Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007


Claims he's "never eaten white meat yet."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bloodshot Eyes

Muriel's Treasure will not be returning to the WFMU airwaves this Fall. The host (who is not actually named Muriel) has been concentrating on this project and that.

Doesn't mean the Treasure won't return in 2008. Calypso is Dead! Long Live Calypso!

In the meantime, podcasts of previous broadcasts continue.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

David Stone Martin does Calypso

Disc Records 78 rpm CALYPSO album with cover illustration by the legendary David Stone Martin (1913-1993), whose work adorns hundreds of 1940s and 1950s jazz, blues, folk, and ethnic records.

In the early 1940s, the Chicago-born and -bred Martin befriended artist Ben Shahn, whose work proved inspirational. Martin got started in album cover design in 1944 when his friend, pianist Mary Lou Williams, persuaded her label to hire Martin to illustrate her next release. The company honcho, Moses Asch, was so impressed by Martin's virtuosity that he hired him as art director.

In the 1950s, Martin's moody figure studies for Norgran, Clef, Verve, and Mercury practically defined the illustrated jazz LP cover (in a manner far different than, say, Jim Flora). Eric Kohler, who reprinted over a dozen classic Martin LPs in his book In The Groove: Vintage Record Graphics 1940-1960, observed: "Many of Martin's covers did not have an actual image of the recording artist, but rather an abstract image that might recall the feeling of the music."

A book of his work, Jazz Graphics: David Stone Martin, was published in Japan in 1991. It is, sadly, out of print and hard to find. Martin's vital, cosmopolitan line art deserves renewed circulation.

The calypso album above contains three sides by Lord Invader ("Tied-Tongue Baby," Yankee Dollar in Trinidad," and "New York Subway") and three by Lord Beginner ("Shake Around," "Nora, the War is Over," and "Always Marry a Pretty Woman").

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Look Out, There's a Monster Coming

On the 2007 Muriel's Treasure WFMU marathon CD, entitled More Bedbugs, there's an unlisted 26th bonus track. Several recipients of the compilation have inquired about the mystery calypso. This isn't a clue; it's the answer. Not the worst calypso ever, nor the funniest. Not the most improbable — The Muppets recorded "Pig Calypso" — but perhaps the most ethnically unhinged. All hail, Victor Anthony Stanshall.

Inspiration: Ben Jackson

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Grotesque Dummy (El Monigote)

William Smith sent a 1958 paperback entitled Folk Songs of the Caribbean, collected by Jim Morse, published by Bantam. Along with a preface by noted songwriter Lord Burgess (Irving Burgie), the book contains lyrics to songs from Trinidad, Haiti, Jamaica, Honduras, Guatemala, and elsewhere in the tropical climes. I'm not familiar with many of these titles—it's not a calypso compendium, though works from Trinidad and Jamaica predominate, including such favorites as "Linstead Market," "Gin and Cocoanut Water," and "Out de Fire." Then there's this: "The Grotesque Dummy," from Venezuela. Macabre! Would love to hear a recording, if anyone's got one. Elsewise, here's the lyrics and chords—make your own version.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Muriel launches podcast!

As previously noted, Muriel is taking a summer respite from the WFMU schedule, relaxing at her bungalow with rum-based remedies while hunting for Big Bamboo. She expects to return to the airwaves in the Autumn.

However, because she knows how important vintage calypso, soca, pan, and mento are to you, she is offering two new ways to hear Classic Muriel: via podcasts and streaming WFMU archives.

All one-hour installments of Muriel's Treasure (72 total) are being edited from Irwin's three-hour free-form program for your listening pleasure in these two formats. Twice a week (starting today) new podcasts will be automatically delivered to your computer and/or mp3 player. As each podcast is sent out, that program (and playlist) will be added to the WFMU archives for eternal good listening.

Now you can hear all your favorites -- Sparrow, Kitchie, Invader, Atilla, King Radio, Duke of Iron, Houdini and their impertinent brethren -- at your convenience.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Congo Man (Mighty Sparrow)

National Records (LP 5050), 1965. Sparrow recorded the title track (a paean to cannibalism—white meat, in particular) at least three times. Each version is singularly spectacular, and each is punctuated by Sparrow's demonic laughter that seems to imply, "Pass the salt."

Monday, June 4, 2007

Muriel's Treasure on WFMU

Muriel's Treasure is on summer hiatus from the WFMU schedule. Muriel hopes to return to the airwaves with her tantalizing treasure in the Fall.

In the next few weeks, WFMU will start offering all prior 72 episodes of MT as podcasts, with twice-weekly installments. (As of this writing, WFMU is dealing with a server crash that disabled the station's archives and interrupted podcasting; we'll post anew when the problem has been fixed.)

