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Song-Poem News

Chicago To Host Next Leg Of "Song-Poem Experience"
AS/PMA's "Enter Me!" Product Giveaway
Northsix Postmortem

David Fox To Premiere Valentine's Song-Poems On WFMU Ellery Eskelin on "Stochastic Hit Parade" with Bethany Ryker NRBQ to Star at Off The Charts Release Party
Off The Charts DVD, Music CD Released Out Of The Darkness, I'm Beginning To See Ellery Eskelin Releases Personal Music From Rodd Keith
365 Days Posts Song-Poem Download "Write The Words Such As They Come You To The Mouth" Australia Joins England in Releasing Big Wood And Brush
Bonnie & Nita and Becky Hobbs Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four? NPR Airs Song-Poem Segment
Nobody Wants My Song More On Off The Charts Song-Poem Drama Heads Toward Production
"Son of Rodd" Launches Rodd Keith Website         February 11 Proclaimed "American Song-Poem Day"         Song-Poem Company Hosts MP3s of Its Productions
Song-Poem Auction Board Behind The Music: The Pink, Pink, Lady of Malibu Superman Battles the Sharks
Bonnie Was a Treasure King of Pop Goes Song-Poem Profile of a Dead Song-Poem
Danes Discover Song-Poem Music Studio 360 America Sings!
The Debut of Shome Howe Jehovason The Tiger Lillies Search For A Song Song-Poem Music Goes to the Movies
All Song-Poem Radio, All The Time English Invasion Continues The Song-Poem Century
The New Now Sounds Of Today! Song-Poem Music Starts To Ooze Offshore Popcorn Mice Pogo To "Disco Dancer"
Swell Music, Inc. Songs In The Key Of Z Teri Thornton/Summers Dead At 65
More On Teri Thornton He Had Sandy Stanton Eyes The Drippy Gazette
Teri Thornton Will Be Easy To Find Will The Real Ringo Please Stand Up? The Crazy World Of Arthur Braun
Teri Thornton Galore Read Song-Poem Lyrics Submissions On-Line Dion McGregor Dreams Again
"Mama Wears The Pants" Jimmy Carter Says "Yes" -- Literally Rodd Keith for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
"Song-Poems For You" Rood Keith Movie Script

Chicago To Host Next Leg Of "Song-Poem Experience"

Jamie Meltzer's Song-Poem Experience moves to Chicago for its second leg, with the weekend of April 17 packed with song-poem events.

On Saturday, April 17, his film Off The Charts: The Song-Poem Story will screen at 7pm at the Gene Siskel Film Center, followed by a Q-and-A session with Meltzer and documentary subjects Art Kaufman (aka David Fox) and Gary Forney. At 10pm activities move to The Hideout, where Kelly Hogan & The Wooden Leg will anchor a night of music, with a stream of guests including Edith Frost, Janet Bean, Jon Langford, Sally Timms, Cynthia Plaster Caster, Edward Burch, Anna Fermin, and poet Thax Douglas. Also on the bill are David Fox and a re-formed Iowa Mountain Tour , with Gary Forney and his son Josh.

The Hideout will house both the film and the music on Sunday, April 18, with another showing of Off The Charts kicking things off at 8pm. Then Robbie Fulks and his band take the stage, to tackle some of Robbie's favorite song-poems and back David Fox and The Iowa Mountain Tour in playing their hits from the film. He'll also take poems from the audience and turn them into songs live on-stage.

Jamie's film will also screen another two times that week, on Wednesday, April 21 at 8pm and Sunday, April 25 at 5:30pm, both showings at the Siskel Center. (4-5-04)

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AS/PMA's "Enter Me!" Product Giveaway

A lucky few song-poem fans will not have to leave their seats nor crack open their wallets to obtain the promo-only six-song version of Bigwood And Brush CD (see Australia Joins England below) or the new DVD release of Off The Charts (see Off The Charts DVD below). Courtesy of Reverberation and Shout! Factory, respectively, we've got one copy of the former and two of the latter to give away. For want of a clever quiz or the like to separate the casual fan from the true maven, we'll simply give them to the sixth, third and eleventh callers, respectively, who check in at the Contact page and announce "Enter me!" Into the contest, of course. (2-25-04)

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Northsix Postmortem

1: Tom Ardolino, Joey Spampinato, Ellery Eskelin, Terry Adams  2: Ellery, Tom, David Fox  3: MSR thrush Gina Genova  4: David, Tom, Terry, Ellery  (pix by Philm)

Those who partook of one or another of last weekend's big Song-Poem Lover's Weekend in New York could only but conclude, Didn't We Have A Time?! Yass, indeed -- it a magnificent, marvellous and majestic set of events. Getting us off the hook of having to describe a time that seemed, to our addled senses, to go by in a blur is the serendipitous fact that Ellery Eskelin and field rep and event co-organizer Michael Goodman have already logged their insightful comments at Ellery's website. They say it a lot better than we ever could anyway, and we're delighted to limit our mop-up duties to those of staff photographer. Take it away, fellas ... (2-20-04)

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David Fox To Premiere Valentine's Song-Poems On WFMU

The big Song-Poem Lover's Weekend in New York just keeps getting bigger. Yet another event has recently been added, that being the WFMU appearance Friday evening of song-poem artist/entrepreneur David Fox. Backed by a crack studio band, including field rep Michael Goodman on the traps, Fox will compose and then play songs developed from love lyrics -- this also being Valentine's Day weekend, after all -- submitted by the public. In fact, it's not too late to get in yours -- see the press release below for details, or visit WFMU's website. (2-12-04)
WFMU's press release:
This Friday the 13th at 6p tune in to a very special Aerial View, as Chris T. welcomes song-poem composer extraordinaire David Fox for "A Tribute to Love." David's been in the "send-us-your-lyrics" song-poem industry for over 30 years, and is the composer/singer behind thousands of song-poems, including such classics as "Non-Violent Taekwondo Troopers" and "Annie Oakley." But -- for one night only -- Mr. Fox and his band will work only for you, setting your poems and lyrics about L-O-V-E to music, L-I-V-E in WFMU's studios! To participate, e-mail Chris up to eight lines of your finest love poetry by 12 noon Friday, then tune in with your honey at 6p to hear the heart-melting results!

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Ellery Eskelin on "Stochastic Hit Parade" with Bethany Ryker

Things are heating up in anticipation of the big song-poem night in Brooklyn February 14 [see below]. Field rep Lou Smith alerts us to an upcoming appearance on WFMU by Ellery Eskelin. (2-3-04)
Sunday, February 8th, 10p-12m
Last time composer/saxophonist Ellery Eskelin visited WFMU he brought his tenor sax and a never before heard original studio recording made by his father, Rodd Keith, of song-poem fame. Now, over two years later, Ellery rejoins the Stochastic Hit Parade for a rare duo performance with French vocalist Jessica Constable while duly ["dually"? -- ed.] celebrating a CD release of the then-unknown material by Rodd (now on Ecstacy To Frenzy, Tzadik) and the DVD release Off The Charts: The Song-Poem Story, where Ellery speaks candidly about his father's adventures in the song-poem industry. Fasten your dials as Bethany and Ellery explore yet another dimension in the legacy of Rodd Keith and WFMU.

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NRBQ to Star at Off The Charts Release Party

The legendary band NRBQ, with song-poem compiler Tom Ardolino on the traps, will join forces with filmmaker Jamie Meltzer for a special night at Northsix in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Saturday, February 14. The event will mark the release of the DVD and CD soundtrack versions of Meltzer's documentary Off The Charts: The Song-Poem Story.

The evening kicks off at 9p with a screening of Off The Charts, after which the band will take over to play an all-song-poem set, including a simulation of the song-poem process by creating instant songs from poems submitted by audience members (with a non-song-poem set to follow that). As if that's not enough, NRBQ will be joined by special guests Ellery Eskelin, the son of song-poem king Rodd Keith, and Art Kaufman, president of current song-poem label Magic Key and a performer whose career stretches back to the original MSR label.

Meltzer is interested in mounting other shows of this sort elsewhere. "I'd like to put on this same kind of song-poem event in other cities. The idea is to pair a screening of the film with a local band performing song-poems from the film and transforming poems from the audience into on-the-spot, live song-poems." He adds, "Any dedicated song-poem fans with band and/or venue contacts in their town should contact me."

The Northsix event, as you may already have noticed, takes place on Valentine's Day, and thus affords a unique opportunity to impress your sweetie. (1-29-04)

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Off The Charts DVD, Music CD Released

Shout! Factory, a new entertainment production company co-founded by Rhino Records' Richard Foos, today released the DVD version of Jamie Meltzer's popular documentary film, Off The Charts: The Song-Poem Story. Special features of the DVD version include deleted scenes; a behind-the-scenes view of the infamous Sunburst Studio recording session; the complete one-gig "Iowa Mountain Tour" of Gary and Josh Forney; a commentary track with director Meltzer and producer Henry S. Rosenthal (aka Hank Rank, of S.F.'s great Crime); a gallery of song-poem ads from over the years (fumblingly narrated by AS/PMA curator Phil Milstein); and Columbine Records' amazing Reagan-era variety show America Sings.

Accompanying this is the release of a soundtrack CD, available from Red Rock Records. Red Rock, a division of song-poem artist/entrepreneur Art Kaufman's Magic Key empire, is also selling the DVD, and offers a special price for the complete CD + DVD package.

For more information, see Shout! Factory's Off The Charts page. The DVD is also available from (1-27-04)

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Out Of The Darkness, I'm Beginning To See

Swedish song-poem collector "bellybongo" recently released a new song-poem album. Entitled Out Of The Darkness, I'm Beginning To See, the album contains 28 previously-unrereleased tracks. According to the Out Of The Darkness page, "I recorded these in the order I picked them from the shelf, just a few were rejected, I think they tell a story when merged together, sometimes sad, sometimes divine, just like life." While at the site, don't miss the page of label photos. We recommend exploring elsewhere on the site, as well, where you'll find lots of interesting graphics and other musical treats. (1-23-04; revised 3-12-04)

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Ellery Eskelin Releases Personal Music From Rodd Keith

Ecstacy To Frenzy, Ellery Eskelin's loving compilation of Rodd Keith's personal music, was released this week, and is now available from Tzadik (then click: Lunatic Fringe / Ecstacy To Frenzy).

Discovered in an undated box marked "Shome on organ" -- the name a reference to Rodd's alter ego Shome Howe Jehovason -- the tape is the only known recording of him performing his own music, and it is quite unlike anything we've ever heard before. About 30 minutes long and of one (more or less) continuous whole, the album's centerpiece, entitled "Shome Howe Jehovason Plays," is an improvisational collage for organ and voice, with few extended motifs and no singing per se. The recording seems to capture our hero in some degree of psychic pain, or at least bewilderment, yet is leavened with Rodd's typical playfulness and keyboard mastery. The result is a harrowing listen, of the sort that might be best experienced with the lights out.

