Friday, 1 December 2017

Hopeless Sings the Blues

Yes, I know it's December 1 - and yes, I'm fully aware that usually means the start of a month of calamitous Christmas crud, but bear with... there's plenty of time for that!

I first became aware of the existence of this week’s disc some six and a half years ago, shortly after my very first WWR post about Grace Pauline Chew… an anonymous tipster mentioned it and had a stab at recounting the lyrics. But that was it. Then, on a Saturday evening a couple of weeks ago, whilst thumbing through old copies of Cash Box magazine I came across the following advertisement.

How exciting was that? Now I had names for the performers, info on the label and an approximate release date. A short trawl around Discogs and Ebay and voila! An actual copy of the actual record for sale. And boy, did it live up to its reputation! Described by my original correspondent as ‘sung to the accompaniment of what sounded to me like a solo pump organ, very wheezy. The tune… was about as downbeat and lugubrious as you could imagine’, Steve Carr’s performance of Chickasaw Blues is simply atonal rubbish. Grace’s usual solovox, piano and bass drum accompaniment dragging the slightly jokey vocal down in to an abyss from which it will never escape. The flip, the disc’s A-side proper, Up Along The Mohawk Valley, is slightly better – at least Bob Colla can sing – but the playing is as woefully inept as ever, and the point where Bob first sings that he wishes he ‘could sing to the girls’ and the keyboard player fluffs their part had me in stitches the first time I heard it.

Of course, as is so often the way, one path leads you down another and I soon discovered that Bob Colla had released at least one further 45 on Bingo, namely Oh What A Night For Love backed with Sally Conboy singing Hi Diddle Diddle Do… and so off I went in search of that disc too. And I found one! And I bought it! And here it is! Oh What A Night For Love is another classic GPC dirge, with the performance credited to Bob Colla and the Girls. It’s impossible to know exactly who ‘the girls’ were, but to my ears one of the two voices belongs to Sally Conboy... and I can’t help but hope that the other belonged to Our Gracie herself. But the flip - Hi Diddle Diddle Do – is ridiculous. Poor Sally tries to inject some fun in to her performance, but the funereal piano and solovox drag her into a hole she stands no chance of ever escaping. Both songs are absurdly gloomy. This is music to slit your wrists to.

For those of you who don’t know Grace Pauline Chew’s story, here’s a brief synopsis. You can read more about her in my first book, The World’s Worst Records Volume One.

Grace Pauline Chew reigns supreme as the World’s Worst Songwriter. Born on September 9, 1898 in Camden, New Jersey, Grace was a voice teacher, soprano, and erstwhile song composer. She came from good musical stock: her father, James Buchanan, was a concert and operatic tenor, so it must have been a massive disappointment to him to discover that his daughter was unable to follow in his footsteps and tread the boards of America’s great concert halls. Educated at the Palmer Institute in California and at the Clark Conservatory of Music in Philadelphia, It seems that Grace learned her true vocation whilst studying in New York under Frank LaForge, a pianist, composer and arranger who had played on the first American recordings by Enrico Caruso and also accompanied the great coloratura soprano Lily Pons.

Grace Buchanan married Walter C. Chew in January 1917 and the pair set up home in New Jersey; the union produced one son, Walter Chew Junior, who was born that same year but who tragically died before his 25th birthday in 1942. It seems that Grace’s way of dealing with her grief was to throw herself into her career. She made a number of concert and radio appearances during the 40s and published her first compositions, I’m Counting on You and the magnificently-titled Put on Your Roller Skates and Roll, Roll, Roll in 1946. Shortly after this she and Walter left New Jersey and relocated to Philadelphia, where Grace set up a company called Art Service Music and established no less than three record labels to issue her art-song compositions: Musicart, Silver-Song and Bingo Records. How this woman managed to finance a company that ran three record labels each of which simply existed as an outlet for her own vanity is beyond me. I’ve yet to find any releases in Silver-Song, and before too long that label disappears from the Art Service canon, leaving Grace to concentrate on Musicart and Bingo.

