Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Some families can be more difficult than others.


For more info about the FAMILY VALUES series, go here.

Washington Phillips - "I Had a Good Father and Mother"

Dad: Phillips recorded this track in Dallas, Texas in 1927. His recordings were pretty much beneath most collector's radar screens until Agram, a Dutch record company, reissued them around 1980 (Agram, 2006). Lynn Abbott found the first photo of Phillips in the black New Orleans newspaper, The Louisiana Weekly.

Scholar James Bryan turned up a photo of a dulceola, presumably the instrument Phillips played, in an advertisement from Jacob's Orchestra Monthly (December, 1911). The text for that ad reads: "Its action, while similar to that of the Piano, is quicker and more simple, and its sweet, soothing tone is much appreciated by invalids who are unable to listen to the louder notes of the Piano. It is portable, being only 24 X 18 inches in size and only 18 pounds in weight, and is easily taken on Yachting and Camping Excursions and Picnic Parties."

I don't think anyone has turned up any solid biographical details about Washington Phillips, but when you piece the bits together, it seems safe to surmise that he MUST have played his dulceola for invalids yachting down the Trinity River.

That's a joke.

There's a guy in Memphis by the name of Andy Cohen who collects and plays dulceolas. They're pretty hard to come by.
Mom: What a haunting, bare-boned song! I like this man's voice but the music is so lonely and sad. (My good friend) Diana found this soothing, but I found it a little difficult, very raw. He says a lot in the music without saying much in words; it's minimal. I hear a good message, though: the best things in life can't be bought; "salvation is free for you and me".
Sis: This track is just as sweet as honey. Phillips is the undisputed king of the underrated hammered dulcimer sound. He’s so heartfelt and he has a genre-bending quality that really appeals to me; is this gospel? blues? lullaby?

It's just a bit moralizing, but that doesn’t really get under my skin.

Buy "I Was Born to Teach the Gospel", a complete collection of the extant recorded works of Washington Phillips, direct from Yazoo records (you can sample a few tracks in RealAudio at the site).
Phillips' discography includes only sixteen songs and yet is as rich as El Dorado. If you're moved by "Mother and Father," this is a must own disc.

Read loads of arguments and conjectures as to the nature of Phillips' use of the Dulceola.
I'm hardly educated enough to comment on this at all; Hut readers who know better should leave two cents on the windowsill and let a brother know.
Read this brief AMG bio of Washington Phillips.


Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention - "Mom and Dad"

Dad: Frank Zappa was a smart guy for a rock and roller. The Mothers of Invention's first two albums really shook me up. I meditated (medicated?) on those albums for hours and hours when they first came out.

The Mothers had a regular gig for about two years at the historic NYC Garrick Theater, down on Thompson and Bleeker. I saw them perform lots of times there; they'd put on wild, unpredicatable shows. Back in those days ('66, '67 or so) Zappa would often stand on the street corner to catch some air between shows and if you wanted to talk about his music with him, he was usually up for that. I was young and presumptuous, but I must say, Zappa was never dismissive.

One night he invited me, your mom and a friend of ours to visit his West Village apartment, where he played us We're Only In It For the Money to get our opinion on it. It had yet to be released and would be held up in litigation for many months by Capitol records, who refused to let him get away with the amazing "Sgt. Pepper" spoof cover. It was finally printed up when Zappa and his label agreed to reverse the inner and outer covers on the LP.
Mom: Now this I know about. It's vintage Zappa, very typical. That beat is very American Indian, isn't it?
I don't know about that guy; he was always so angry. Whenever he played he had to be shocking and not fit in. He would pick people out of the audience and drag them onto the stage and just abuse them, mock them and belittle them. Every time I went with your father to see him perform, I always thought, "Oh, please don't pick on me!"
He was too much for this world. I appreciate the music he made, but his intensity... woooo! What's his kid's name, Dweezil? He strikes you as a really normal kid, doesn't he? Maybe Zappa made a good home for him.
Sis: The Mothers of Invention track really takes me back to my high school days (though they're rapidly shrinking in the rearview mirror), when I was heavy into the "Only In It For the Money" album. This track sure is lyrically powerful, if slightly outdated. Zappa’s cynicism is extremely biting; I wonder if any of the parents of the era really listened to this song and its message? In any case, this is dark and poignant and vaguely operatic; Zappa at his best.

Buy The Mothers' "We're Only In It for the Money", arguably the best album of 1968, from Amazon.
Check the personnel and lyrics for every track on the album.
Visit Zappa's official page or any number of fan pages.
Learn about the plethora of Zappa namesakes in the natural world.

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