically dressed as the Statue of Liberty. [Editor's note: Nancy Ford, a breaking local lesbian comic and vocalist (and Dana Rogers' girlfriend at the time) frequently opened for JD+C also sang backup on that record, and joined JD+C on stage at the Summit that night in 1983 for its performance.]

Definitely a product of the glitzy disco era, John never met a shirt, tuxedo jacket, or pair of leather pants he couldn’t bedazzle. He left Houston in 1985 to return to Gospel music for traveling evangelist circuit, completing the full circle that was his musical career. An enthusiastic embracer of the “showbiz life style,” John loved his sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. He died in Florida in August 1986 from HIV/AIDS related pneumonia, taking with him a remarkable talent.

 Above, photo from 1984 Houston Pride


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Return of The Deadly Nightshade

How many bands record two albums (1975 and 1976) and then do their follow-up 36 years later? I can only think of one, The Deadly Nightshade. The band was, and is, comprised of Pam Brandt, Helen Hooke and Anne Bowen. Some folks have said they were the first all-women band signed to a major label, but that is not true, as there were bands like Fanny, Isis and Birtha that pre-dated them. What is true is that they were the first all-women band signed to a major label who recorded openly feminist music, and one of their anthems was "High Flying Woman." They only charted once, in 1976 with a disco version of the "Theme from Mary Hartman," from the TV anomaly, as all the rest of their music was more of a country or bluegrass sound.

The new CD has six new songs, including the humorous "John Deere Tractor Song," about a very naked female tractor driver (a true story), and their first song to deal with gay/lesbian issues, called "Don't the Lovers Ever Win?" And then it has something quite cool, five videos of them performing live, from the 1984 National Women's Music Festival, so the CD is not leaving behind their history.

And what prompts this blog entry is my latest show on Queer Music Heritage, an indepth interview with Pam Brandt, so I hope you will check that comes complete with my fanatical thoroughness to capture the

And the band has a very informative website, here


Jenni Dale Lord - Good Country

My QMH show for April will be a four-hour visit to recent Country Music released by LGBT artists, but I just cannot wait to share this artist with you. I think the new album by Jenni Dale Lord is outstanding. She recently moved back to Lubbock, Texas, after ten years in Austin, which makes me a bit sad, as now it will be much harder to get a chance to see her perform live. But the album I hope will travel far.  It's beautifully written, sung and produced'll find no "filler" on this CD, and I'm hard pressed to pick favorites. But of course you knew I would single out some I especially like. One I'm including in my April show can be heard in the video below, at the OutLander Festival, at SXSW, just a couple weeks ago. I think it's one of her better uptempo songs, and is simply called "That Song."

And, for a more intimate performance, I recommend "Getting Better"

And I would also single out "A New Me" and the perfect country song, "Willie."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Well-Strung, and They Can Sing, Too!

The New York Times described this new group as "a buff, gay, pop-classical hybrid of juicy boy band and staid chamber group with a vocal component." In short, they are four hot gay guys who sing and play well, and to hear a string quartet do cover songs of some of our catchiest hits, well, is quite appealing. But, don't take my word for it...

Well-Strung stars first violinist Edmund Bagnell, second violinist Christopher Marchant, cellist Daniel Shevlin and violist Trevor Wadleigh. And their debut album just, as they say, hit the streets.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Houston's Mustang Band

Reclaiming Lost History

The Mustang Band started in Houston in the late 1970's, as an offshoot of the social organization, The Mustang Club. They played all of the club's functions and then started working at other clubs and bars in Texas. From that point they began shows outside of the state, including playing the Mardi Gras for six years, and a regular route of bars in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. They played the Reno Gay Rodeo (3 years), and even got as far as Cincinnati and Boston.

All told, they played together for about seven that time the AIDS epidemic decimated the band and their audiences, and they stopped playing in the early 1980's. I took this information from emails sent to me by founding member Larry Hodge, who said he believes he is the only surviving member. He now lives in central Illinois.

Like a lot of bar bands they played mostly cover songs, and while they did no professional recording, Larry was able to send me a CD made from a cassette tape recorded at a show. I am pleased to share with you some lost history. From the recording I picked two with the best sound, "I Don't Wanna Cry" and "Drivin' My Life Away.

Larry Hodge is second from the right. Below is a scan of the large 
patches Mustang Club members wore on the back of their jackets.

Above, CDR done of a cassette recording of a show, and below, Los Angeles bar ad

Above, if anyone can provide me with the Mustang Band 45,
or a recording of it, I'd be most grateful

Below, 1982 ads

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tommy Martelle - The Gay Young Bride

Okay, can you name a female impersonator who had an ice cream flavor named after him? Nope, not RuPaulicious, not Divine Pink Flamingo...I'm not talking Ben & Jerry's commemorative names. You have to go back, way back for the one I have in mind. And it happened in 1926. The flavor was called "Hanford's Tommy Martelle Special." Hanford was the ice cream company, and it was sold in bricks. Tommy supposedly concocted the recipe himself, incorporating pecans, pineapple, coconut, black walnuts and maraschino cherries.

What? Tommy who? Tommy Martelle (sometimes spelled Martell in the early years) was one of the most successful female impersonators of the 1920's. His career began at least as early as 1911, when he was billed as "The Boy With the Pretty Gowns." It continued to build by the end of the teens, when he was in a production of Julian Eltinge's famous musical "The Fascinating Widow." Now, Eltinge was definitely THE most famous, and successful, female impersonator of the teens and 20's, and he became very wealthy with his shows. Eltinge even had the honor of having a New York theatre named after him. 

But this is about Tommy, and I've found essentially nothing about his personal life, when he was born or died...just clipping after clipping of his show successes, all through the 1920's across the country. In 1923 his career skyrocketed with his musical, "The Gay Young Bride," and later with other shows named "The Fashion Girl," "Some Girls," and "Glorious Annabelle." One clue I got to his popularity is that he was among the very few whose image was used in the venue ads of the time. The most common billing given him was that he was "The Foremost Delineator of Feminine Types." He was especially known for his dazzling costumes, and one headline read "Tommy Martelle and Wardrobe Are Back." So, what happened to him after the 1920's? I'd love to know, but perhaps his career faltered in the 1930's when female impersonation had begun to lose popularity, and performing became difficult due to the laws in some locations forbidding cross-dressing.