In addition, we'll soon have all MT hours extracted from my three-hour free-form show and posted as separate programs in the WFMU archives with playlists. These will be added one-by-one in conjunction with each podcast.

We're in editing mode at present. As soon as the archives are posted and the podcast is launched, we'll beat you with a kalenda stick as a reminder. It won't hurt.

The blog will continue, as ever, with regular irregularity thru the summer.

: WFMU server restored. Muriel's archives and podcasts start Monday June 18.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sir Galba

Small Island Pride, King (Mighty) Sparrow, Sir Galba (mid-1950s)

London-based Kate Blenman is great-grand niece of Sir Galba, a Trinidad calypsonian who reigned briefly in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but led a troubled life. Kate discovered one of his songs on a Muriel's Treasure playlist, and wrote that despite years of searching, she had never been able to find any of Galba's music. She explained about her great-grand uncle:

Most of the information I have was obtained from Ray Funk, a kaiso researcher. Galba's real name was George Brindsley McSween, and he made his recording debut in 1946 with "Hooligan Hide Yourself" and "Put the Knife on the Shelf." In 1949 he recorded "Calypsonian from Toco" and "Residents of Nowhere Square." He was crowned Calypso King of 1952 at the Young Brigade with "Man in the Garden Hiding" out of the Victory tent. That same year he stabbed someone in a nightclub. He sang "I Don't Want Any Women Police in Trinidad" and won second place in an intercolonial calypso contest for Princess Margaret in 1955, singing "The Queen at Montego Bay." He also recorded three singles for the Sagomes label. He died September 18, 1957, at the age of 38, by committing suicide after stabbing his girlfriend.

"Too Many Fires" is the only recording I've heard by Galba. An mp3 transfer from an original 78 (Sagomes 138-27) was provided by friend and Optigan savant Pea Hicks, who does all manner of audio restoration. It can be heard here (about 20 seconds in).

Update (5 May 09): Hear Sir Galba's "Bajan Diplomat," a Vitadisc 45 courtesy listener John Hill (with thanks to Don Brockway for the mp3 conversion).

Friday, May 25, 2007

It's The Rhythm We Want

It's pricey—anywhere from $196.06 to $305.99. Lifting it could dislocate your vertebrae. In today's media-saturated, sensory overloaded world, no one will have time to absorb it all.

But you must buy it. Now.

West Indian Rhythm, released in 2006 by the obsessives at Bear Family Records, is one of the best collections of classic calypso ever commercially released. Hyperbole? Forget it — there's nothing comparatively close. You want deep cuts? Start here.

The historic collection contains all but one of the 268 performances recorded by New York engineers of Decca Records on field trips to Trinidad in 1938, '39, and '40. (Yes, one track is AWOL. Don't think the producers of this album didn't search exhaustively for it.)

Besides ten CDs of music — 267 rare recordings, impeccably remastered — West Indian Rhythm comes packaged with a 316-page hardcover book that contains so much essential and authoritative information, is so beautifully designed and so dedicatedly researched, that it's a bargain at any price. Colorfully written essays chronicle the history of the genre and the artists who developed it. There's a glossary of calypso terms; lyrics transcribed for every track; photos; hundreds of illustrations; news clippings; bios of the singers and entrepreneurs; discographies. The CDs include a dozen or so previously unreleased — that is, censored — songs. The only thing they didn't include is a bottle of rum.

All performances were recorded in one take. Decca didn't return in 1941 or thereafter, so you've got the history of pre-World War II Trinidad calypso preserved in amber. Legends like Atilla the Hun, Cyril Monrose, Lord Invader, Tiger, Lion, Growler, and King Radio. Forgotten footnotes like Codallo's Top Hatters, Joe Coggins, and Lord Ziegfield. A dozen songs about Hitler, and countless syncopated chronicles of unfaithful wives, drunken louts, lecherous old men, and municipal scandals.

If you needed any further convincing about the integrity of this package, the name Dick Spottswood appears prominently in the credits as Reissue Co-Producer. 'Nuff said.

"These compelling performances personify calypso at its best," writes Spottswood. "Mostly sung in English, they represent a sophisticated world-view unique to the small population of a remote Caribbean island. Popular music in England and North America at the time was largely escapist, designed for social dancing and romantic fantasy. Calypso ignored those tendencies, replacing romanticism with scepticism, and mindlessness with content. The calypso chantwell [singing storyteller] observed events at home and abroad with informed incredulity, readily pronouncing humorous judgments that nonetheless ranged from troubled acceptance to outright contempt."