The way Rodd put together the Shome Howe tape left his musical heirs with some difficult questions to sort out as they prepared it for release. He recorded it one track at a time onto a two-track tape, but instead of rewinding the tape before overdubbing the second session he instead flipped it, thus recording the two tracks in directional counterpoint to one another. This left Ellery to ponder whether Rodd intended it to be listened to in this binaural, "forwards-with-backwards" fashion -- and, if so, which of the two tracks is to be the forward one -- or whether they were meant to each be listened to separately, and thus in forward mode only. (Or, for that matter, whether they were meant to be listened to by anyone besides himself at all!)

Ellery's has posted his self-penned liner notes, in which he reveals his thinking on that matter as well as other details of the release, on his website. This is his and Tzadik's second dip together into the Rodd Keith pool: in 1996 they teamed up to issue the all-Rodd song-poem compilation I Died Today. (1-22-04)

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365 Days Posts Song-Poem Download

365 Days, Otis Fodder's year-long quest to document the weird underbelly of record industry product, today launched an MP3 of a quasi-song-poem record, "Merry Christmas Elvis," a 1978 release from Ramsey Kearney's Safari label. The song's performer, Michele Cody, is from the cloying-kid category, and the song itself from the dead-Elvis genre -- the combination is deadly, especially Cody's spoken coda in which she attempts to hook Elvis up with Jesus for some kind of heavenly rendezvous.

Submitted by 365 Days "curator" Dancin' Dave, it's not quite clear whether "Merry Christmas Elvis" is exactly a song-poem or not. Most recordings on Safari feature Kearney himself at the mic, but whether the label's SA series, of which this (at SA 601) is the only known example, was reserved for professional singers other than Ramsey, or for amateurs who came along with the song as part of a vanity production structure, remains unclear. Whatever the case, the song remains an odious stinkbomb, and worthy of a few minutes of your download and listening time. (And hey, if you think this one's rough going, be grateful they didn't post the B-side, "All I Want For Christmas Is My Daddy"!) Thanks to field rep Bradley Beacham for bringing "Merry Christmas Elvis" to our attention.

365 Days has featured other song-poems (including some true ones) over the course of the year, but we have been remiss in promoting them. Alas, it is a bit too late now, as, barring the appearance of some last-minute financial angel, the entire MP3 substructure of the site will come down on January 5 of the new year. Fodder and his colleagues are to be congratulated and thanked for giving us a year's worth of tough-love musical thrills, and their exploits in the months and years ahead deserve to be watched closely. (12-23-03)

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"Write The Words Such As They Come You To The Mouth"

The Paris daily Libération recently published a full-page review of Bar/None's Big Wood And Brush anthology. Entitled "Sillons d'Amérique Profonde," the November 7 article is available online (although minus the great graphic, borrowed from our Ascot Records minisite; see scan at right), but for those who don't read French we are providing an English translation of Bruno Masi's text, as handled by the online translator Babel Fish. We trust the version below will clear up any confusion caused by Masi's original. (11-25-03; merci à Ellery Eskelin)

Furrows Of Deep America
Folk. A compilation joins together rengaines written by anonymities in the Sixties: strange page of ethnomusicology cow-boy.
by Bruno Masi

Many years its kind, the small pocket is not badly: dad, mom, young girl and small boy are held the hand in the garden, far from the school and the ghettos. One could believe in a joke, but The American Song-Poem Anthology is a serious business. A painstaking task musicologist: Phil Milstein, 46 years, data processing specialist. One needed abnegation to stick to the side more ignored American popular music, but also with the one of most beautiful swindle by correspondence.

Profitable muddle. From the very start of the Sixties, via advertisements in cheap magazines (identical to those of the miraculous rings in the French reviews), the principal American houses of discs make the court with the poets dilettantes: "We want to read your texts. Welcome beginners. Write the words such as they come you to the mouth. We will say free to you what they are worth." Free entry, paying exit: after examination, one requests money from the candidates songwriters, from 50 to 500 dollars, "to cover a part of the expenses of production," the house of disc undertaking the complement and promotion so that the title becomes a tube. The text is put in music using rhythmic simplistic and of an interpreter.

Obviously, the product is never sent to the radios. Nor distributed in the stores. Only a handle of copies in a hurry then are addressed to the author, who sees his name registered in letters gilded on the small pocket. So that the muddle is more profitable, the studios record to twelve titles in one day. An assembly line work, popular song with the kilometer, crossing the dreams of glory of the ones, the desires of profit of the others. "This music has nothing to do with art," summarizes Phil Milstein by mall. "But it is nevertheless attractive to see how much a great part of these pieces are very well. The song-poems, it is thus that: songs born of a vast swindle, but which become a significant part of the musical history of the country."

Dissimilar. Thousands of these counting rhymes slept in the cupboards of American labels. The work of Phil Milstein and its comparses was to exhume them, then to classify them with method: "For our first disc, The Beat Of The Traps, we had not kept that a restricted number of song-poems. In front of the passion, we carried out the second compilation allowing to discover innumerable pieces and interesting interpreters."

The unit is as dissimilar as a joining. Biblical prose with the glory of Richard Nixon or Jimmy Casing on reverb disco music, country bûcheronne, gospel, yodels, stopped trumpet, big band and spokenword, ball of end of studies, rough art. ... Single criterion of selection: "That the songs resist after several listenings."

To guarantee that American Song-Poem Anthology abounds in mésestimées nuggets would be much to advance. But the disc in known as length on a country which does not finish any intriguing. These 28 titles awake and appease, per hour of enlisement Iraqi, all the phantasms of Europeans looking at the New World. A universe of nutcases able to kill twenty people in a supermarket, illuminated joining Alaska with the research of the paradise, sects prosternant itself in front of stones, ignored geniuses building of the space shuttles, small White holding up of the piles on fire, or of workmen (it quasi majority of the population, finally) trimant by fredonnant verses of song-poems. Those about which Elwood Reid or Chris Offutt speaks so well, with this taste for blue grass and the wet small valleys.

What remains, beyond these pieces of anthology of mirliton pioneer arranged, is already an impressive list unknown interpreters. Gene Marshall, Bobbi Blake, Dick Kent, Burns Norm, Sonny Marshall, Cara Stewart, Hill Lance, Teri Summers, Bill Joy. ... Galaxy of craftsmen of the song, charlots cachetonneurs, proles of the spectacle, posing their voice on the simple words of other unknown. With several hundreds of song-poems to its credit, Rodd Keith is undoubtedly most famous and most talented of these stakhanovists of studio.

Religious bigot and LSD. A mouth of beautiful young man to the gominés hair, half smile and glance dreamer, it started his career at the dawn of the Fifties, in the church of his/her father preacher, before carrying the fine words in Middle West, then to animate a religious show on a chain of Kansas. On American Song-Poem Anthology, three of its songs are reproduced, whose memorable "How Can Has Man Overcome His Heartbroken Pain" (How a man can it overcome a sorrow of heart). Almost rock' roll, the religious bigot offers his shoulder to plated, to the cuckolds. December 16, 1974, on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, it found death reversed by a car, charged until the face of LSD, naked under its impermeable.

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Australia Joins England in Releasing Big Wood And Brush

Joining last month's English edition of The American Song-Poem Anthology: Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood And Brush, the Sydney-based distributor Reverberation has released a facsimile version in Australia. To quote the company's website,
This is a compilation that defies categorisation [sic] and yet manages to be hilariously entertaining and a work of musical genius ... all in one sitting. An astonishing collection of joyfully naive pop music from the archives of this uniquely American 'folk art.'
Reverberation has issued a six-song sampler CD to help promote the album, copies of which are destined to become big-ticket items once they reach the online auction marketplace. (11-6-03)

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Bonnie & Nita and Becky Hobbs

Becky Hobbs is the multitalented Nashville-based artist responsible for the 1988 neo-honkytonk smash "Are There Any More Like You Where You Came From." She spent the early years of her career HQ'd in L.A., where she befriended a pair of close-as-sisters ladies, Charlotte O'Hara and Nita Garfield, better known to us as Bonnie & Nita of Preview Records fame and as protégés of Rodd Keith. Becky recently corresponded with us about those days, sharing both memories and photographs of her beloved -- and now, sadly, deceased -- friends. Her story appears as a dedicated page on Spectropop's extensive "Home Of The Brave" site -- the title referring to the fabulous recording Charlotte (under the name Bonnie & The Treasures) made in 1965 for a label co-owned by Phil Spector. The HOTB site's discography page features a much larger (and becaptioned) version of the group photo shown at right. For those wishing the full HOTB experience, we direct you to the introductory page. And if that isn't enough Charlotte, see "Bonnie Was a Treasure," below. (10-24-03)

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Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four?

With the Christmas shopping season already underway, Bar/None Records of Weehawken today announced the release of its new song-poem anthology, The American Song-Poem Christmas: Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four? Included are 21 seasonal treats, including such headscratchers as "Santa Came On A Nuclear Missile," "Maury, The Christmas Mouse," two versions of "Santa Claus Goes Modern," "The Rocking Disco Santa Claus" and, of course, the title track. More than a few of the songs on Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four? are certain to become holiday perennials! For more information, including liner notes, a full track list and an ordering link from, see our Six Foot Four page.

In other anthology news, London's Setanta Records has recently brought out The American Song-Poem Anthology: Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood And Brush for distribution throughout Europe, in a version virtually identical to Bar/None's original. The European press is already jumping on this album. Meanwhile, Reverberation Records will soon be coming out with an Australian version, the exact look and lineup of which we're not yet privy to. We're excited to finally see how the quintessentially American song-poem music "plays" abroad. (10-7-03)

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NPR Airs Song-Poem Segment

The National Public Radio program Weekend Edition today aired an 11-minute segment about song-poem music, featuring host Scott Simon's joint interview with song-poem vocalist Gene Merlino (aka Gene Marshall, John Muir) and AS/PMA curator Phil Milstein. The interview touched on highlights of Merlino's career, as well as a discussion of how public tragedies help underwrite the song-poem industry. Music included snippets of several tracks off Bar/None Records' Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood And Brush anthology, along with Merlino's a capella reconstruction of the otherwise-lost 1962 masterpiece "In A Chinese Garden." The program's audio, in both RealPlayer and Windows Media Player formats, is archived at Weekend Edition's "Songs From The Common Man" page. (6-28-03)

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Nobody Wants My Song

Bay Area field rep Andy Gallagher recently sent us a dub of a song that, while not apparently a song-poem itself, so precisely captures the song-poet's plaintive plight that we felt compelled to reprint the lyric here nonetheless. "Nobody Wants My Song" was recorded c. 1957 by Drew Miller, on Tip Records (#101). (3-20-03)

Nobody Wants My Song

Nobody wants my song
Nobody seems to care
Even the songs of a bird are heard
But mine are wasted on the empty air

Nobody even hears
The echo of my song
When my dreams are in my music
How can my song be wrong?

