Wednesday, May 1, 2024

The Playboys

 

In 1958, two Colorado Springs musicians teamed up with four music students at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Together they were known as The Playboys. While most teens were boppin' to the sounds of Elvis and the Everly Brothers, the six young men were known for jazz.

Regulars at college dances (mostly at CSU in Fort Collins) and nightclubs, The Playboys recorded their one and only vinyl offering, Playboy Impressions. Recorded in 1959, at Bud Edmunds' KCMS studios, in Manitou Springs. 

Minus a successful bid on an eBay auction, I have never come across this record before. Guessing these had a small pressing, quite possibly only sold at their shows. The seller didn't have any connection to it. Who knows, but it's a fantastic find.

The tracks on the red-colored vinyl are pretty much jazz combo standards, minus the energetic cover of the` Billy Eckstine  / Four Freshman bopper, "Mr. B's Blues," and a take on Peggy Lee's "Fever" (samples below).

 

Listen to a sample of "Fever"


Listen to "Mr. B's Blues"

 Members:
Tom Forgey - Drums
Don Hake - Trumpet / Vibes
Norm Helwig - Piano
Dick Skipton - Tenor Sax
Bob Smith - Trombone
Rick Vaughn - Bass 

The cover features model Lou Ellen Morrow, a University of Colorado student, from Colorado Springs.  The Playboys would only last through the end of their college years. The last noted appearance of the band was in 1964. 

To confuse things, there were apparently other Colorado groups going by The Playboys, including 78s recorded by Smiley Macom and his Western Playboys (Frontier 502 and 503), Jimmy Lake and the Colorado Playboys (Band Box 380 - "She Awoke / Where Will it End"), Sef and his Playboys, Schroeder's Playboys, who would appear on Marvin Shilling records, The Polka Playboys, The Rocky Mountain Playboys who back Johnnie Dwyer, and a standard four-piece outfit, going by The Playboys, who would occasionally back Kenny Jay (who also appeared with the Fabulous Roadrunners).

Tom Forgey would go on to be elected Arkansas state representative. Norm Helwig would become an attorney, in Vail. Don Hake would pass away in 1998. Dick Skipton still lives in Colorado. I couldn't find any additional information on Bob Smith and Rick Vaughn. As always, let me know if you have anything to add.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Emissaries of Divine Light - Paul Levine

 

Found in a stash of private issue new age cassettes, at an Aurora estate sale - same place I found the previous post. While the first cassette was a hodgepodge of heavy breathing, chanting and a general mishmash of audio, this next tape might be one of my favorite Colorado finds, so far this year.

Simply titled Expressions I, this is a singer-songwriter gem. Paul Levine is just a man and his guitar. Accompanied by an uncredited female background singer (or two), it's simplicity at its finest. Sadly, there is absolutely no other identifier on this, minus a 1990 year notation. Just a tape and a picture of the Paul.

It appears Paul was associated with the Emissaries of Divine Light, as the address on the tape is to its Loveland compound. The songs all have a feel good "let's all live together in harmony"  - but not an overtly religious -  vibe. Definitely NOT a typical loner sound, associated with most SSW finds.

Yes, I DID notice that this Paul Levine has a more than passing resemblance to the author of the same name. I contacted him to ask (answer still pending). I'm going to assume they are not one in the same, but who knows.


Thursday, April 4, 2024

Emissaries of Divine Light

Emissaries of Divine Light formed in 1932, with the belief that a "human beings' true qualities can only be known as they are expressed in practical daily living." In 1945, international headquarters were established in Loveland, headed by Lloyd Arthur Meeker. The first mention of the group, in the press, was in the April 17, 1949 issue of the Rocky Mountain News. The very small brief, in the religious section of the paper, only indicated that "another service was underway, southwest of Fort Collins, by a religious group, known as the Emissaries of Divine Light."

 

 

After Meeker died in a plane crash (note above), the leadership passed to William Martin Alleyne Cecil, 7th Marquess of Exeter ("Lord Exeter"), who had been a dedicated adherent.

Almost as soon as ground broke, locals became suspect of what was soon described as a cult. Core beliefs included attunement, or "energy medicine" - "attuning of the human capacity with the universal animating spirit within all people." Members believe that universal life energy is conveyed through the hands of the practitioner, through endocrine glands.

Discovered this tape at an estate sale in Aurora. The find was included in a box with about half a dozen various new age cassettes. No additional items about the this particular tape were found. Assuming the year on this is 1987, based on the only date listed on the cuts. Titled Sounds, Words and Silences, the find starts of with several minutes of (very) heavy breathing, followed by a sermon from Lord Exeter on the topic of silence. What follows is some African chanting and ambient piano music. Side B includes a talk on love and more light piano. Then we are treated to more chanting (this time in Russian), and some jazzy improvisation on flute, synthesizer and fluegelhorn. The selection entitled "Improvisation on Roland synthesizer" sounded promising, but I guess they forgot to include it. The side ends with howling, screeching and droning chanting.

NOTE: The descriptive above is more impressive than the actual audio. I haven't decided on plans to dub any samples, at this time. Stay tuned - I will be posting audio from another Emissaries of Divine Light-related cassette found in the stash.

