All About the Music|
A closer look at and companion to the music we play on the show, written by the Prairie Home music librarian, Kathryn Slusher.
California, I'm Coming Home
Prairie Home Music in Sunny CA
By Kathryn Slusher
November 26, 2003
"Here is a climate that breeds vigor.... Here is a climate where a man can work three hundred and sixty-five days a year without the slightest hint of enervation, and for three hundred and sixty-five nights he must perforce sleep under blankets. What more can one say? Nevertheless, I take my medicine by continuing to live in this climate. Also, it is the only medicine I ever take."We're on the road again, just finishing tour stops in sunny California. I feel a little spoiled, gaining a reprieve from Minnesota in November, traditionally the darkest month we have here in the Midwest.
California has been kind to us, and we have had some fantastic musical moments in the Golden State. In the last few years, we've taken the show to San Francisco (1998 at the Nob Hill Masonic Center), Pasadena, and Redding. We'll make our third trip to L.A. in as many years to perform at the Greek Theater in June 2004. We trekked out to San Luis Obispo last weekend, and to San Diego the week before.
A classic broadcast from the Bridges Auditorium at the Claremont Colleges recorded on November 23, 1985, is currently available in our Web archives. Unfortunately for me, this took place before I started working here. It featured distinguished guests Willie Nelson and Chet Atkins, plus Johnny Gimble, Peter Ostroushko, a saw player, and a mariachi band.
The show on May 20, 2000 was in the city of Redding, located in Northern California, at the north end of the Sacramento Valley. Two great old California songs were performed that day:
• Ramblin' Jack Elliot performed his version of Jesse Fuller's "The San Francisco Bay Blues":
• And "California Cottonfields" was performed by Garrison and the Guy's All-Star Shoe Band
Written in by Dallas Frazier and Elizabeth Montgomery, "California Cottonfields" was a big hit in 1971 for Merle Haggard.
"The final story, the final chapter of western man, I believe, lies in Los Angeles." -Singer/songwriter Phil OchsThe last time we were in California was for a broadcast that aired June 7, 2003. We played the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, and Pat Donohue wrote a tune for the occasion, called "The Southern California Boogie-Woogie":
Pat also treated us to a western swing tune by steel guitar legend Speedy West, appropriately titled "Speedin' West." Greg Leisz sat in and played steel guitar with Pat and the Guy's All-Star Shoe Band:
Speedy West came to California to find fame and fortune as a musician, a path chosen by many others before and after him. Born Wesley W. West on January 25, 1924, to a musically inclined family, Speedy started singing and playing guitar at a young age, and in the mid- 1940s was playing the steel guitar in jam sessions broadcast on KWTO radio in Springfield, Missouri. It was here that Speedy learned from a sailor passing through town that there were jobs playing country music available 1,600 miles away in Southern California. So, he packed his wife and young son into their 1936 Lincoln Zephyr and moved west to Los Angeles.
Speedy worked at a dry cleaner during the day and played steel guitar in the clubs at night. He played often at Murphy's, a club in L.A.'s skid-row, where he met longtime collaborator and friend Jimmy Bryant. Speedy later got a big break working with Spade Cooley's western swing band. Eventually, Cliffie Stone, who was an Artist & Repertory man for Capitol Records at the time, was introduced to Speedy and soon he was playing music full-time, and earning a living in recording studios.
In 1949, Speedy joined Cliffie Stone's daily radio show, Dinner Bell Round-Up, and later his TV show Hometown Jamboree. He signed a contract with Capitol in the 1950s and appeared on over 6,000 recordings by 117 different artists—a wide variety of people like Frankie Laine, Doris Day, Spike Jones, Merle Travis, Ernest Tubb, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
Hometown Jamboree was cancelled in 1959, and the rock 'n' roll invasion soon changed the musical landscape in L.A. Speedy moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1960 to work for Fender guitars, and continued to play steel guitar, eventually being inducted into the International Guitar Hall of Fame. Speedy passed away just last week, on November 15th, and he will be greatly missed.
For our June 1, 2002, show, also broadcast from the Greek Theater, the incredibly prolific Peter Ostroushko wrote two new pieces just for our California audience, one a tender ballad titled "When the City of Angels Sleeps."
Peter's other composition that evening, "Saturday Night Guys Cruisin' Van Nuys," was written for our own Guy's All-Star Shoe Band, who that week included Peter, Andy Stein on fiddle, Greg Leisz on steel guitar and dobro, and regular performers Rich Dworsky, Pat Donohue, Gary Raynor, and Arnie Kinsella. Van Nuys, California, is part of L.A., commonly referred to as "the valley." The city of Van Nuys is used as the backdrop in countless movies and television programs—the local high school was featured in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Rock 'N' Roll High School, and the Van Nuys airport is featured in the closing shot of Casablanca.