My own introduction to Grace Pauline Chew came when trawling eBay for bad records. After a couple of hours of searching I found a copy of a 45, You’re The Only One For Me backed with You Don’t Remember Any More, listed on the auction site as a contender for the worst record the seller had ever heard. How could I resist? When the disc arrived I was immediately blown away by it. Mamie Watson performs the funereal You Don’t Remember Any More with the ‘Musicart Ensemble’ – an out-of-tune piano and a kind of reed instrument that, at the time, I was unable to pinpoint. I’ve since discovered that this is/was a Solovox. You Don’t Remember Any More is an absolute dirge; Mamie does her best but is badly let down by both the distinctly untalented Musicart Ensemble and by Grace’s wretched lyrics. It’s turgid, with a strange otherworldly quality: it sounds as if it were written in the 1920s - an odd thing when you consider that the disc was released at the height of the rock ‘n roll era in 1957. I was soon to discover that all of Grace’s material sounds as if it was written either in or for a bygone age: every single song I’ve so far unearthed sounds as though it was composed for Rudolf Valentino’s funeral. If you enjoy the distinct oddness embodied by the Halmark song-poem factory, you’ll adore the work of Grace Pauline Chew.

As for Hank and Jimmy, the performers of You’re The Only One For Me, their accompanists (listed as Rhythm Duo on the disc), appear to be one person playing an out-of tune village hall piano while a second clicks his fingers, kicks at the studio floor in an attempt to keep time with all the elegance and rhythm of a drunken mule, and then provides a spectacularly ham-fisted hand clap solo. It truly is an awesome coupling.

To really get a handle on how spectacularly shocking Grace Pauline Chew’s song writing skills were you need to listen to the hysterically awful coupling of Could You Would You and Moon Crazy, released on Bingo Records in 1957. The Planets, the act credited with this dreadful, positively atonal performance, are clearly Hank and Jimmy again, too embarrassed to have their real names connected with the gloriously useless Grace a second time. Both sides are perfectly dreadful. On Could You Would You, The Planets are listed as being accompanied by 'Cha Cha, Solovox and piano'. Whatever the 'Cha Cha' (their capitals, not mine) was, it appears to be mercifully silent; the Solovox was a primitive, three-octave monophonic keyboard which employed vibrating metal reeds and an oscillator to create a vibrato effect. I love the fact that, although the unnamed Solovox player makes several mistakes during this recording, no-one bothered to put him straight and demand a second take. Maybe Mr Chew’s largesse had finally been reined in. Given the quality of the sound coming out of the piano it has to be the same, discordant instrument employed on nearly every other one of Grace Pauline Chew's masterpieces. You have to wonder if the great lady herself sat at this omnipresent instrument during these obviously chaotic recording sessions.

The B-side, Moon Crazy is, without doubt, the prize: woeful, out of tune vocals from a pair of male vocalists occasionally singing completely different words to each other; someone kicking a bass drum out of time; what sounds like a pair of castanets (possibly the missing Cha Cha from side one?) being thrown about with gleeful abandon and, to cap it all, a whistling solo so tuneless and clumsy that it would make Mrs Miller turn in her grave. God, I love it: this is bad music gold.

Every single disc issued by Musicart and/or Bingo is wretched; spectacularly awful. Maybe none so much though as The Space Ship Blues, copyrighted in 1955, issued by Musicart the following year and performed by ancient vaudeville act The Romany Sisters (accompanied by the grandly-named ‘Instrumental Quartette’). Grace had the temerity to announce, via the pages of Cash Box, that this particular horror was ‘the first space song’. Actually she may have been right: most of the classic 50s space novelties came after the Russians launched Sputnik in October 1957. If so then she deserves a place in the Hall of Fame for that alone.

Around 1961/62 our Grace moved to Florida… the 1962 Cash Box and 1963 Billboard directories have her living at 113 North East First Court, a small bungalow in Dania Beach. She was still running both Musicart and Bingo from her home address, although I have yet to find any releases by the company after 1959. My assumption is that she moved there to retire, possibly after Walter Senior had passed on, although she did continue to write songs and copyright them until at least 1962.

So far I’m aware of more than 60 songs written (occasionally co-written with or credited entirely to Kerry Brooke, which was a pseudonym Grace employed from time to time) and published by Grace Pauline Chew, and I’ve made it my life’s work to track them all down. She regularly contributed to the periodical Musical Chit Chat and also wrote and published a ten-page pamphlet entitled Know How: A Brochure of Information for the Singer Who Wants to Become Professional, in 1953, which contains lists of TV and stage production companies, record labels, opera companies and some words of advice and encouragement from the great lady herself.

