Saturday, June 27, 2009


I can't remember what spurred me, but many months ago I went searching for video clips of "moonwalking"--the dance move that Michael Jackson famously popularized and is often credited with "inventing." I never got around to finishing my blog post on moonwalking, but the time seems right to do so now.

Michael Jackson was an amazing performer and creative genius, but he didn't invent the moonwalk. He was taught the move--called the "backslide"--by choreographer, Jeffrey Daniel, who reports that it took much practice for Jackson to get it just right. A fascinating NPR interview in which Mr. Daniel discusses Jackson's choreography and influences can be heard here. His recollection is that Jackson first saw the backslide when Daniel performed it at Disneyland with The Electric Boogaloos. Here's a video of Jeffrey Daniel bustin' some moves with Shalamar. The moonwalk comes in at about the 2:00 mark.

Levon Helm, the Band's remarkable drummer and singer (and my favorite member) wrote about gigging with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks in his early days, and mentioned that Hawkins had several dance moves including a moonwalk. The clip I found on YouTube has been removed for licensing reasons, but I managed to find this excerpt on MySpace. Ronnie Hawkins does a slow version of the moonwalk near the end. That's a young Levon Helm at the drumkit. I'll get around to a Levon Helm post one of these days.

Tap dancer Bill Bailey puts on an amazing performance in this 1955 clip, with a moonwalking exit at 2:05.

This video of Cab Calloway performing "Kickin’ the Gong Around" (1932) is great, great fun. At about 2:00 he throws in some dance steps, including something close to a moonwalk and a Michael Jackson spin.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Horses: A Thematic Post

This afternoon, we went to the Rose Garden Arena to watch a horse show. You can read all about it on my other blog.

In honor of the ponies, I decided to dig up a few thematic songs I like, starting with an obvious choice: Lyle Lovett with “If I Had a Boat.” My favorite line: But Tonto he was smarter, one day said, "Kemosabe. Kiss my ass, I bought a boat and I’m going out to sea."

Here’s a tune called “Horses” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy (Will Oldham). There’s another version on YouTube from his Lost Blues album, but I like this one best:

For a little different feel, how about if we close with Patti Smith with her groundbreaking song, “Horses”? This 1976 performances was recorded for the "Old Grey Whistle Test"--a great music show from the BBC. (The Multnomah Library has a few compilations from the show on DVD).

Jeff Hanson (RIP)

I just read on the Mercury’s Blogtown that singer-songwriter Jeff Hanson died in a home accident at the age of 31. Months ago, I started, but never finished, a post after hearing Hanson sing on OPB or NPR. It was to have been a bigger post about what seems to be a trend of male singer-songwriters singing in impossibly high voices. Hanson’s voice could easily be mistaken for a female contralto, with a precise crystalline quality that was unworldly and that did not seem to fit the body from which is emanated. Maybe I’ll get back to that post one day.

In the meantime, here’s a video of “This Time it Will” from his record label, Kill Rock Stars:

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Eels

This morning, while walking the dog, I heard an interview with Mark Oliver Everett (aka “Mr. E” or “A Man Called E” or just “E”) of The Eels, on occasion of the release of the band's new album “Hombre Loco: 12 Songs of Desire.”

At the risk of discrediting all pretense of credibility, I will cop to not having followed the Eels until now. The NPR interview with Scott Simon is a good one, including discussion of a documentary Mr. E has been working on about his father, Hugh Everett, a physicist known for his novel theories about parallel universes. (From the biography page on the Eels website: "A quantum physicist who authored The Many Worlds Theory, Everett inspired countless science fiction books, movies and Star Trek episodes with the concept of parallel universes. As a young teenager he exchanged letters with Albert Einstein, debating whether it was something random or unifying that held the universe together.")

Here's The Eels in the studio with “Prizefighter,” a song with the rough, rootsy sound toward which I tend to gravitate.

“That Look You Give That Guy” is an almost perfect pop song--something that would normally send me running in another direction. This one works. (Note to the Dog Walkerer: Look for the sad-eyed hound at 1:15).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tell Automatic Slim and Razor Totin' Jim: Koko Taylor is Dead

A Friend of the Blog just sent me news that blues singer Koko Taylor passed to the other side of the river today at age 80. Here's a link to Ms. Taylor's obituary in Rolling Stone.

Many many weeks ago, I started searching for covers of "Wang Dang Doodle" -- a classic party song written by Willie Dixon for Howlin' Wolf. (According to the Wikipedia entry, Dixon said it was the song he hated the most). As usual, I got sidetracked from that project.

The vocals and the video on this version by Koko Taylor are badly out of sync--in fact, I suspect that someone spliced the recorded version with some unrelated film footage. Little Walter is on harmonica. At about 1:48, you'll see Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry standing around in the studio for some reason. Despite the sketchy quality, you get the idea of what a great artist Ms. Taylor was.

Here’s an oddly compelling version of "Wang Dang Doodle" performed by PJ Harvey.

I'll get back to more posts from Koko Taylor, Howlin' Wolf and Willie Dixon soon.