Monday, January 29, 2007

Liner Notes

196 Liner Notes

Here’s a question you probably never have been asked before. Ever buy a record album you didn’t care about just because you love the liner notes?

Wouldn’t be surprising if the answer were “no.”

After all, most liner notes are worthless, when they bother with putting any together at all these days.

They’re either boring: “Beethoven lived in an attic and wrote Symphony No. 9 while almost completely deaf….”

Or they’re irrelevant: “Chet Atkins prefers to play his own guitar, but sounds fine on any.”

Or they’re just silly: “Before he was convicted of murder, Charles Manson would spend the times between club dates writing new songs and doing drugs and sex with members of his cult, ‘the Manson Family.”

But the other day, a copy of Jimmy Dorsey’s last album dropped out of the sky, and on the back were liner notes by Earl Wilson, one-time gossip and Broadway columnist for the New York Post when it was slightly more respectable and oodles more left of center than it is now.

In fact, the Post had a stable of columnists that were (or should have been) the envy of any other newspaper (with the possible exception of the Herald-Tribune.)

Jimmy Cannon, Murray Kempton, Paul Sann and Wilson, just to name a few. There’s been enough about newspapers here recently, so we’ll just concentrate on the pictures these liner notes conjured up.

Some background: Jimmy Dorsey and his younger brother, Tommy had individual and occasionally combined “big band” orchestras, and each had a bunch of hits. Jimmy played saxophone and clarinet and fought bitterly with Tommy, mostly over music, all their lives.

He was nearly on his deathbed when Fraternity Records asked him to record the album and he got five tracks done, was hospitalized and others finished the remaining eight tracks.

The record company says the four tracks with Dorsey were recorded on November 11, 1956. Four tracks in one day would be considered a miracle today. Four tracks in six months is more like it, now. But these were club musicians. The set up, played their set, packed up and left.

Here’s Earl:

“…Jimmy died knowing he had accomplished a rather unbelievable comeback in the recording field.

“’It’s the first band hit in 15 years,’ his friends informed him, even in the hospital room where he passed away.

“’That record will bring back the band business’ prophesied Guy Lombardo at the funeral in St. Patrick’s as the honorary pallbearers stood huddled around.

“With his characteristic meekness, Jimmy hadn’t wanted to cut the record…

“’I just don’t want you to get hurt, he told Harry Carlson of Fraternity records. Why fool around with a has-been?’

“Thus a whole new generation became smitten with ‘the has-been.’”

And some more: “Even when he had little time left, Jimmywould talk to (substitute conductor) Lee Castle about the tremendous enthusiasm for the record… and Jimmy would even call from the hospital to discuss with Lee whether he had the tempo just right.”

Even if you never heard of Jimmy Dorsey, these words brought out the essence of the personality, mostly in short quotes, sometimes in brief descriptions.

Fifty lines is all it took. There aren’t a lotta guys around now who can do something like that.

It was and is, like the hit song on the album, “So Rare.”

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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