For I dreamed in the sun
Took my rhythm from the rain
My blue notes from the wind
And the whistle of a train

Nobody wants my song
My notes fall on empty air
Might as well sing my heart out
To the empty stratosphere

For I dreamed in the sun
Took my rhythm from the rain
My blue notes from the wind
And the whistle of a train

Nobody wants my song
My notes fall on empty air
Might as well sing my heart out
To the empty stratosphere

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More On Off The Charts

From a press release: (2-7-03)

Zoom In -- Independent Lens: Song-Poets Make Their Debut! Web site launch for Off The Charts: The Song-Poem Story
ITVS and PBS present Off The Charts: The Song-Poem Story and its
companion website. Meet the songwriters who dream of fame and fortune and the composers who set their poems to music for a fee in this fascinating look at one of the strangest subcultures on the American landscape. Off The Charts, by Jamie Meltzer, airs nationally on Independent Lens February 11, 2003 at 10:00 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

Website highlights include:

Web karaoke: Sing your heartfelt or comical lyrics to the tune provided. Listen to the music verse-by-verse as you write the words. Here's your chance to be a song-poem singing sensation!

Song-poem contest: Have you ever dreamed of having your lyrics recorded? Send in your best prose and the winning lyrics will be set to music, made into a professionally produced CD recording and featured on this website for the world to hear (report from the winner)!

The story: Off The Charts explores a truly unique slice of Gothic Americana through interviews with song-poem writers, the jaded producers and musicians who turn their lyrics into songs, and zealous song-poem connoisseurs. Discover filmmaker Jamie Meltzer's challenges in the hunt for song-poets around the country.

Poets and musicians: Meet some of the song-poets featured in the film and the musicians who set their lyrics to music. Listen to audio clips of their quirky and poetic songs that cover topics from Jesus to genitalia, from politics to Elvis.

The industry: Go from poem to song in seven easy steps. Get behind the scenes and learn how make-your-own record companies transform amateurs' homemade lyrics into professional recordings!

Filmmaker Q & A: Filmmaker Jamie Meltzer discusses what he learned about making art from song-poem auteurs, and how inspiration can be found in the places you'd least expect -- even in deep-fried Snickers bars.

Learn more: Get links to websites, books, articles and music on the song-poem industry and some of the poets featured in the film.

Talkback: Get involved in a discussion about Off The Charts, song-poems and more!

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Song-Poem Drama Heads Toward Production

With the song-poem documentary film Off The Charts ready to debut on PBS next week, it is not too soon for the next song-poem movie to spin into action. Following is the text of a press release from the producers of Great Unknowns, a fictionalized account of the Hollywood song-poem scene of the mid-1960s. If the finished film is anything like the draft script we've seen, it will be a monster. (2-3-03)

Great Unknowns, a feature film based on the life of Rodd Keith and an imagined collection of anonymous song poets, is in the works.

From the synopsis: When a young musician/composer named Rodd stoops to song-sharking just to get by, the job becomes an obsession. Despite his mandate to crank out mediocre recordings with the least possible effort, Rodd (and Rodd alone) discovers strange beauty in the incoming lyrics, and can't help himself from composing songs that are often inspired. As a result, for the songwriters around the country whose words he shapes into music, things begin to change: a repressed suburban mom revives her long-stifled musical dreams; a schizophrenic "repeat customer" soothes his demons with a burgeoning oeuvre of song-poems; a trio of adolescent sisters find common ground in their love song/protest anthem about outer space. An ensemble tale filled with original music, Great Unknowns is a celebration of people who never become stars, songs that never become hits, and respectful collaborations between lost souls who never meet.

Great Unknowns was a finalist for the Sundance Writer/Director Lab in 2002, and is projected to go into production later this year. For more information contact writer Tal McThenia (, director Kelly Anderson ( or producer Archer Entertainment (

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"Son of Rodd" Launches Rodd Keith Website

Ellery Eskelin has launched an important new website entirely devoted to his father, song-poem genius Rodd Keith. Entitled simply "Rodd Keith," included at the site are a series of photos and other illustrative material, information on and links to the recently-unearthed Shome Howe Jehovason recording, a page from Rodd's diary and other personal writings, and links to other Rodd-oriented Web pages. From serious scholar to casual fan, nobody interested in the life and work of Rodd Keith can afford to miss this. (12-12-02)

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February 11 Proclaimed "American Song-Poem Day"

(12-6-02) The president has declared Tuesday, February 11, 2003 "American Song-Poem Day," the first such designation in U.S. history. Two major events have been scheduled to occur on that date:

Bar/None Records Annouces The American Song-Poem Anthology CD
In association with the AS/PMA, Bar/None Records of Weehawken announces the release, scheduled for February 11, 2003, of The American Song-Poem Anthology: Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood And Brush, a compendium of the greatest "hits" of song-poem music, as culled from the MSR Madness series.

The agreement with Bar/None provides for the release of future volumes in the MSR Madness series. As such, several selections from ... Big Wood And Brush are from the long-in-the-can vol's. 5 and 6, and have not yet been heard by the wider public. Also slated for inclusion is John Trubee's classic "Blind Man's Penis," the most widely-known and popular song-poem record in history.

For more information, including liner notes, a full track list and an ordering link from, see our Big Wood And Brush page.

PBS Series Announces Off The Charts: The Song-Poem Story Documentary Movie
From the press release:

Jamie Meltzer's Off The Charts: The Song-Poem Story to Premiere On ITVS's New Series Independent Lens On PBS

Off-Beat Film Provides a Fascinating Window Into the Bizarre Demimonde of the Music Industry That Produces Amateur's "Songs" for Cash

Off The Charts: The Song-Poem Story Will Air Nationally on Independent Lens on February 11, 2003.

View trailer

"This music has everything in the world going against it. It's completely artificial, it's a scam, it's ... you know, I could probably list fifteen different reasons why it shouldn't work. But, for some reason, something comes through all this stuff. And I think that's part of the charm and attractiveness that it has." --Ellery Eskelin, musician and son of song-poem auteur, Rodney Keith Eskelin

Jamie Meltzer's debut feature, Off The Charts: The Song Poem Story is a fascinating, at times unsettling, documentary that exposes the strange underworld of the song-poem industry. In this little known subculture, "ordinary people" respond to come-on ads on the back pages of magazines ("Send in Your Lyrics and Make $50,000 in royalties!"), mailing in their heartfelt but often bizarre poems to "music industry" companies that, for a fee, turn those poems into real recordings. Through interviews with several song-poem writers, the jaded producers and musicians who set their words to music, and a few of the growing number of zealous song-poem connoisseurs, Off The Charts explores a truly unique, never-before-seen slice of Gothic Americana. Off The Charts debuts nationally on PBS on February 11, although airing at different dates and times in different cities. See PBS's personalized program guide for more specific local information.

Like a warped fun-house mirror, the song-poem industry has run parallel to the mainstream music business for close to a century; song-poems have been recorded since 1900. The genre's durability can be traced to three of our deepest American desires -- to be in show business, to get rich quick, and to share and express our deepest feelings. We meet several of the "songwriters" -- from an elderly woman to a young African-American man to a small-town Iowan with big-time dreams -- each of whom has been in the "business" for awhile, churning out odd compositions that cover the waterfront of American obsessions, from Jesus to genitalia, from politics to Elvis. We also meet the producers (often known as song-sharks) who hold out the tantalizing promise of fame to their eager customers, and the has-been musicians who sit in studios, day after day and year after year, interpreting some of the weirdest lyrics ever written. Through fellow musicians and his son, Ellery Eskelin, one of the most eloquent fans of song-poem records, we learn about the life and tragic death of the man aficionados consider the greatest song-poem interpreter of all time, Rodney Keith Eskelin. Using a variety of stage names, this would-be classical composer brought an eerie beauty to many of the song-poems he recorded before ending his career and life by jumping onto a Hollywood freeway.

As filmmaker Meltzer says, "The beauty of Song-Poems is that they are a result of the intersection, or collision, of ordinary people's expressions and the desires of musicians/businesses to make a quick buck, making the music as fast as they can, usually in one take. When those two forces combine, they create strangely compelling songs that are unlike anything you've ever heard." Shocking, funny, and heart-wrenching all at once, Off The Charts is a fascinating look at one of the strangest subcultures in our American landscape.

Featured interviewees
The song-poem writers:
Gary Forney, LaPorte, Iowa
Caglar Singletary, Elmira, New York
John Trubee, Santa Rosa, California
Waskey Elwood Walls, Jr., Yreka, California
Van Garner, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Jo Comberiate, Highland, MD
Nilson V. Oritz, San Jose, CA

The producers:
Art Kaufman, Magic Key Productions
Ramsey Kearney, Nashville Songwriters Service

The musicians:
Gene Merlino, "King of the Demo Singers"
Sonny Cash

The connoisseurs:
Ellery Eskelin, independent tenor monster
Tom Ardolino, drummer for NRBQ

For more information, see ITVS's At A Glance and Press Release pages for Off The Charts.

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Song-Poem Company Hosts MP3s of Its Productions

Art Kaufman's Magic Key/Red Rock empire continues to push the envelope of song-poem technocracy. The latest in Kaufman's long litany of innovations is a site devoted to the hosting of MP3s of MK/RR song-poem productions. The track list, which appears to accrue rather than rotate, includes such titles as "The Legendary Dale Earnhardt," "Soulmate Of A Different Timeline," "Freak," "Good And Goofy," "Me And Buddha In A Red Toyota," "Integrated Wheels And Racist Boats," and dozens more. To ease the download decisions of time-crunched users, songs are listed by musical genre. (Thanks to north-of-the-border field rep Lee Rosevere for bringing this item to our attention.) (11-12-02)

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Song-Poem Auction Board

In an effort to help connect record collectors to the dealers who love them, the AS/PMA has launched a new message board devoted exclusively to announcements of current song-poem auctions. The board is off-site, at ezboard, and we are hoping its functionality does turn out to be ez indeed. It should be considered experimental at this point -- a "beta version," if you will -- and users are invited to inform us of any problems they might encounter there. If it works out, we may attempt to expand its use to a more generalized song-poem-oriented chat board.

For starters, however, we'd like to restrict the board to auction postings only. Posters are asked to read the very brief introductory message (labeled "INTRODUCTION"), which lays down the laws of the land. Also, note that ezboard registration is not required. (9-6-02)

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Behind The Music: The Pink, Pink, Lady of Malibu

Those baffled by the meaning of our recent MP3 posting, William J. Quarry's "The Pink, Pink, Lady Of Malibu," need furrow their brows no longer. San Fernando Valley cultural historian Kevin Roderick explains the Pink Lady in his book The San Fernando Valley: America's Suburb. Fortunately, he repeats the story on his website, on a page of excerpts from the book. We'll let the picture draw you in, and have Kevin himself deliver the actual goods. Thanks to field rep John Fitzpatrick for spotting the Pink, Pink Lady. (6-26-02)

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Superman Battles the Sharks

Our Songwriter's Review page leads off with an article from a 1947 issue of the amateur songwriter tipsheet offering an extended description of a recently-broadcast sequence of The Adventures Of Superman, in which the daily serial radio drama took on the song-poem industry. What's news is that eagle-eyed field rep Lou Smith has located a source for purchasing an audio copy of that sequence, and at a very low cost at that. Old-time radio dealer goldenageofradio sells CD-Rs stuffed to the brim with MP3 files of particular radio programs, which play out at something like 20 hours' worth of old-time radio per disc. (Note that these are not directly playable on ordinary CD players, although files can be decompressed and burned to CD-Rs in standard format.)

