Mercoledi Musicale

Though it is often a fading shadow of what it once was there is still some good and interesting programming on the CBC.  I am thinking particularly of the weekend line up which has the once standard mix of intelligent discussion, documentaries, a variety of music, and comedy.  Would that the midweek programming were as varied or as interesting but that may just be nostalgia speaking.

This past Sunday on Vinyl Tap, his weekly music programme, Randy Bachman featured voices that reeked (figuratively) of whisky, cigarettes, and late nights.  Voices that are immediately recognizable: amongst others Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, Howlin’ Wolf, and Peggy Lee.  Yes Peggy Lee – if ever there was a voice that invoked smoke and sensuality it would have to be Norma Deloris Egstrom.  And in particular the Peggy Lee of Fever.

It wasn’t until Bachman mentioned it in his introduction that I realized the bare bones instrumentation on this iconic performance:  a double base, snapping fingers,  and a pared down drum set.  That’s it!  And of course that voice!  Bachman also recalled the first time he heard it on a Sunday night Ed Sullivan Show.  My search for a Sullivan appearance (she first appeared on the show in 1948 during the series’ first season and performed 17 more times until the show ended in 1970-71) turned up empty handed but I did find this 1958 appearance on the George Gobel Show.  It was long thought lost but now rests with the Library of Congress.

Again Bachman filled us in on a bit of the history of what most of us think of as Miss Lee’s signature song.  It was composed in 1956 by John Davenport – the pseudonym of Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell – and recorded by Little Willie John.  Two years later Miss Lee recorded it with revised lyrics and a new orchestration.  The “Romeo and Juliet” and “Pocahontas and John Smith” verses were written (uncredited and uncopywrited) by Lee herself and it is generally believed that she also did the orchestrations.  It differs considerably from the John version and has since become the accepted cover.

Little Willie John was a leading figure in the early days of R and B whose career came to an end as the result of his drinking and violent temper.  He was charged and jailed for manslaught in the mid-1960s and died in Washington State Penitentiary in 1968.  Because of legal concerns and his fading popularity his last album wasn’t released until 2008.

On this day in 1801: First Barbary War: The Barbary pirates of Tripoli declare war on the United States of America.