Dobro player and steel guitarist Greg Leisz, a resident of southern California, sat in with the Shoe Band last week in San Diego and will do so again in San Luis Obispo. Greg is a well-respected and versatile studio musician, and has recorded, produced, and performed with an astounding number of people. Like Speedy West, Greg has worked with artists in a wide variety of musical genres—everything from classic country/roots stars like Willie Nelson, k.d. lang, and Lucinda Williams, to modern rockers Beck, Smashing Pumpkins, and Paul Westerberg, with so many others in between. If you read through the credits in the liner notes of anything in your CD collection that contains steel guitar, you will eventually find that you own something that Greg has worked on.
We were joined by Hollywood music legend Marni Nixon at our show at the Greek Theatre in L.A. on June 1, 2002. Her story is an interesting Hollywood footnote.
Born Marni McEathron, Marni Nixon grew up in L.A. and was a child actress and budding young opera singer. She developed a talent for popular music as well, and while still in high school, started working in the film industry as a song dubber—providing a singing voice for actresses who weren't proficient in singing. She quickly established herself with the film studios, landing jobs dubbing Margaret O'Brien's singing voice in the 1948 film Big City, and the 1949 film The Secret Garden, and singing in many films as a member of the Roger Wagner Chorale. She also dubbed the angel voices that Ingrid Bergman hears in Joan of Arc, and touched up some high notes for Marilyn Monroe's famous "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number in 1953's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Marni received her big break in 1956, when she was offered the job of singing Deborah Kerr's songs in the film version of The King and I. She was called upon to be a last-minute replacement for the singer originally hired to sing for Deborah Kerr, who had been tragically killed in a car accident in Europe. The next year, Marni dubbed Kerr's singing voice in a scene from the film An Affair to Remember. She went on to sing Natalie Wood's songs as Maria in West Side Story, and Audrey Hepburn's songs as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.
She did appear onscreen, with a small role as a singing nun, Sister Sophia, in the 1965 film version of The Sound of Music, getting a few solo lines in the song "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria." Musicals fell out of favor in Hollywood not long after that, and Marni focused on classical work, joining the Seattle Opera in 1972, where she sang for much of the '70s. She continues to perform and travel around the country, sharing her story. Her latest filmed role was as the singing voice of the grandmother in 1998's Disney film Mulan.
That warm summer evening, she treated us to breathtaking performances of the legendary songs she voiced in the film classics:
• "Hello Young Lovers" (from The King and I):
• "Somewhere" (from West Side Story)
• And she and GK teamed up to reprise the roles of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady to sing "Wouldn't it be Loverly":
She also treated us to a solo number that was arranged especially for her, celebrating her unique talent as "The Singing Voice of the Stars" and "The Ghostess With The Mostest." The song was titled "I Could Have Dubbed Myself":
We were thrilled and honored to welcome singer/composer Randy Newman to our May 13, 2000, broadcast from the Pasadena Civic Center. I still hear the guys in the Shoe band reminisce about his raw, stunning performance of his song "The Great Nations of Europe":
Randy Newman has been composing for Hollywood films since 1971, when he wrote the score for Cold Turkey, a Norman Lear comedy starring Dick Van Dyke. Randy comes from a family of musicians—his uncles were Alfred Newman and Lionel Newman, distinguished film composers. Alfred Newman is considered the most accomplished film composer of all time, and is responsible for some of the most beloved movie music in history. He earned 34 Academy Award nominations, winning nine of them. Alfred also composed the 20th Century Fox logo theme, which is still heard before every 20th Century Fox feature.
Randy Newman is quite prolific, working non-stop in movies and television, and also maintaining a career as a recording artist, having big hits with his classics "Short People" and "I Love L.A." Randy has been nominated for 15 Academy Awards, starting with his first nomination in 1981 for the score of the Milos Forman film Ragtime. He went on to be recognized for his scoring in The Natural, Avalon, Toy Story, James and the Giant Peach, Pleasantville, and A Bug's Life. He also was nominated for best original song for his work in Parenthood, Babe: Pig in the City, Toy Story 2, Meet the Parents, and Monsters Inc.
Two of Randy's Oscar nominated songs have been performed on APHC. Stephanie Davis and Garrison performed "You've Got A Friend in Me," from the 1995 film Toy Story, on our June 1, 2002, show at the Greek:
And Maria Jette and Dan Chouinard made us all weep with their rendition of "When She Loved Me," from Toy Story 2, on our May 10th, 2003, show at the Fitzgerald Theater:
After two decades of nominations, Randy Newman finally won his first Academy Award in 2002. He picked up the Oscar for Best Song for "If I Didn't Have You" from the animated film Monsters Inc. Always humble, with a fantastic sense of humor, he thanked the Academy in his acceptance speech for allowing him so many opportunities to "be humiliated."
Randy Newman is furiously busy with film projects, and just had a major success with the score for the film Seabiscuit and songs for the TV series Monk. He will take some time to visit us in New York for our December 6th broadcast from Town Hall, this week.
Have a thought or comment concerning something you read in All About the Music? Continue the conversation with others in the Chatterbox Cafe.
Would you like to know more about a song, songwriter or musician featured on the show? Let us know and we might include you question in a future column.
Listening to Audio: You will need RealPlayer to listen to our audio. For more information, see the audio help page.
Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).