Monday, August 30, 2021

Rock the Boat with the Gentry Brothers

Anyone who grew up in Sterling, during the 1960s-1970s knew the Gentry family, Rex and Phyllis, and their four sons - Bruce, Keith, Royce and Wayne. Rex helped build the original part of the Calvary Baptist Church, and the family were the former owners of the Spin Out roller rink. 

The Gentrys had always been active in the local church, and as the boys grew older, they started entertaining the congregation with their harmonies. According to an archived story in the Greeley Daily Tribune, the brothers performed for the first time, in 1953, at at the Cook Community Sing. 

Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph (June 12, 1976) - Click to enlarge.

At some point, the brothers were billed as performing both gospel and rock, as noted in this ad for the 1977 Greeley Farm Show (along with other known Colorado performers, Al Fike and Jim Turner).

Greeley Daily Tribune (January 24, 1977) - Click to enlarge

I've listened to my fair share of private-issue Colorado faith-based records. To be honest, most are hard to get all the way through, so I rarely have hope that one will surprise me.

The Gentry Brothers did, with their 1976 release of Jesus 1 The Only Way.

This album starts off with the stereotypical heavy-harmony, and I was thinking this is just another family gospel LP. But then it took on a moody loner folk vibe with side two, and "The Answer."

 Listen to a sample of "The Answer"

But the biggest surprise was the use of the Hues Corporation 1974 hit "Rock the Boat." Changing the lyrics, but keeping the obviously immediately-recognized melody. This will teach me to listen to an album all the way through. 

Listen to "Jesus" 

Wow. Just wow.  

Sadly the vocalists are not credited individually, so I have no clue which of the brothers is handling the lead on these songs. 

I couldn't find any other press on the brothers performing, past 1979. The Windsor Beacon mentioned they were going to be working on a second album, but I couldn't find anything indicating that it actually happened. In 2017, Bruce Gentry performed a solo concert for "First Friday @ First Presbyterian," in Sterling.

Whether one album was enough, or not, their debut has been discovered as a rarity, among a certain collectors. In 2014 Popsike recorded a selling price of $150 (although Discogs has it closer to $25).

Monday, August 23, 2021

Pete Smythe - "I've Been Robbed"


So I'm going through this massive stack of 1940s-era Down Beat music magazines, when I spot this story in a 1942 issue. It mentioned well-known Denver entertainer Pete Smythe and his long-time association with the old Cosmopolitan Hotel (formerly located at 1760 Broadway - demolished in 1984), Apparently ol' Pete had a run-in with the union contract waiters at the hotel, when he crossed the picket line. It inspired him to write a song about it, "I've Been Robbed." Apparently the argument didn't last long, as he then released a follow-up song, "I've Had a Change of Heart."

(Click photo to enlarge)

The story indicates that both songs are being played on NBC radio, but I have never been able to find an actual copy of a record. I'm wondering if the writer meant that the songs were being heard on KMYR radio, where Smythe was first a disc jockey (and had a regular show called "Meet The Boys in the Band"), before his long-time association with KOA radio and "The Pete Smythe General Store."

The story headline mentions big band pianist Henry King (1906-1974), who apparently had a long stretch at the Cosmo. King claimed to have recorded over 5,000 remote broadcasts for numerous networks during the group’s traveling career. The band's theme song was "A Blues Serenade." 

 If anyone happens to know of an actual (record) copy of "I've Been Robbed" or "I've Had a Change of Heart," I would love to hear it!

Monday, August 16, 2021

Record Digging: A Korean Caribbean Music LP... From Colorado


So I'm digging through a record bin, and come across a couple of 1990 Korean language (at least based on the liner notes) LPs entitled Due West Isle of St. Thomas. The album appears to have a smooth jazz Caribbean vibe, based on the cover art and song titles ("Toucan Strut," "Coconut Bay," Coral Reef Ballet"...). I was about to put it back, when I flipped over the album and noticed the record label address - Windsor, Colorado.

I obviously pick up both copies and head back to the house, to learn more.

Thank goodness for language translation apps. Although, I'm idly wondering just how accurate it is. See Korean-English translation below:

"Due West is a world-class musician Kip Kuepper, who was in the group Rare Silk, who was nominated for a Grammy, and Jim Ridi, from the jazz group Spyro Gyra. Accompaniment by Kim Stone. It is characterized by the refreshing saxophone performance of Ron Axelson. The debut album Isle of St. Thomas is a collection of homeways performances. The blend of smooth flowing rhythms and warn island sounds create a perfect heart passage for your life.  The Isle of St. Thomas album is casual, light, fast bit energy, and deep technique, giving you an unforgettable taste and aroma. Each track provides a view of cheerfulness, pleasure, joy and it is also a trip to warm the spirit and its purposed is to give a different feeling. The fresh sound of percussion and the smooth and beautiful melodic color playing along the river of various performances such as flute, mandolin, the new fusion sound that brightens the heart."

Ron Axelson was born in 1954, in Grand Junction. The liner notes mention that he moved to Nashville, before moving back to Colorado.

The players, as mentioned above, include Axelson (alto sax), Jim Ridi (keyboards), Kip Kuepper and Kim Stone (bass), along with Don Prorak (steel drums), Randy Chavez (guitar), and Mike Aggson (acoustic guitar).

The music has a very "drinking a mai tai, under an umbrella, watching the ocean" vibe to it. 

 Listen to a sample of "Coconut Bay" (1:10)

I couldn't find a domestic release of this vinyl album. It appears it was only released in Korea, as I found several links to the album, on Korean websites. 

