David Bruce: Music Anecdotes

• Dave Matthews did not name his band the Dave Matthews Band. Instead, shortly after the group formed, a manager of a club needed a name to put on posters advertising the show. Band horns expert Leroi Moore told the manager to simply put “Dave Matthews” on the posters, as that was enough to ensure an audience, but the manager decided to add “Band” at the end. Mr. Matthews himself jokes that he would like to rename the band as “The Band That Used To Be Called The Dave Matthews Band But Isn’t Any More Because It Was Wrongly Named To Begin With.” Of course, Mr. Matthews is the leader of the band, and band concerts are known not just for the music, but for “Davespeak,” which occurs when Mr. Matthews speaks about whatever he wants to, whether it is his favorite TV show or boxer shorts. Speaking of music, the Dave Matthews Band, like the Grateful Dead, encourages tape-trading. Fans are encouraged to tape the shows and swap tapes with other fans. The Dave Matthews Band has even allowed fans to plug their recording equipment directly into the band’s soundboard. Early in their career, it was possible to get a spot on the board, but now they are so successful that getting a spot may be impossible. (Tape-trading is distinct from bootlegging; bootlegging is done for profit, while tape-trading is not.) Tape-trading helped the Dave Matthews Band gets fans even in places it had not performed in before. Band violinist Boyd Tinsley remembers, “We’d never been to Alabama before. We’d go to this place, and cars would be lined up down the road, and there’d be all these people going to this big club. We’d be sitting in our red van saying, “Oh, my God!” Tape-trading also helped the Dave Matthews Band get a recording contract with a major record label. An intern brought a tape to his boss at RCA Records, and the boss liked what he heard. The boss telephoned another RCA Records VIP in New York to tell him about the Dave Matthews Band. (Full disclosure: Actually, the VIP in New York, Peter Robinson, was already planning to see the Dave Matthews Band in concert that very night.)

• Joe Williams became famous singing the blues, but for a long time he was paid more to sing popular songs such as ballads—which he and others called “pretty songs” and “pretty tunes.” In 1941, Mr. Williams was being paid $45 a week to sing the blues. In between the blues shows, he remembers, he would sing “all kinds of pretty tunes of the day.” Coleman Hawkins listened to the pretty tunes, liked what he heard, and told him, “I want you to come with me and travel as my vocalist. I don’t want you to sing the blues. I want you to sing the pretty songs, and I’m gonna give you $80 a week.” Mr. Williams jokes, “I lost my allegiance to the blues just like that!” The same thing kept happening. Andy Kirk wanted him to sing the pretty songs and let Beverly White sing the blues. And Lionel Hampton wanted him to sing the pretty songs and let Dinah Washington sing the blues. In 1954, Mr. Williams started singing with Count Basie’s band. He sang “Everyday I Have the Blues” and kept singing the blues after that.

• Some people are brilliant, among them DustoMcNeato, aka Dustin McLean, who is a filmmaker in Pasadena. He says, “Ever wish songs just sang what was happening in the music video? Well now they do ….” DustoMcNeato had the idea of taking music videos and rerecording the lyrics so that what is sung simply states what is happening in the music video. Many people have borrowed this idea, and on <youtube.com> are a number of videos that give the “Literal Video Version” of famous songs. Check out DustoMcNeato’s Literal Video Version of “Head Over Heels” by Tears for Fears at <youtube.com>. Sample lyrics: “I’ve got a stack of books to return / I wish they were better / Now I’m singing in the library / And trying to flirt.” Search <youtube.com> for “Literal Video Version” to see other videos of this kind.

• When author Wilborn Hampton was a young person, he and some kids from the neighborhood played Elvis Presley’s new RCA record “Heartbreak Hotel” in a backyard. He and the neighborhood kids danced to the music. Suddenly, a neighbor lady opened her door and yelled, “Jezebels! You should all be ashamed of yourselves! That music is evil!” Then she went back inside. Wilborn and the others turned down the volume of the music a little and kept dancing. Certainly, people—especially females—reacted to Elvis strongly. Very early in Elvis’ career, Mae Axton, a publicist for Colonel Thomas A. Parker, asked a girl who had been jumping up and down and squealing while Elvis sang, “Honey, what is it about this kid?” The girl replied, “He’s just a great big beautiful hunk of forbidden fruit.”

• Many people hope to discover geniuses, but geniuses are rare. When cellist Pablo Casals wanted to go to Paris (for a second time) in 1899 to become a famous musician, he asked for a letter of introduction from Count Guillermo de Morphy to famed French conductor Charles Lamoureux. Mr. Lamoureux read the letter, and then he groaned, “Everyone thinks to discover genius.” However, he allowed Mr. Casals to audition for him the following day. After Mr. Casals played, Mr. Lamoureux, with tears in his eyes, told him, “You are one of the elect.”

• Richard Strauss was a musical genius, but he was also the leading musical figure among the Nazis. For that reason, many people did not want his music to be played in the United States during and after World War II. One person who disagreed was conductor Bruno Walter, who stated, “I dislike Strauss as a person, and I abhor everything for which he stood. But Strauss is a genius, and some of his works are masterpieces. I cannot, in all honesty, boycott masterpieces because I detest their composer.”

• In 1968-1969, youths threw eggs at several opera-goers at Milan. Why? The opera-goers were very well dressed, and the youths wanted opera to be democratized.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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