Those whose attention spans are more geared to TV may find themselves leaping out of their clothing when first exposed to the pace of old-time radio. The format accounted for a great deal of expository overlap from show to show, and these Superman files come complete with intros, outros and commercials (for Kellogg's Pep cereal), the charms of which may go wanting after the first two or three shows heard. Still it's worth the effort to check out these Superman episodes, as the hammy and often-improvised acting style, bizarre characters (songsharking victim Poco, for instance, being far stranger than the villains), and the ludicrous plotlines and dialogue arrive as a breath of fresh stale air in this age of bogue "superrealist" dramatic entertainment. Stick with the sequence long enough, and you will finally hear the funny little man's funny little song, "Dizzy Lizzie." Look for Superman volume 4 at the goldenageofradio site; "The Phony Song Publishing Company," which originally aired (live, of course) from December 4-13, 1946, begins at track 67 on the CD. For more on the The Adventures Of Superman radio show, see the excellent article at Superman Through The Ages!, from whom we copped the pic of series star Bud Collyer. (6-14-02)

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Bonnie Was a Treasure

by Phil X. Milstein

Recent research has discovered that but a single, slender degree of separation connected legendary pop producer Phil Spector, his song-poem counterpart Rodd Keith, and cinema's greatest hoofer, Fred Astaire. The thread that united this unlikely trio was an obscure singer named Charlotte Ann Matheny, aka Charlotte O'Hara.

O'Hara was a sweet-voiced and eager young session vocalist whose residence within a few blocks of Gold Star Studios made her readily available for work there. In 1963 she was asked by producer Al Hazan to record a demo of his song "Daydreams." In fact it was the studio that was being demonstrated more than it was the song or the singer, but the cut was strong enough to be picked up for release on Astaire's Äva imprint, backed by a great version of the Ramona King number "What About You." Two years later, producer Jerry Riopelle, a Spector protégé, tapped O'Hara to handle the lead on "Home Of The Brave" (Spector himself was reportedly present at the session), a Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil protest number in which the protagonist makes an impassioned plea before the P.T.A. for the right for teenage boys to wear their hair long. (This was apparently the hot issue of the year; Sonny Bono's "Laugh At Me," a song in which he appealed to God himself for his right to wear a Moe Howard haircut in public, was a big hit in 1965.) Credited to Bonnie & The Treasures and released on Spector's secondary Phi-Dan label (#5005), O'Hara's version of "Home Of The Brave" reached #77 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August '65, but was subdued by Jody Miller's competing version on Capitol, which hit #25. (Annoyed at this intrusion on his territory, Spector took out trade ads declaring "Original creativity is still the backbone of our industry.") Riopelle's recreation of the Spector sound was so true that for many years collectors believed the recording to have been the product of a collaboration between Phil and Ronnie Spector (this despite the fact that Charlotte and Ronnie sound nothing alike).

In 1966 O'Hara completed her trifecta by working for Rodd Keith, who besides his many other roles was also a staff producer for the MSR/Preview combine. Apparently aware of her previous "Bonnie" guise, Keith (who seems to have taken an active role in pseudonym selection at MSR/Preview) recorded her under such names as Bonnie Clive and Bonnie Graham, and, in duets with his then-girlfriend and Charlotte's best friend Nita Garfield, as both Bonnie & Nita and Nita & Bonnie. Together Rodd and Charlotte (and sometimes Nita) cut such song-poem classics as "I Just Can't Go," "I'm Never Late," "Dance With Me," "I Just Knew In My Heart," "Tiny, Tiny Heart," "Train Of Destiny," "The Graveyard Rock," "T.V. Love" and "He's My Chocolate Baby." Under the alternate names Bonnie Braye (on the cover) and Bonnie Clive (on the label), Charlotte also recorded Anna My Love, the first album ever on MSR (#201).

Back with Riopelle, O'Hara enjoyed another legit release in 1966, recording, as simply Bonnie, his "Close Your Eyes" and "My Love Keeps Growin'" for Warner Brothers. (Garfield had also made a single for Warners, of Hazan's "Gold Cup" b/w "Long As I Have You," a couple of years previous.) Another majestic Bonnie & The Treasures recording, "Tell Me In The Sunlight," remains unreleased, although dubs derived originally from O'Hara's own acetate are traded privately among collectors.

By all accounts Charlotte O'Hara was a vivacious and talented woman, whose death of breast cancer in 1976 hit everyone around her especially hard, and deprived her 10-year-old daughter Jana, who she was raising alone, of her mother. The Internet newsgroup Spectropop, which covers the realms of Phil Spector and girl group sounds, has recently launched a mini-site dedicated to O'Hara's life and career, including remembrances of her by Hazan, Riopelle and Gold Star engineer Peter Canvel. Also included is a discography of her work, co-compiled by Mick Patrick and myself. For those intent on trying to find a copy of "Home Of The Brave," short of the humorous idea of pursuing an original copy your best bet is to locate the late-'90s bootleg CD Phil Spector's Flips And Rarities. (6-4-02; revised 2-24-03)

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King of Pop Goes Song-Poem

Michael Jackson's services are now available to an aspiring lyricist. Tonos Entertainment, an online music service founded by songwriters Carole Bayer Sager, David Foster and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, has announced a "Michael Jackson Songwriting Contest," available exclusively to members of America Online. According to the press release, "The contest gives AOL members the opportunity to co-write a song with the King of Pop, as well as with Foster and Bayer Sager. The winning submission will be recorded by Jackson himself and may be released as part of an upcoming album. All proceeds from the song will be donated to children's charities around the world." From the rules: "The grand prize winner, as selected by Jackson, Foster and Sager, will receive partial writing credit for the finished track and receive a personalized demo recording of the song, as recorded by Michael Jackson," as well as an all-expenses-paid trip to attend the recording session for it. Presumably, the contest winner is also expected to contribute his or her royalties share to children's charities around the world.

The deadline is June 10, 2002; bother AOL for further details. Thanks to Stuart Shea for alerting us to this story. We are tempted to exclaim Oh how the mighty have fallen, but it would be too easy. (5-22-02)

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Profile of a Dead Song-Poem

Jennifer Sharpe, proprietrix of one of the most comprehensive, fun and, well, sharpest of the Web's many Web-scouring websites, has posted an illustrated narrative of the life and death of a particular song-poem to her Sharpeworld site. Created as a supplement to another exciting project (which we'll get to in a moment), "Profile Of A Dead Song-Poem" offers a blow-by-blow account of AS/PMA curator Phil Milstein's comically frustrating experience trying to coax a usable demo of his McCarthy-era lyric of love gone awry, "Are You Now Or Have You Ever (Been In Love With Me)?," out of the once-venerable song-poem firm Tin Pan Alley. In the end, both sides win yet both sides lose. Sharpe's presentation includes scans of mailed pieces from both combatants, TPA's hand-scrawled lead sheet of Milstein's song, and an MP3 of the disputed masterpiece.

Premiering April 17 as part of New York's Free Biennial, a month-long exhibition of non- and anti-commercial art, Sharpe will also be helming The Sharpeworld Pirate Radio Broadcast, an audio version of her Web-scouring activities. Audible (at 99.9 FM) to the rather limited audience of those in and around Tompkins Square Park yet equally available to the mass worldwide audience of the Web, Sharpe's broadcast will include a segment based on "Are You Now." See her Pirate Radio Broadcast page for her artist's statement, information on times and a link to the audio stream.

Update: has added a page, entitled "Song Sung Blue," in which "Profile Of A Dead Song-Poem" is described and discussed. Some of the comments are pretty funny, especially those in which the contributors to this media-and-news dissection site presume that because they're enlightened enough to see through the song-poem scam, then everybody else should be, too. (4-5-02; revised 5-22-02)

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Danes Discover Song-Poem Music

Denmark has sent America fine cheese, gooey pastry, Prince Hamlet and Claus von Bulow. As the back end of a reciprocation program, according to Danish Broadcasting Corporation producer Per Juul Carlsen, "we're trying to import the song-poem phenomenon to Denmark." Carlsen recently fired his initial fusillade in support of that goal when he hosted a 12-minute primer on song-poem music on DBC's weekly Kronometer program. The Danes' response is not yet known.

The piece is now available in RealAudio format at Kronometer's website (text-search for "aspma"). Those who can't fathom the Danish tongue will have to content themselves with the simple enjoyment of its consonant tones, interrupted as they are by the occasional jarring English of AS/PMA curator Phil Milstein. From what we can make out through a hazy recall of our junior-high Danish, Carlsen's piece appears to place a heavy emphasis on John Trubee's "Blind Man's Penis," song-poet extraordinaire Thomas Guygax, and of course Rodd Keith.

Carlsen and his comrades have more song-poem agitprop up their sleeves. "We've asked the listeners to send us their best lyrics. We'll pass the best ones on to some of my musician friends, who will then write music for them. They won't be strictly song-poems, but they should smell a bit like them." If Carlsen's plan comes to anything, we may yet find ourselves with a DS/PMA branch on our hands. (12-7-01)

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Studio 360

Radio producer Michael May's eight-minute piece on song-poem music was included in the "Amateurs"-themed episode of the weekly Public Radio International program Studio 360 ("Where art and real life collide"), dated December 22, 2001. May reports that "the piece includes interviews with Gene Merlino [aka singer Gene Marshall], Art Kaufman [Magic Key proprietor] and Magic Key song-poet Sylvia Sterns." This program, in RealAudio format, is available from the Studio 360 site. (11-21-01; revised 12-10-01; revised 12-17-01; revised 1-2-02)

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America Sings!

Capitalizing on the early rush of the MTV phenomenon, starting in the mid-1980s Columbine Records ran a promotion which offered the production of a music video to accompany a customer's song-poem recording -- for an additional fee, of course. The videos featured Columbine artists -- not necessarily the same artists as heard on the respective audio tracks -- lip-syncing to the songs in "live on stage" fashion. Columbine would then periodically send out to public access TV stations around the country a completed program in which company owner George Falardeau would banter with a comely co-host by way of introducing the videos. The songs "chosen" to be honored with inclusion in these video collections tended to be rather banal (some might even say they defined the word), yet due to the paucity of both budget and talent the entertainment value managed to remain exceedingly high.

America Sings!, the first entry in the series, is an archetypal artifact of the Reagan era, with a troupe of spandexed "Columbine Gypsy Dancers" jazzercising like mad behind singers and musicians sporting overly moussed hairdos and jackets whose sleeves are uncomfortably scrunched up around the elbows. From this debut it was all downhill, with each successive entry enjoying, like carbon 14, exactly half the production values of its predecessor. Towards the end of the run held in the AS/PMA collection (which is not necessarily to say the end of the run proper, as for all we know Falardeau may still be churning out these eyesores), two of the Columbine Gypsy singers, who had married earlier in the sequence, had produced a Columbine Gypsy offspring, George's daughter had taken over the co-hosting duties and George himself was reduced to handling some of the lip-syncing chores, at one point spotted serenading a mannikin from the shade of a shaggy toupee.