Side A

Glen Ivy Women's Chant Group -  Breathe
Lord Exeter - August 30, 1987 - Sunrise Ranch
Empumalanga Collage
  - Zulu singing
  - Michael Boon
  - Absalom Makathini
  - Grace Makathini (translated by her son Gideon)
  - Zulu singing
  - Michael Boon
George Hanson - Concert, Cape Town, South Africa
Andrea Milinkovich - "Lullaby for Ultann"

Side B

Ellen Roos - Thoughts on improvisation
George Johnson - Improvised study in just Pythagorean tuning
Rob Sutherland - Improvisation on Roland synthesizer
Soviet Collage
  - Change - Sunrise Choir
  - Bruce Allyn
Gary Diggins - Fluegelhorn improvisation at King View concert
Still Meadow Chant Group - Chant

Martin Cecil died on January 12, 1988. The group continues to be headquartered in Loveland, under new leadership.


Friday, March 1, 2024

Alice Forsyth and Chauncey Parsons - Colorado's First American Idols (1916)

In 1916, long before American Idol, The Voice, and the myriad of other talent competition shows, the Columbia Graphophone Company held a talent contest in Denver, to find the "two best amateur voices in Colorado." The winners would receive a trip to New York City and travel to Bridgeport, Conn., to visit Columbia "laboratories" (this was before they were called studios), to make a record. Money raised from the recording would go toward a scholarship fund for other amateur singers. 

The first mention of the contest appeared in the May 15, 1916 issue of the Rocky Mountain News.

Previously, singing contests were local events, held at fairs, churches, or even bars. Prizes were minimal. Contest winners would compete for everything from small cash prizes and ribbons, to desktop statues of Mozart. The lure of being recorded, on a nationally-known music label flooded the paper with entries. According to the Boulder Daily Camera, a total of 431 people entered the contest, sponsored by the Columbia Gramophone Company, and the Rocky Mountain News-Denver Times. Out of those entries, 12 singers would perform live. 

More than 4,000 people packed the Denver Auditorium to witness the competition. It was reported that "2,000 were turned away."  

The singers would be judged by Colorado College Music Professor Edward Danforth Hale, University of Colorado Music Professor George M. Chadwick, along with Henry Housley, L.B. Longacre, and J. Nicoll Vroom. 

Participants included Chauncey Parsons of Boulder, Mrs. William Frantz of Lafayette, Royden Massey, Alfonso Ortiz, N.S. MacDonald, Edward Hartwell, Milner Gleaves, Stella Toffler, Gertrude Livingston, Alice Forsyth, Jane Crawford, and Mary Bowles, all of Denver.


Photo from the sold out contest finals, at Denver Auditorium. Winners pictures in inset (click to enlarge).

The two winners were chosen based on a criteria of "natural voice, tone production, interpretation and diction." Of the one dozen finalists, Chauncey Parsons and Alice Forsyth would emerge as the "best voices in Colorado."

The following day, the two left for New York City, where they were greeted by reporters eager to meet the newest singing discoveries. Just three months later, Columbia would release the contest record (Columbia 60935 / 1916).

Hear sample of "Last Rose of Summer" - Alice Forsyth

 

Hear sample of "Mother Machree" - Chauncey Parsons

The two would embark on a brief promotional tour, for Columbia, however they would soon take different directions in their performance careers. 

Shortly after the contest, Alice Forstyth would be engaged to wed John Marsh Mosher, who was born in Greeley. She told reporters that "marriage would not affect her singing career." Her wedding was held the following year, in Greeley. Royden Massey, who was one of the original twelve contestants, sang at her ceremony. While she spent her post-contest years back in Colorado, the newly-married couple would later move to Los Angeles. Alice would perform mostly in California, and appear on KHJ radio, but she eventually decided not to pursue a career in show business. She passed away in 1991.

 

Photo of official contest winner recording session (click to enlarge).

Chauncey Parsons' singing career took a huge leap, after recording the disc (note: Before 1925, all 78s were recorded by the artist singing or speaking into a horn, as shown above. The voice directly vibrated the recording stylus. These were called "acoustic" recordings). After appearing on numerous stages, (including Broadway) he would be one of the first performers on the new invention - radio. Parsons would go on to have a regular show on KDKA, in Pittsburgh, the first commercial radio station to sign on, in 1920. Just two years later, he would perform at Carnegie Hall, in New York City, the first of his two appearances there While his live performances were often hailed as "spectacular" (he performed again at Carnegie Hall in 1926), his recording career never took off. In 1926 he recorded "Sunrise and You" / "One Little Dream of Love" for the Victor label. However, according to the label archives, the songs were never released. The following year he would leave KDKA and move back to New York City. In 1930, he tried one more time to make a record, "In the Gloaming," for RCA. The disc was meant to be a promotional record for Northwestern Yeast Company. Label ledgers indicate that the master recording was "personal"; it was made on commission or not intended for release. 