Be good to yourself. Splurge. It will take you a year to get through this box and you'll continue listening for the rest of your life.

Center photo L to R: King Radio, Beginner, Executor, Tiger, 1939
Bottom photo L to R: Lord Invader, the Growler, Atilla the Hun, Lion, February 1943

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wilmoth Houdini on 365 Days Project

Two Wilmoth Houdini mp3s are available for free download from The 365 Days Project, hosted by WFMU. The tracks, "He Dead, He Gone Already" and "Moan, People, Moan," were posted by Bob Purse, who adds a colorful encomium to the great Houdini.

Aside from having a really cool name ..., he had a vocal style which gives me chills, featuring a wicked vibrato, and an intensity on held notes which expresses as much emotion as just about any singer I can name.

These recordings, which are not available on commercial CD, were transferred from the 1958 vinyl LP Calypso Capers. They were likely recorded in New York in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Let's Go Calypso (Somerset)

Features King Scratch and the Bay Street Boys, ca. late 1950s. "These two acts," the brief liner notes attest, "have long been favorites in the islands and many a tourist has felt the gay and carefree spell they cast with the charm of their readings and infectious Calypso rhythms. This is as much a part of the islands as the palm trees or lovely beaches." Despite a preponderance of cruiseship standards (e.g., "Marianne," "Sly Mongoose," "Jamaica Farewell," "Donkey Wants Water"), the performances are refreshingly "native" and highlighted by raucous percussion. Meaning, these recordings were not prettied up for export. Is good.

Fabulous cover illustration, unsigned, uncredited.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Calypso Mania

Cover illustration by Demilio from the Richmond Records LP Calypso Mania by Edmundo Ros, as discovered by Ernie, who collects the artist's work.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"It please one and all"

I gave my woman a rubber plant
She says, "That sure is elegant
I hate for it to go to waste,
but it's much too soft to suit my taste"

I gave my woman a coconut
She said, "My friend, that is OK but
You know it is no good for me
What good is the nut without the tree?"

I gave my woman some sugar cane
"Sweets for the sweet" I did explain
She handed it back to my surprise
She liked the flavor but not the size

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Calypsos From Jamaica (Times Store)

Which is to say, Mento, an indigenous Jamaican style marketed abroad as calypso. The forms share many characteristics, both being African/European fusions filtered through Caribbean culture, and their audiences overlap. Like one, you'll probably like the other—unless you're some kind of weird contrarian.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Enchanted Steel Band (Cook)

I had to "ream" this LP, because the center spindle hole was off-center, causing wobbly playback. Reaming is a highly technical process involving one blade of a double-lever scissors, positioned perpendicular to its opposite, and a rum-based cocktail, positioned less than arm's length from the work space. You carefully maneuver the blade in a back and forth carving motion to enlarge the hole and thus allow visual centering on the turntable. Each pass with the scissor is customarily followed by a sip of the cocktail.

Unfortunately, due to frequent applications of the liquid, the scissors slipped and I accidentally gouged an irrigation ditch through side A, rendering it unplayable. A priceless Cook LP, ruined. The cover survives.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Calypsos From Jamaica (Ritmo/Monogram)

A fine Mento collection featuring Hubert Porter, Lord Lebby, the Denzil Laing Trio, Harold Richardson, Lord Flea, and The Wigglers.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Wilmoth Houdini, late 1940s

Ah, Frankie Sinatra 

Ah, Frank Sinatra
Frankie me boy, you don't know
You have a perfect voice to sing calypso

Why not make a dish wit' de Houdini?
Singin' de West Indian melody
Frankie me boy I'm sure
We sell two million copies or more.

"Bobby Sox Idol," Houdini, ca. 1944

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Calypso Songbook

Bought on eBay last year, published 1957. Fine cover, with art by Bill Charmatz, crying for Photoshop. Interior illos purloined (with attribution) for Muriel's Treasure 2006 WFMU marathon premium CD.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Calypso at Midnight

Newspaper ad for Calypso At Midnight concert, produced by Alan Lomax at Town Hall, New York City, December 21, 1946. The concert was recorded and is available on two CDs released by Rounder Records.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Is it her treasure?

Muriel Gaines was a dancer in Harlem's Cotton Club, and started singing calypso in the 1940s at the Village Vanguard and Le Ruban Bleu. She later toured Europe, where she was dubbed the "Queen of Calypso." She released two calypso records in 1945 on the National label, accompanied by Sam Manning's Serenaders: "Ugly Woman" c/w "You Got to Have Power," and "What You Gonna Do" c/w "Too Sweet, Too Sweet."

Above: Muriel on the cover of Jet (May 29, 1952)