In the course of his stint managing a public access station in Prince George's County, Maryland, documentary filmmaker Jeff Krulik, of Heavy Metal Parking Lot fame, was the recipient of one of the original mailings of America Sings! Unlike (we must assume) most other such recipients, Jeff actually programmed the darned thing on his station, and not once but many times. (This copy he subsequently and generously donated to the AS/PMA, who upon its arrival in 1998 had it programmed without explanation on its own local public access station.) He now makes this classic available for viewing again, via his Planet Krulik website. The show runs about 24 minutes, is available in both Quicktime and RealAudio formats, and must be seen to be believed. (11-21-01)

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The Debut of Shome Howe Jehovason

Bethany Ryker's WFMU show Stochastic Hit Parade was host to an important song-poem event October 30, with guest Ellery Eskelin debuting a striking tape made by his father Rodd Keith under the name of his alter ego Shome Howe Jehovason. Centered around an organ improvisation, Shome babbles, gurgles, burps, talk-sings, chants, counts, yelps and declaims, in all revealing a side of his musical persona barely hinted at in his song-poem work. After recording one track of the stereo tape, Rodd flipped it over and recorded the second track while the first played in reverse. Whether he intended the two tracks to be listened to simultaneously or discretely remains undetermined, although when played back in the former mode he seems at times to be responding to his backwards self.

Ellery hopes to release this tape on CD at some point, most likely with the entire 30-minute piece tracked in one direction and then the other, and in discrete stereo separation, a combination that will allow for a variety of listening opportunities. Until its release, you can listen to the Shome Howe tape (minus a few minutes at the beginning, which were skipped due to time considerations) in RealAudio format. From the Stochastic Hit Parade playlists page, click on the Listen link of the October 30, 2001 show. RealAudio will launch the entire three-hour program, but if you're in a hurry you can skip ahead to catch Ellery's entry at about the halfway point, followed by some of his inimitable sax-blowing played live in the studio. The Shome Howe tape starts at about 2:23 in from the start, before and after which Ellery and Bethany chat a bit about Shome Howe, Rodd's song-poem work and other related matters. (11-2-01)

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The Tiger Lillies Search For A Song

Up-and-coming London-based band The Tiger Lillies, which describes its music as combining "the spirit of punk with the passion of chanson, while at the same time evoking the disturbing and forgotten music of our dim and distant past, such as religious masses, Bavarian folk music, Berlin Cabaret and Victorian English music hall songs," is conducting an ongoing "send us your lyrics" contest.

The announcement of this contest posted on their website reads:

Search for a Song
Do you have a poem that you think would make a suitable Tiger Lillies song? Are you an "artist" who writes strange and unsual verse? Do you think that you could write a better song than us? Have you been neglected by the main-stream music industry for years, have those vain fools been too blind to see the glory of your work? Do you have a friend who has been scribbling away for years in obscurity, and would like to hear their words come alive with music. What are we going on about? Well now The Tiger Lillies will provide you with a platform for your prose.

Send us your poems, and we hope to select the best (or worst) to record and release , either as MP3 or on a cd. Please, be sincere, as we will judge all submitted songs under the harshest of lights. so submit your offerings to us at We cannot return any submission received by mail, so please keep a copy of any work sent. We will divide any publishing royalties that occurs 50/50 with the writer, in the unlikely event that any money results from the collaboration, once expenses have been covered. Succesful song-poem authors will be contacted only once their song has been recorded so please do not pester us with emails and letters asking if we have recorded your song. As this is a long term project, don't expect to see much action on it for months (or maybe even years). Updates of this will be posted here in the future.

Caveat: The Tiger Lillies' posting of this announcement is a year old, and we're not quite sure whether the contest is still in effect or not, although the phrase "long term project" would suggest that it is. Contact them directly for more information. (10-19-01)

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Song-Poem Music Goes to the Movies

Two documentary movies which include song-poem recordings in their soundtracks have recently come to our attention.

Grass, Ron Mann's 1999 film on the history of the U.S. government's long war to suppress marijuana trade and usage, uses a brief snippet of "Jimmy Carter Says Yes" to musically illustrate its segment on the Carter administration's activities in that area. And D.U.I., Spike Stewart's 1986 film about a circle of the contemporary L.A. music scene, runs the entirety of John Trubee's "Blind Man's Penis" under its closing credits. D.U.I. includes interview and performance bits by Trubee, Three Day Stubble, Jon Wayne, Severed Head In A Bag, Würm and other acts from that Dada-inspired scene.

Also, this is as good a place as any to note the existence of the "A Convertible And A Headband Makes The Scene" radio program, which airs Thursday mornings from 6 to 8 on WHPK (88.5 FM), a station at the University of Chicago. (6-5-01)

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All Song-Poem Radio, All The Time

A new channel playing all song-poem music, all the time has begun broadcasting on live365, the popular (and free) Internet streaming audio site. Live365 differs from "true" streaming radio in that its channels are created by listeners, as opposed to sites which are programmed by jockeys hired by the station. In the live365 model, anyone with the required technology can preselect, upload and program his or her own station.

The song-poem channel is entitled Send Us Your Lyrics: The American Song-Poem Music Archive. It consists of a large packet of song-poem recordings, chosen by the channel's host Stewart Mason and including tracks from all four MSR Madness releases, Ellery Eskelin's all-Rodd compilation I Died Today, and the AS/PMA's MP3 site. Live365 automatically randomizes the packet anew after each cycle through its entire collection.

Mason has programmed Send Us Your Lyrics in collaboration with the AS/PMA. We've provided him with the otherwise-unreleased MSR Madness volumes 5 (I Like Yellow Things) and 6 (Rat A Tat Tat, America), selections from which he will be mixing into the rotation on an occasional basis. He also hosts several other stations at live365: The Craig Torso Show, where he plays "eclectic freeform pop"; Needles and Pinza, "'50s and '60s stuff you rarely hear on oldies radio"; and Honk Blat Phwee, "free jazz, experimental music and calmer pursuits."

If the idea of going about your daily business while a huge swatch of primo song-poem music -- some familiar, some fresh -- weaves in and out of your awareness appeals to you, tune in to Send Us Your Lyrics on live365. (3-28-01)

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English Invasion Continues

Irwin Chusid's primer on song-poem music, a condensation of his Songs In The Key Of Z chapter, is included in the February 2001 issue of the British music monthly Mojo, now available. The article won't tell you much that you don't already know, but the layout is of interest for several reasons: the excellent illustrations, including full-color reproductions of 45 labels and LP covers from the collection of AS/PMA field rep Michael Greenberg, and a reprint of Dionne Eskelin's incredible photo of her uncle Rodd Keith laying across the top of a swing set, first seen as the back cover to The Human Breakdown Of Absurdity CD; the sidebar of excerpts of several of the more outstanding song-poem lyrics; and as the latest example of the growing interest in song-poem music in England and the European continent.

Mojo is available at some newsstands -- look for The Ramones on the cover -- or via their website. But beware: the thick glossy sells here at an outrageous cover price, usually somewhere in the $8 range. If you just want to look at the article without buying the magazine, you'll find it on page 26. (2-5-01)

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The Song-Poem Century

This Sunday, January 7, 2001, will mark the 100th anniversary of song-poem music.

That's a bold statement, one which we can't quite defend to the hilt, but it's the earliest date for the origins of the song-poem form that we've yet been able to pin down. Prior to January 7, 1901, we find nothing; from that date forward, we find plenty of song-poem activity.

What the date actually denotes is the submission for copyright registration of Amelia Baker's "Love's Sweet Dawn," the first song to be entered for copyright by Success Music Co., the first known song-poem company. There may have been other companies prior to Success, and Success may have had other songs prior to "LSD," but if so evidence of them has yet to appear.

On the "LSD" page, we try to clear up some confusing aspects of its date of origin. Also, on the John T. Hall page, we discuss the implications behind the vague wording of an ad he placed in 1913, the phrasing of which suggests that he might have hung his song-poem shingle out as early as 1897. But for lack of anything that unquestionably documents an earlier date, January 7, 1901 will have to remain Day One on the song-poem calendar.

Whatever the actual date of its discovery, it is clear that the song-poem form came to fruition either very late in the 19th century or very early in the 20th; it has been going strong ever since. The most remarkable thing about the origin of song-poem music is that it was born fully-developed, its infant shape virtually identical to that of its adulthood. There are no signs whatsoever of any baby steps, no stumbling mistakes made on the path to discovery of its greatest nature. The only significant differences between the way the song-poem game was played in 1901 and the way it's played today are purely superificial ones: for its first 50 years or so its product was printed rather than recorded music; computerized music then replaced flesh-and-blood recording; and the prices have gone up, although at far less than the rate of inflation.

We intend to mark the centennial with a private reflection on the meaning and the fun of it all. The anniversary provides a convenient occasion for us to dig out some of our song-poem records, our sheet music collection and other paraphernalia we've accumulated during our years of research into this thing. We will try to drink in a sense of the apostolic succession of a brilliant swindle, a fully-fledged genre of American music, a strange and remarkable mutation which has, perhaps with good reason, chosen to remain underground and unheralded throughout its entire history. May it continue for 100 more years. (1-7-01)

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The New Now Sounds Of Today!: Songpoems By Twenty-One Contemporary Artists

by Phil X. Milstein

I am grateful for many things in my life. I am grateful for my good health. I am grateful for Nancy Sinatra. I am grateful for a really tasty seafood stew on a chilly, drizzly winter afternoon. Above all, I am grateful that for as long as I live I will never again have to listen to the CD The New Now Sounds Of Today!: Songpoems [sic] By Twenty-One Contemporary Artists. It is that bad.

The New Now Sounds is an extremely high-concept production, for which Art Issues Press (affiliated with the magazine Art Issues) solicited song-poem-styled lyrics from a batch of their favorite visual artists, then commissioned the setting of them to music by a variety of composers and then recording artists. A handful of the songs were done by Magic Key Productions, a professional song-poem studio whose roots trace back to MSR itself, but Art Issues Press does not clarify exactly who is responsible for the others. Perhaps whoever it was requested anonymity.

The album is a collection of manifestly unfunny musical jokes. The troubles start right from the outset. Other than the vaguely experimental prompt of "What if ...," there is no point to Art Issues' premise, and thus no heart or center to the finished product. The lyrics are filled with a desperate irony that doesn't know why it's there, a misbegotten sensibility which can lead only to an annoying conclusion. Everyone involved tries so hard to be devilish, in the same way a junior high kid attempts to get the vice principal to inadvertently announce something dirty over the P.A.

The sniggering, self-pleased subversions at play here are a trifle more sophisticated than "Mike Hunt," but that's precisely where the next problem arises. The modest musical talents are not enough to make lines such as "And as sure as my guitar and laptop say Scanlan / Ed Ruscha's an American hero" or "Accident produced floating soap / Dangling on a spiderweb" rise above their innate limitations. The lyrics are about evenly split between those that try way too hard and those -- evidently culled verbatim from newspapers or menus or letters from home -- that seem like they were slapped together in a matter of seconds. I can't tell whether any of the lyricists are trying to capture the anything-goes nature of true song-poems, or are giving that source no consideration at all. Either way, what is clear is that the composers and musicians are unable to improve matters any.