As she writes: ‘This is based on years of research…as a voice teacher and musical director of a recording company (I have) had first-hand acquaintance with singers and their problems.’ You have to admire the woman’s cheek.

The complete GPC:

Musicart 101/102: Melody Mac Music In the Sky/Still In Love With You (1949)
Musicart 103/104: Jeanne Heard Music In the Sky/Starlight and Roses (1950)
Musicart 103/106: Jeanne Heard Music In the Sky/Leonard Maclain (Melody Mac) Heaven Sent Me An Angel (1950)
Musicart 105/106: Alfred Federici Another Called You Sweetheart, Why Can’t I?/Leonard Maclain (Melody Mac) Heaven Sent Me An Angel (1950)
Musicart 107/108: Melody Mac It Could Be Forever/? (1951)
Musicart 312/313: Bud Brees with Art Smith It’s Just Because I Love You/Art Smith Will You (1952)
Musicart 314/315: Phil Sheridan I Have No Wealth, I Have No Gold/? (1952)
Musicart 316/317: Don Valino with the Celebrity Singers and the Magictones There’s A Fire In My Heart/Phyllis Moore with the Celebrity Singers and the Magictones Damisela (1954) (78 & 45)
Musicart 318-45/319-45: Phyllis Moore and the Magictones I Don’t Know Where I Stand With You/ Richard Rossiter and the Nightingales Helpless (1955)
Musicart 320-45/321-45: Richard Rossiter and the Nightingales Why Can’t It Be Only Me/ The Romany Sisters The Space Ship Blues (1956)
Musicart 324/325: Hank and Jimmy You’re The Only One For Me/Mamie Watson You Don’t Remember Any More (1956)

Bingo 326/327: Bob Colla Up Along the Mohawk Valley/Steve Carr Chickasaw Blues (1957)
Bingo 328/329: Bob Colla and the Girls Oh What A Night For Love/Sally Conboy Hi Diddle Diddle Do (1958)
Bingo 330/331: The Planets Could You Would You/Moon Crazy (1957)

Grace also copyrighted the following songs: no doubt some of them were recorded and issued on the missing Musicart (108, 322-323) numbers. 

1946: I’m Counting on You; Put on Your Roller Skates and Roll, Roll, Roll
1948: I’m A Fool to Believe It’s Love; I’m Gonna Live to be a Hundred and it Ain’t No Lie
1949: Bob-Bob-Bobbin’ and Hob Nob-Nobbin’ With You; How Can I Tell?; It’s a New Love
1951: Gone From Me; If I Could Ask You; Let’s Join the Easter Parade, You’re My Girl; Take My Love, My Darling
1952: Christmas Serenade; Dance With Me; Somewhere the Sun Must Be Shining; Willie Had a Love Affair
1953: Nothing Can Take Me From You; Santa’s Going to Get Married; Somebody Painted My Bunny’s Tail Blue
1954: China Doll; Give Me Your Shoulder to Cry On; Santa Ain’t Comin’ Down the Chimney Tonight; Shut Your Great Big Mouth; You Gotta Get Happy
1955: The Jungle Rhapsody; What Do they Like About Me; You Believed in Me
1956: Give Me the Right to Fall In Love With You; So Long Joe; The Magic of the Island; Wham, Bang; Who’s That Knocking at My Heart?; You’ll Have to Do It Yourself
1957: Near Me; Part-Time Sweetheart; Sweet and Easy; The Wedding in the Sky
1958: Go Slow; I Fell For You; Let Me Down Easy
1959: Don’t Ever Leave Me; I Gave You My Love (I Gave You My Heart); the Little Lost Sheep; Sunset on the Prairie
1961: I Love You, My Darling
1962: I’m Still In Love With Josie

Enjoy!

Download Mohawk HERE



Download Chickasaw HERE



Download Love HERE



Download Diddle HERE

2 comments:

  1. Impressive, like always. Bingo (322-325)are not missing : The Planets are on Bingo 330/331, not 320/1

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right! Thanks Bob.. what a schoolboy error!

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