In 1932 he was pictured on the cover of sheet music, for the song "Here's Hoping." That same year he was featured in Radio Dial, where it mentioned his involvement with the Chicago Civic Opera, and his upcoming extensive tour of the western United States. In the 1935 issue of Radio Personalities, he is highlighted among Rudy Vallée, Fred Waring, and fellow Denverite, Paul Whiteman. That same year he moved on to WLW radio in Cincinnati, OH., where he performed as "The Singing Neighbor" for almost ten years.

As was the case with most entertainers, in the 1940s, he joined the military. In 1945 it was reported that he was a lieutenant colonel, serving in Europe. The trail goes cold, after that. If you have any additional information, please contact me. 

As for plans to replicate the singing contest, in other cities? Colorado was the first and only state to take part. Columbia never held another similar event. It's unknown how much money was raised for the intended "scholarship." 

While this is an early recording example of a Colorado artist, the first known Colorado singer to record goes to Elizabeth Spencer (shown above), who recorded an estimated 600 pieces for the Edison label, from 1910-1916. She later recorded for the Victor label, before passing away, in 1930.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Foster's Old Time Fiddlers

Charles D. Foster was born in Nebraska, in 1880. His family later moved to Oklahoma, then (drum roll, please) Colorado. Musically proficient, Foster could play a number of instruments. It was in Colorado where he began his love of square dancing and fiddle music. Much like his famous-counterpart, Lloyd "Pappy" Shaw, Foster promoted square dance throughout the state, calling dances throughout Colorado, with his band Foster Folkway Features / C.D. Foster Orchestra. 

Aurora Democrat - Dec. 4, 1942

In 1942, Foster penned what was considered the first set of dance "cards" (square dance calls used by announcers). Learn to Dance the Foster Way were so successful, he printed a second volume. A third set would feature caller Charlie Thomas.


Click to enlarge

The test pressing records featured were discovered at a South Denver area estate sale, in a custom case. These are an amazing Colorado music find, which were destined for the trash, on the last day of the sale (whew). They were made in 1948 and notes K-W Recording, which is otherwise known as the Folkraft label (home of Grady Hester, Shorty Warren, Harold Goodfellow, and the Folkrafters). Interesting to note, the Folkraft Country Dance Orchestra featured early Pete Seeger recordings (1946).

According to a story in Let's Dance (December 1948 issue) - "Veteran square dancers have always clamored for twelve-inch unbreakable records of music without calls. The new Folkraft "Homesteader" series of four records on vinylite certainly satisfies this need. Music is by C. D. Foster's Old Time Fiddlers—and is the real "fiddlin'" music traditionally authentic to the square dance. Callers, accustomed to the orchestra-type music (all that was previously available) may find these strange to work with at first—but they are the real stuff. These records are obtainable singly, and are numbered F-1026 to F-1029. Some of the titles are intriguing. "Steamboat Bill," "Speed the Plow," "Mississippi Sawyer," "Down in the Tall Grass," etc." (NOTE: Denver's Lorraine Wingo [1926-2004], known for her accordion talents on the Western Caravan TV show, with Daughters of the Pioneers and Gene Autry, also recorded on the label, that same year - F-1023-1025). 

Listen to a sample of "Mississippi Sawyer"

Listen to a sample of "Down in the Tall Grass"

Foster's band would continue to tour throughout the 1940s, appearing as a regular at the Moose Hall in Denver, and the Golden Chateau club, in Golden. 

 Colorado Transcript - April 21, 1949 (click to enlarge)

In 1947, Foster appeared as an associate editor of American Squares magazine. He died in 1976, and is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery, Wheat Ridge.


Monday, January 1, 2024

Penny Carson Nichols Vinyl Release


What a way to start the new year!

I've kept this news quiet for almost three years (and it's been brutal). Shortly after my January 2021 post, I was contacted by Yoga Records, with interest to re-release the Penny Carson Nichols cassette. 

The result is spectacular. Only 500 of these masterpieces will be available, on vinyl. If you are a fan of Connie Converse, Sibylle Baier, Molly Drake, and Vashti Bunyan, you will love this previously-unreleased Colorado find.

Preorder yours, today. (February, 2024 vinyl release, or download today).

My thanks to Penny, for trusting us all with her work. I'm so glad your beautiful voice will now be shared with a larger audience. Thank you to Douglas McGowan, at Yoga Records, for his constant pursuit of music which needs to be heard. Thank you to Tyler Craft and Chris Cohen for your producing and mastering magic.



Thursday, December 14, 2023

Rockley Music - Lakewood, Colorado

Wanted to post this cardboard flexi from the Rockley Music Company, Lakewood. I can only guess that this was supposed to be like a radio commercial (given the :30 length), but sadly there is no year to attach to this. No ID on who the announcer is. As is the case with most older flexi discs, the sound quality is atrocious.

Rockley Music began in 1946 by Melvin and Mildred Rockley. Its Colfax location stayed in business until 2019, later moving to Wheat Ridge. The family also runs the Rockley Family Foundation.

Sorry for the long absence. Had to take about a year off from posting to work on other projects, one of which includes a soon-to-be re-release of a previously-unknown Colorado recording. Very excited to share that will you, in the next couple of months. All good.

I can't guarantee I'm back to regular posts, but I hope to keep this blog semi-active in 2024.