The Art Issues conceptualists went awry in another important way. Their response to the typical music-genre checklist that a song-poet is given when buying his recording is the requirement that the songs on this album be in the style of a specific recording artist. Thus we are left with such ha-ha abominations as "'Anal Sadistic' sung by Abby in the style of Britney Spears," "'Menomenology' sung by Robo Mann in the style of Iggy Pop," and "'Photo Captions From Old National Geographic Magazines Arranged So Their Initial Letters Spell Out The Third Thunderclap From Finnegan's Wake' sung by Tammy Serna in the style of Linda Ronstadt doing Gilbert & Sullivan." If it weren't for the fact that not one of the recordings comes close to nailing a convincing simulation of the prescribed artists -- raising the possibility that only the composers, if even they, were informed of these soundalike notations -- this level of cleverness would be as suffocating as a plastic bag tied over the head.

The grandest fault of The New Now Sounds is that nobody involved seems to have taken into account whether any of this might be enjoyable in any way. I realize that listenability is probably not the intention here, but it is a vast waste to go to this much trouble for something that has no chance of delighting anyone save a few of those junior high kids.

The New Now Sounds is presented as a fine art artifact, and the first pressing of 2000 is numbered. Designer Bruce Licher usually does a great job turning mere cardboard into beautiful record packages. His work here is attractive enough, but the extravagance is overdone, and the package is complicated and difficult to use. Through the end of 2000 The New Now Sounds Of Today is being given away as a promotional premium for subscribing to Art Issues, but it is also available separately, and quite nearly a steal at $21 for a full 61 minutes of music. Contact Art Issues Press for purchasing information. (11-17-00)

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Song-Poem Music Starts To Ooze Offshore

The December 2000 issue of the hip British music magazine Select includes a half-page primer to song-poem music. The title, "Sing A Song Of Sickness," provides some idea of which direction the article is headed in; the subtitle, which begins, "Combine Yokel-Penned Crap Verse ...," provides an even better one. As much as we might disagree with the facetious attitude of Select's uncredited writer, we've come to expect it from the mainstream media, and find ourselves quite willing to endure their peals of derisive laughter in exchange for the spreading of the song-poem gospel. The hope is that some reader's curiosity will be piqued enough to check the music out, whereupon she or he will find him- or herself loving it for reasons beyond the obvious "let's kick the cripple" ones.

To date song-poem music has been little-known outside of North America, but there are signs that that's starting to change. Besides Select, an upcoming issue of Mojo, a British music magazine aiming for the nostalgic-fogie crowd, will be publishing a revised edition of the song-poem chapter from Irwin Chusid's Songs In The Key Of Z book. And the AS/PMA has recently begun receiving a slight-but-growing trickle of e-mails from Australia, Germany, and other points on the globe.

The word "American" in American Song-Poem Music Archives is there quite deliberately, not to exclude anyone but only because it quickly encapsulates the fact that song-poem music is a product of so many unique and fascinating aspects of American culture. The AS/PMA welcomes any and all foreign listeners and fans of song-poem music.

If you wish to save yourself a few bucks by simply reading the Select article on the newsstand, you'll find it on page "034." If you're desperate to buy a copy but can't find one locally, try e-mailing Select at (11-17-00)

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Popcorn Mice Pogo To "Disco Dancer"

East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley, California claims to be America's oldest and largest reptile store. They also maintain an extensive rodent breeding facility. It is there, in the stainless steel rodent breeding room, where the Vivarium's mice are subjected to regular aural injections of song-poem music. "Two days a week I sort, clean and wean mice," says owner Owen Maercks. "My partner does the rats. He plays his rats clench-fisted sincere-and-angst-ridden Pearl Jam crap and I play my mice Morricone, the Nuggets box, and song-poem CDs. I'm convinced my music choices make my rodents happier than his. You should see mice strut around to 'Disco Dancer, You're the Answer'."

Ever questing for arcane knowledge, we asked Owen to elaborate, whereabout he revealed one of his trade secrets. "Juvenile (just-weaned) mice are referred to as 'hoppers' or 'popcorn' mice," he says, "because they react to virtually all stimuli by jumping straight up, or, as we now know it, the Disco Dancer Pogo." This whole scenario reminded us a bit of the scene in Rock 'N' Roll High School, where Mary Woronov tested the tolerance of lab mice to Ramones music, but Owen disabused us of that fantasy. "Our mice don't explode," he tartly replied.

For that and other reasons, the AS/PMA heartily recommends East Bay Vivarium for all your reptile and rodent needs. Phone them at 510-841-1400, or e-mail Owen. We can't vouch for his rats, but his mice will be the happiest money can buy. (7-27-00)

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Swell Music, Inc.

By way of reviewing the book version of Songs In The Key Of Z (see below), Delaware Valley News writer Jeff Grimshaw has published a hilarious report of his brief experience in the late 1970s operating his own song-poem company, Swell Music, Inc. Among the highlights of this piece are an account of the submissions of eccentric song-poet Irwin Mitchell Johnson, and a word about the fiendishly clever identity Grimshaw selected to cloak himself behind. Most song sharks learned the ropes at the feet of an experienced mentor; Grimshaw was smart enough to figure the whole thing out for himself, and in some ways even bettered the pros at their own game. His article, "New Talent Needed All The Time," is posted on the Songs In ... Z website.

There are numerous examples of ironic song-poem submissions ("Blind Man's Penis" being the best-known of them), but never before had we encountered a song-poem company that was operating from a position of irony; none, for that matter, that were in the game for any reason other than to make a buck. But Grimshaw's article intrigued us on this point, so we asked him for further thoughts on what his motivations had been. He replied, "I set up shop with the idea that I was going to have a ball and probably not make any money." His additional comment that "I loved getting angry letters from disgruntled customers" qualifies Swell Music, Inc. beyond a doubt as the world's only known ironic song-poem company. (6-15-00)

For other stories on teenage song-poem experiences, see I Was A Teenage Song-Poet and the Piece label intro note.

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Songs In The Key Of Z

There is not one thing called Songs In The Key Of Z. Subtitled The Curious Universe Of Outsider Music, AS/PMA field rep Irwin Chusid's Songs In ... Z is both a book and a companion CD, which profile and then demonstrate some of the most infamous names in musical history. Mixed in among the Lucia Pamelas, the Jack Mudurians and the Legendary Stardust Cowboys, the book includes a chapter on song-poem music, while the CD contains a terrific song-poem selection, Halmark's anonymously-credited "The Virgin Child Of The Universe."

The two versions of Songs In The Key Of Z are sold separately. For more information and on-line ordering, see the Songs In ... Z website. (6-12-00)

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Teri Thornton/Summers Dead At 65

It is with deep sorrow that we report news of the death of Teri Thornton on May 2, of complications from bladder cancer. She was 65.

Thornton's life story is almost classical in its comformance to an American archetype of success cum tragedy, and is tailor-made to be turned into a three-hankie movie bio some day. Whitney Houston will star.

In brief, Thornton was a gifted vocalist and musician who was steadily climbing the ladder of fame in the early '60s when various causes, some self-inflicted, coincided to halt her progress, with seeming abruptness. Careerwise she spent the next 35 years wandering in the desert. It must have been humbling indeed for someone who had recorded for Riverside and Columbia to find herself, not that many years later, recording for MSR and Preview. Yet Thornton's voice and class prevailed, and in the late '60s, using the name "Teri Summers" among other aliases, she cut some of the most memorable sides in song-poem history.

Her talent maintained over the years, as she clung to the hem of the music industry. In 1995 she was rediscovered playing a club in New York by Suzi Reynolds, a noted manager of jazz artists whose nurturance would help set Thornton's career back along the path. In 1998, while recovering from a bout with cancer, Thornton arose from her sickbed to nail the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition, a return to glory that would read like a cliché were it not true. The award led to a recording contract with Verve, which led to I'll Be Easy To Find, a triumphant album that was received with raves.

But in a cruel twist of fate Thornton's comeback was thwarted by a recurrence of cancer just prior to the album's release, preventing her from fulfilling the big plans that were in the works for its promotion. This surely must have been the most frustrating experience of Thornton's career, as in a just world I'll Be Easy To Find would have needed no push, would have climbed itself up the charts to fast become a standard. We were fortunate to have been in the audience at one of her last performances, which is reported below. (5-4-00)

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The AS/PMA is starting to feel mighty real. Thanks to Rob Coleman of Designstein, Inc., we are as of now operating under our own domain name. Henceforth, the AS/PMA website will be reached via In fact, Rob has done such a good job of putting this upgrade together that we're equally reachable via the ultra-concise Our e-mail address is now fxxm[at]

We are still shaking out a few kinks, but they'll hopefully be quite minor. Let us know if you find any problem spots on the site.

All this is just Phase One of Rob's big plans. Coming up we will be unveiling a major addition to the AS/PMA website. We don't wanna spill the beans just yet, but will say only that before long you'll be able to hear a lot more from the song-poem world.

Rob has asked for nothing in return for his help with this upgrade, so our recommendation of Designstein for all your web hosting and design needs is unsolicited, and unequivocal. Their CEO, by the way, is Steven Greenberg, the creator of the great 1980 disko hit "Funkytown." (3-27-00)

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More On Teri Thornton

We thrilled to the recent concert appearance by Teri Thornton, who delivered a Master Lesson in jazz singing at Sculler's in Boston February 24. Though frail of body Teri's voice is stronger and more resonant than ever, and the warmth, depth and intelligence of her performance -- not to overlook the totally smokin' quartet backing her up -- were ideal for the intimate, jazz-friendly room. Her repertoire, including several outstanding originals, drew from most facets of her career. She skipped, of course, the song-poem years, although there was a fleeting moment when we thought we heard her slip in a snippet of "City's Hospital Patients." Might have been our imagination.

Seeing her live enabled us to reach a more thoughtful appraisal of Teri's album I'll Be Easy To Find, as well as of her career in general. See below for our revised comments. Also recommended is an excellent article about Teri on the Detroit Free Press website. (2-25-00; revised 3-20-00)

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He Had Sandy Stanton Eyes

The pop music encyclopedia Rock On, Vol. 3 includes an interesting passage in their entry for Kim Carnes, best known for the 1981 hit "Betty Davis Eyes.":

When Carnes was 14 [c. 1960], she and a girlfriend formed a singing duo and tried selling their music along Sunset Boulevard. Finally, they met a producer who said he'd make them a demo tape for $200. Each girl hit her parents for $100, and they recorded three songs. The next thing they knew, however, the producer vanished to Australia and the recording studio became a travel agency.
No bout adoubt it, that's our Sandy Stanton she's referring to, and the studio either his
Fable in its later days or Film City in its early ones. Unless they recorded as The Alexanders (Film City 1004), Carnes' record has yet to come our attention, because all the other late Fable or early Film City releases we've tracked so far are either by male vocalists or females who are otherwise known to us. (2-7-00)

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The Drippy Gazette

Storming out of the rainy Pacific Northwest city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada comes The Drippy Gazette, a new monthly tabloid magazine. While Drippy mostly concerns itself with issues of Vancouverian underground culture, it is also turning its first few issues into a sort of mini-encyclopedia of the Song-Poem Revival movement. Issues 2 through 5 contain one interview each with four of the leading lights of this movement: respectively, AS/PMA founder and curator Phil Milstein, I'm Just The Other Woman compiler Don Bolles, spiritual godfather Tom Ardolino, and I Died Today compiler and son-of-Rodd Ellery Eskelin.

Robert Dayton, who also serves as Drippy's co-editor, conducts a lively interview. While he is deft at drawing knowledge and insights from his interviewees, he equally capable of coming up with cogent thoughts of his own. In the Milstein interview, for instance, Dayton introduced the term "slapdash pop gems," as concise and apt a description of song-poem music as you'll find. He is obviously a huge song-poem fan, but he also enjoys wandering off from the topic to raise other areas of mutual interest. While the Milstein interview sticks pretty close to theme, Bolles and Dayton set to jawin' about Criswell, Christian ventriloquists and Quintron; he and Ardolino get into The Shaggs, Sun Ra, soap operas and Dave Seville; and he and Eskelin talk a lot about the Mellotron. All of the interviews include very extremely goofy photographs of the interviewees.

Issues of The Drippy Gazette are available for two dollars each (two U.S. dollars, although they'll accept twoCanadian dollars if they have to; however, do not try to stiff them by sending the U.S. equivalent of two Canadian dollars -- they're not giving these things away, y'know). Send to PO Box 78069, 2606 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, V5N 5W1 Canada. If you have questions about payment or curling, you can e-mail the editors at or (10-29-99)

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Teri Thornton Will Be Easy To Find

One of the better recordings Teri Thornton did for MSR was a song called "Love Has The Last Laugh." Now it is Teri Thornton who is having the last laugh. I'll Be Easy To Find, her triumphant new album on Verve, is the acclaimed jazz-pop vocalist's first important release in 35 years, and marks her return from various personal and career depths. Her story helps give her new music meaning and poignancy, but the record itself hardly dwells on the subject.

It opens with "Somewhere In The Night," a remake of her 1961 hit. The choice is an acknowledgment of her early career, but the new interpretation touches little on the original, as if to immediately confront her long hiatus and then just as quickly move beyond it. For the rest of the album the focus is on the here and now. I'll Be Easy To Find snaps a portrait of a eminently soulful vocalist whose superb musicianship has never forsaken her, a woman who's grown into a maturity of voice and substantiality of style, the playful bounce of her earlier records giving way to new heights of elegance and dignity.

In the span between major releases, Thornton did not abandon the music industry altogether. From 1967 to 1969, she and song-poem genius Rodd Keith collaborated on a series of showstopping sessions for the MSR and Preview labels. Of course, song-poem customers never realized their lyrics were being sung by a renowned jazz vocalist they might have seen on The Tonight Show, nor were Teri Thornton fans aware of these virtually anonymous recordings that she did, released as they were under such cloudy variants of her name as Teri Summers, Terri North, Teri Mathews, and Terry, Danny & The Librettos, among those where any artist name was listed at all. The period they worked together found Rodd at the height of his composing and arranging powers and Teri, as always, in breathtaking voice. Despite her short time working behind the song-poem curtain, the records she made with Rodd, including such underground hits as "I'll Gather Happiness," "Somebody Else," "Yippee Hippee," "The Evening Is Approaching," "City's Hospital Patients," "More On Ode To Billy Jo," and "I've Found My True Love," are among the cornerstones of the genre.

It's tempting to compare the song-poem Teri Thornton to the "real" Teri Thornton of I'll Be Easy To Find. Her singing in both situations skips a razor's edge of contrasts, running sweet and gritty, classy and ballsy, ethereal and gutbucket, all at the same time. How she is able to embody those opposites is part of the marvel and mystery of Teri Thornton. Yet clearly there is an emotional investment in her jazz material that becomes something else altogether on the work-for-hire stuff, where changes from sequins to leathers, attacking the customer's "submissions" with a brittle, steely presence while commanding the music with the deft whip of her voice. Perhaps she adapted that metallic edge just so she could endure the grind. Whatever the reason, though, it injects her song-poem music with a special quality.

While working in the song-poem trenches may have been somewhat of a drag, Teri is not dismissive of her time there. "It was a great experience," she said from her bathtub in an interview conducted via speakerphone. "Kind of instant money, and it was fun to do because a lot of the stuff that came to us was so fragmented that it always took a bit of doing to make something listenable out of. It was kind of a challenge."

Blowsy lung-busting is all the rage among female singers today, but it is a trick, an easy exchange of simulation of passion for diva status. Teri, though, is secure enough to let her warm, husky contralto speak for itself, and to leave the histrionic swoops to others. Instead, she prefers to burrow deep inside the material, gracefully picking through each well-selected number in search of its heart. Because as stellar as her technique is, it is heart that she is most after, and heart that she most has to give.

I'll Be Easy To Find, as its title suggests, should be readily available at in-person and on-line record shops. For now, at least, CDNow has some sample sound clips. See below for news on the rerelease of Teri's 1960 debut album Devil May Care. (10-29-99; revised 12-28-99; revised 2-25-00)

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Will The Real Ringo Please Stand Up?

Back around 1965, a dapper gentleman calling himself Elvis Don Ringo walked in off the streets of Nashville to record a few tunes at Globe Recording Studio. Globe's main business was recording song-poems, but they also did the occasional "legit" session as well as handling the "off the street" type of work that all independent studios must deal with from time to time.

Besides wrangling, mangling and, finally, strangling the standards "Beautiful Dreamer" and "I Cried For You" (the lyrics of which were written by the brother of the owner of Preview Records), Mr. Don Ringo also recorded an original composition entitled "I'm The Real Ringo," a mostly-spoken number with only a tinkly peanner for accompaniment. "I'm The Real Ringo" is a tough-talkin' cowboy song closer in spirit to Legendary Stardust Cowboy than to anyone else I can think of -- Gene Autry it surely ain't. The Ringo reference was clearly aimed more at Lorne Greene than at The Beatles. What little melody there is is sequestered to the chorus of "For I'm the real Ringo / Born east of Pecos and west of Abilene"; splattered about like buckshot, the tune creates a minor squall, but it's rendered lovable by Mr. Don Ringo's charismatic, bronco-bustin' performance. Mr. Don Ringo was supremely confident of his vocal abilities, but ... well, sometimes you have to wonder where a person's confidence comes from. For whatever reasons, "I'm The Real Ringo" never saw the light of day, and Elvis Don Ringo eventually fell into great personal disrepair.

Jump-cut ahead about 35 years. Globe's owner Jim Maxwell gives me a copy of "I'm The Real Ringo," correctly assessing that its loopiness might be just the brand of whisky I like to swig. With his permission, I pass a tape of the song along to Irwin Chusid, co-proprietor of WFMU's Incorrect Music program. Chusid's subsequent airing of it reaches Jesse Gress, a professional guitarist living in the Woodstock area, who also happens to be an AS/PMA field rep. Gress records the song off the air, and passes his discovery along to Todd Rundgren, in whose band he plays. In early 1999, Rundgren is touring as a member of Ringo & The All-Starr Band, led by the real real Ringo, aka Mr. Richard Starkey former of The Beatles. One day on the tour bus, Rundgren cues up and plays his tape of "I'm The Real Ringo" through a set of headphones, attached on their other end to the ears of Ringo Starr. Ringo loves the song, and walks around for the rest of the tour warbling (for one could only warble this tune), "I'm the real Ringo-o-o" to himself and to anyone else who cares to bask in the glory of this unholy communion.

Some events in this world unfurl just the way they're supposed to. (8-12-99; revised 9-28-99)

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The Crazy World Of Arthur Braun

Rockadelic Records, a respected psychedelic rock reissue label, has issued a majestic album entitled Whitewood (RRLP36), by a group of the same name. Whitewood is a straight reissue of a 1970 release from the fly-by-night Exotic label, out of New York. The lyrics of one side of the album were composed by a song-poet, himself a former big-band singer, who sent them to Exotic to be set to music so he could present material for his kids to use in their garage band. Apparently, the finished songs became the band's entire repertoire.

Exotic was run by a musician named Arthur Braun, who is credited as both producer and engineer of Whitewood as well as writer of the songs that fill the album's other side. Braun ran his company on such a shoestring that he didn't even bother printing record covers -- not even stock covers. The cover to Rockadelic's version (as seen to the right) was created especially for this reissue.

Whitewood is a pretty nutso album. The music is a crude psych-garage thud common to the period, its players even less proficient than the typical local rock outfit of the day. The Braun side features a brilliantly unept drums/harmonica workout. Lurking amidst the murky drang of the notes themselves lie tape glitches, crude splices and spoken interludes. The lyrics seem to represent a middle-aged man's clueless notion of what a young, hep garage band should be singing. If you wanted to give the lyricist the benefit of the doubt, you could think of his songs as parodies of pseudo-insightful heavy-rock, but frankly if you did I think you would be being overly generous. A few samples of his poetry:

Volcanic ... the rumbling sound of many evil
Volcanic ... creates the Eve that ate the apple

Your charm is like charisma
Your love is like charisma ...

The power that we all have
Is a fear of power ending ...

World of tomorrow, world of yesterday
World of his evil, world of dismay.

Strangely, the pipe-smoker who wrote those words was disappointed enough by the low quality of Braun's interpretation of them that he agreed to be "compensated" by having several more of his songs included on a future Exotic album. That album, The Arthur Braun Expedition, also includes songs by other song-poets, as well as more material by Braun and what seem to be a couple of traditional song-poem recordings. The Arthur Braun Expedition is a howler of the first order -- among other ridiculosities, the pronunciation of the title phrase of the song "Avant Garde" is so badly mangled that it wasn't until I finally checked the song titles that I came to realize that it was about something other than Ava Gardner!

Rockadelic's edition of Whitewood was pressed in a strictly limited quantity of 500 copies. Alas. their version is itself now believed to be out of print. (12-1-98; revised 1-21-99; revised 7-27-99)

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Teri Thornton Galore

Song-poem fans will recognize the voice of jazz great Teri Thornton, if not quite the name. Under the pseudonym Teri Summers (as well as a variety of other noms de song-poem), she sang such beloved favorites as "City Hospital's Patients," "Somebody Else," "Yippee Hippee" and "More On Ode To Billy Jo." Few other song-poem vocalists can match her track record.

Jazz fans revere her for an entirely different body of work. Under her real name of Teri Thornton, she recorded several highly-regarded albums in the early- to mid-'60s for Riverside and Columbia. After a career layoff of way too many years, Teri is now coming back with a vengeance. In 1998 she won the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute's International Vocal Competition. Fantasy, the current owners of Riverside, recently reissued her brilliant 1961 album Devil May Care. It should be readily available in stores, or you can purchase it on-line directly from Fantasy. The CDNow site even has some sound clips. Perhaps most importantly, Teri's new album, I'll Be Easy To Find, is set for release this fall.

Teri has also been performing again with some regularity in the New York area, and is starting to venture out of town as well. Song-poem and jazz fans alike should keep an eye out for her other appearances. (5-24-99; revised 6-14-99)

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Read Song-Poem Lyric Submissions On-Line, a song-poem company that appears to conduct its business strictly via the Web, is including actual lyric submissions on their site, for all to view. Songs are divided by categories, including several that are unique to the song-poem field: Alternative, Blues, Country, Folk, Jazz, Other [?], Religious, and Rock. When you get to the home page, click on "Read submitted lyrics" to locate the good stuff.

The company is also shilling various legitimate how-to books on writing lyrics, despite the fact that most of those books contain strict warnings to avoid sending your lyrics to these sorts of companies. (4-1-99)

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Dion McGregor Dreams Again

Phil Milstein is proud to announce the release of Dion McGregor Dreams Again, a compact disc on Tzadik which was more than 11 years in preparation. The album is comprised of tapes of McGregor talking in his sleep, dreaming mad little stories out loud. It's a sequel to Decca's 1964 release The Dream World Of Dion McGregor, and has been compiled from the same batch of original source tapes. To listen to McGregor's dreams is to experience a vastly unique thrill ride of sound.

Just to keep things semi-relevant, McGregor worked briefly as a lyrics doctor for a song-poem company in the early '50s. Full details can be found on the Dion McGregor website. (1-29-99)

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"Mama Wears The Pants"

The Sophamores' "Mama Wears The Pants," one of the few examples of a song-poem garage record, is now available on Cheep! Cheep!'s new anthology of hot and unknown garage 45s, Yeah Yeah Yeah (AACC-075). Written by Mary Frances Odle, "Mama Wears The Pants" is about as crude and grungy a recording as you're ever gonna find -- true punk rock, 1960s variety.

Cheep! Cheep! is a new budget-priced imprint of Arf! Arf! Records. Further information about Yeah Yeah Yeah and links to on-line ordering are available from the Arf! Arf! website.

The story behind the inclusion of "Mama Wears The Pants" begins with a visit I made this past summer to Sounds Interesting, a recording studio in Middleborough, Massachusetts, to dub song-poem records for the next two volumes of Carnage Press' MSR Madness series. Erik Lindgren, the owner of Sounds Interesting as well as of Arf! Arf! and Cheep! Cheep!, has been the duplicating engineer for nearly all of the MSR Madness albums, and is also a fan and collector of song-poem records. And since he is a world-renowned collector of garage records as well, I brought to the session my copy of "Mama Wears The Pants," found on Air Records EP #1585, to play for him. He flipped out, and asked to include it on the garage anthology he was then compiling.

"Mama Wears The Pants" is a homemade (to say the least) recording released by a song-poem label, as opposed to the usual process where the song-poem company both records and releases the song. The Sophamores (from parts unknown) apparently were trying to use Air as a vanity-type label, but since it's surrounded on the EP by three true song-poem recordings, it qualifies as a song-poem record nonetheless.

Although the recording meters on "Mama Wears The Pants" register below even the meager levels of Air's usual releases, The Sophamores rip through their rancid little number with such force that you can hardly be bothered to notice. In fact, the absurdly low fidelity of the recording is such a factor in its sound that it's practically a member of the band. Inexplicably, on the EP version there are two spots where the signal suddenly drops out completely, as if the engineer flicked the Mute button a couple of times during the recording but The Sophamores said "What the hell" and went with it that way anyhow. For better or worse, Lindgren decided to digitally patch those two spots; to his credit, he did a great job at it, and had I not spilled the beans the listener would never know that there had ever been a problem with it in the first place.

Lindgren was so taken with "Mama Wears The Pants," and I was so equally taken with his newly-acquired copy of Ann-Margret's brilliant collaboration single with Lee Hazlewood -- "You Turn My Head Around" / "It's A Nice World To Visit (But Not To Live In)" (LHI-1!), that when he proposed a swap I couldn't resist accepting his offer. So don't tell anyone, but I actually traded away one of my favorite song-poem records. The deciding factor was my knowing that once Yeah Yeah Yeah was released I'd be able to listen to "Mama Wears The Pants" anytime I want to. Now that it's out, you can too. Go to it. (12-1-98)

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Jimmy Carter Says "Yes" -- Literally

Former president Jimmy Carter gave the thumbs-up to the funky song-poem classic "Jimmy Carter Says 'Yes'" during an interview on WBUR-FM's "The Connection" radio program today. "Connection" senior producer Mary McGrath told the AS/PMA, "The music played and he looked up into the control room, smiled, and gave the thumbs-up sign. He said that he had never heard the song before and liked it."

Although a copy of the song-poem "Richard Nixon" resides in the official archives of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace, Carter is believed to be the first ex-president to ever actually hear a song-poem tribute to him. Both the Carter and Nixon presidential tributes are found on the Carnage Press compilation MSR Madness, Vol. 1: The Beat Of The Traps.

"Jimmy Carter Says 'Yes'" was originally included on Preview album #247, President Jimmy Carter We Salute You!, written by Waskey Elwood Walls, Jr. and sung by Gene Marshall. Little did Carter realize that "Jimmy Carter Says 'Yes'" was but one song taken from a barrage of at least three albums written in tribute to him released by Preview upon Carter's inauguration in 1977.

Ex-president Jimmy Carter, we salute you. (10-28-98; photo by David L. Ryan, Boston Globe)

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Rodd Keith for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Faint whisperings of rumor reach us from within the record industry to deliver the news that Rodd Keith, the greatest and most important of all song-poem studio musicians, is thought to be under serious consideration to be nominated for selection to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We shouldn't allow ourselves to get too excited over this information, if only because being nominated is not at all the same thing as being selected, but it is a giant step in the right direction and is often considered the prelude to such an ultimate honor.

The way the process typically unfolds, the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee meets every year in July to place into nomination approximately 20 potential selectees, all from the category of Performer. (The Committee can also make outright selections in the categories of Non-Performer and Early Influence.) From there, ballots are mailed to 1000 voting members ("rock experts"). Their selections are tallied sometime in August -- those performers receiving more than 50% of the votes become the next inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!

None of us who have heard his music need convincing that Rodd Keith is utterly deserving of the honor of membership in the Hall of Fame. That he toiled in such obscurity throughout his career causes us to be surprised -- perhaps even a bit skeptical -- that this rumor is indeed for real, but then again if it is true, it is an opportunity that we must not let pass by.

The Nominating Committee has been known in the past to be susceptible to the influence of public opinion. Therefore, a letter-writing campaign is recommended as the line of first offense. Send your letters, postcards and petitions for the nomination of Rodd Keith to: Nominating Committee, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, 1290  Avenue of the Americas, 2nd Floor, New York City, NY 10104. Let's get out the vote! (6-15-98)

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"Song-Poems For You"

Discovered recently in the Dick Kent Wing of the American Song-Poem Music Archives is the first known song-poem about (in part, at least) song-poems.

"For You With Love," a bouncy love song written by Jo B. Comberiate, includes these lines: "I can hear all heaven whisper / Song-poems for you / Every little angel sparkles / Bright in the blue." The rest of the lyric continues the theme of angels, adds in some moonbeams and birds flying high in the sky, but makes no further reference to song-poems. Still, it's telling to note that some of the song-poets themselves were aware of and using the term "song-poems."

"For You With Love" was recorded by Michelle Wood for Sunrise Records (album Hollywood Sessions, HS-031) sometime in the early 1980s. Jo B. Comberiate was no song-poem newcomer, however -- in 1980 she commissioned an MSR album, Living And Loving With Jo B. Comberiate, (MSR 272) comprised entirely of her own songs.

AS/PMA field rep Cliff Doerksen informs us of another song -- although not a song-poem itself -- that also includes a line about the form. John Prine's song "Leave The Lights On," from his 1995 album Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings, includes this passage: It's like sittin' in a kitchen / When the music's really bitchin' / Your nose is start to itchin' / As you count your old age pension / Did I forget to mention / The ride that I was hitchin'? / To the aluminum convention / I had such good intentions / Keep your cotton-pickin' fingers / Off my song-poem / And to leave the lights on till your baby gets home / Leave the lights on till your baby gets home." (2-16-98; revised 6-3-98)

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Rood Keith

AS/PMA field representative Barry Alfonso alerted us to an interesting point about one of Rodd Keith's many pseudonyms. The artist credit for the song "Great Fever" (included on the compilation CD I'm Just The Other Woman, MSR Madness Vol. 4) was listed on its original Preview release (Preview 1404) as ROOD KEITH, rather than his more common credit RODD KEITH. It's hard to pick up this distinction at first glance, since in all uppercase letters in the Futura Bold font the O is easy to misread as a D, if you read it quickly enough. "Do The Turkey" on Preview 1403 (and also currently in print, on I Died Today) and both sides of Preview 1402 -- "The Eyes Have It" / "The Dream" -- all bore the same odd credit. These "Rood" releases were bunched all in a row, but Rodd returned to Rood again for Preview 1644, for "Dreaming By My Side."

For a long time we'd presumed that a simple typographical error led to the "Rood," but if that were the case then how could the mistake have been repeated on the other records? And how would a typist have entered an O accidentally when he or she meant to type in a D, since the characters are at nearly opposite ends of the keyboard?

The key to this puzzle was lain before us when the learned Alfonso informed us that "rood" is a real word. When he went on to explain what the word means, we became convinced that it was no typo at all, but one of Rodd's most fiendishly clever pranks. "Rood," according to the American Heritage Dictionary (2nd edition), is a Middle English word for "a crucifix symbolizing the cross on which Christ was crucified." Rodd was a quintessential wordsmith and master punster, and was a great student (as well as frequent opponent) of the Christian religion. That the word is pronounced exactly the same as "rude" undoubtedly only added to his little fun.

A final twist to this "rood" story is the fact that shortly before he died, Rodd copyrighted a few of his songs under the name "Rodo Keith." As far as we're aware, "rodo" has no literal meaning in any language. (2-9-98; revised 5-1-01)

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The Song Shark

Rodd Keith's closest friend during the last few years of his life was a guy named Conrad Marshall. Conrad is a fascinating cat in his own right, but the pertinent thing to tell you about him here is that he has written a screenplay called The Song Shark, a roman à clef about the declining years of Rodd Keith. Without having known Rodd but having heard enough about him to feel almost as if I did, the screenplay in my opinion successfully brings to life the qualities of greatness that were so evident in him, as well as his many infuriating tendences and the effects of his raging hallucinogen habit.

Conrad actually wrote this script not long after Rodd died in 1974, and at one point it seemed it might come together and actually get filmed, with George Segal playing Mike Cord (Rodd's character). Jack Nicholson, in fact, had even agreed to do a cameo in a softball scene. But, as with most projects in Hollywood, it died on the vine (I'm not sure if I intended that pun or not).

Knowing nothing at the time of the burgeoning interest in song-poem music, Conrad recently pulled his script out and revised it, devising an interesting casting idea for the past of Mike Cord. He is now in the process of trying to raise capital, and has authorized the AS/PMA to put out a call, via this web site, to any parties who would consider investing in the film. If interested, contact me at the above info and I'll put you in touch with Conrad Marshall. (12-16-96; still in effect as of 11-25-98)

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