In 1995, the album was reissued on CD, and was credited to Ron Axelson, rather than Due West. In a May 1996 issue of Mobile Beat, I found a review of the Isle of St. Thomas:

"A well-produced eight-cut CD on the Ivory Moon label. Ron's music is best described as a cross between Kenny G and Jimmy Buffett. All songs are a medium tempo, with a sunny Caribbean flavor, perfect for any type of event. But there's a twist - using the untapped marketing power of mobile DJs, Ivory Moon has begun a promotional mailing of the CD to mobiles across the country."

In 2006, he released another CD, Sun Tones.

I have messages into Ron, as well as the other players on the record. Hopefully we will soon learn more about the Korean-exclusive issue of this Colorado-made LP. Interesting, to say the least.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Golden Music's Massive Sheet Music Library

Hey all. A few weeks ago I was alerted about an incredible sheet music collection, being housed at Golden Music. The business has taken on a huge project - databasing each and every one of the donated items it currently has stored. We are talking thousands of pieces. It's a huge undertaking, but one which will preserve these important music pieces for decades to come.

We're talking pretty much every type of sheet music you can think of -  pieces from the 1800s to pop music of the 1990s. Seeing it in person is overwhelming. My thanks to project organizer Betsy Nelms, who graciously showed me the collection, and talked to me about the store's plans.

How did you all obtain this massive collection? 

Many people donate used sheet music to Golden Music. When Denver Musicians Association (DMA), the musicians' union, moved their offices to our building, they donated many boxes of sheet music.

What does the collection contain - what kind of music? 

We have had a lending library of school string orchestra music for many years. This library has string orchestra selections from very beginning level through advanced works suitable for high school and collegiate level. This repertoire ranges from classical style through newly written material and arrangements of Broadway and movie tunes. We also have had a music education program ever since the store was started over 20 years ago. The library has teaching materials for piano, electronic organ, every band and orchestra instrument, guitar, and classical voice and theatrical voice. The DMA donation included teaching materials for specific instruments, youth orchestra music, theatre orchestra music from early 20th century and dance band music.

Where did the pieces originate? 

Many individuals donate sheet music to the store, mostly instructional materials for instrumental lessons. The many boxes from DMA also came from various sources. I was told that some came from radio station KOA. In the early days of radio, many stations had their own in-house musicians who played live music on the air. A few of the folios are stamped with KOA National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). Most have no markings as to their original source. 

 How many pieces are there? 

As you saw when you visited Golden Music, there is a lot of music. The school orchestra lending library probably has well over 1,000 titles from very beginning level to advanced string orchestra. The school band lending library probably has about 100 titles and is expanding. There also is a full symphonic orchestra section (winds and strings) that has about 50 titles. The instructional materials for piano probably has about 250 titles. The materials for other instruments probably has 300 titles ranging from violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and a few others. The youth orchestra materials are of two types. The first was published by BMI in the early 1940's. There are probably 500 titles ranging from folksongs to arrangements of classical repertoire. The other type is a mix of original compositions for youth orchestra and arrangements of classical repertoire, published by various music publishing houses from late 1800's through mid-20th century. The octavo sized theatre orchestra materials are for a medium sized ensemble of strings and winds, maybe 15-20 players. This portion of the collection has well over 1,000 titles most of which are dance tunes and arrangements of popular songs of the early 20th century.

Do you need help with databasing or other archiving jobs - looking for volunteers? 

Currently, I am doing all the database entry and prefer to continue without assistance. However, when it is time to digitize this music, some help would be appreciated. 

Do you plan to sell any pieces? 

Alex Qualtire, co-owner of Golden Music, was quite adamant that nothing is for sale from this collection. 

Do you plan to make them available to the public - if so, how do you plan to do this? 

At the moment, only the string orchestra lending library, band music library, and the symphonic orchestra library are available for loan to teachers. There are no plans for the older music except to maintain it in archival storage. Once we really know what is in this collection, as I complete the database, Alex may be willing to loan out materials to teachers. 

Do you plan to digitize it? 

Once Alex agrees to lend a title, it will be digitized. Only the electronic version, not the fragile paper pages, will be allowed on loan. There are no plans yet to digitize the entire collection. The database can be made available to anyone who would be interested. 

What are some of the most interesting pieces you all have discovered? 

I found it quite interesting to see many pieces in the youth orchestra music by Irenee Berge who was a Frenchman who moved to the United States at the end of the 1800's to conduct orchestras. He is listed in Wikipedia although I don't know anyone today who knows his name. As I worked through the octavo theatre orchestra music, I found tunes that my mother used to sing. She was born in 1912 and was very familiar with popular tunes from 1920's, 1930's and into World War II era music. In all parts of the collection, there are patriotic tunes and medleys. Some represent tunes from the American Civil War, some from World War I and World War II. There are also many tunes that reflect the culture of early 20th century. with references to Hawaii, China, Japan, Eastern Europe, and Scandinavia. 

Are you accepting more pieces into the collection? If so, how can folks get those to you? 

Golden Music will always accept donations to these various types of library holdings as listed above. The donor should bring the music into the store, Golden Music, 10395 W. Colfax, Lakewood, 80215. The store is also active in assisting band and orchestra programs through the public, charter and private schools. 

Is it safe to say that is one of the largest (if not THE largest) collection of sheet music, in Colorado? Do you know of any other collections, this vast? 

In reality, this is a modest collection of sheet music. Quite likely local universities and school districts have a similar size or larger. What makes this collection unique is the amount of music of historical value. Although the string orchestra and band lending libraries have selections from the past 20-30 years, the majority of the youth orchestra music and the theatre/dance orchestra music comes from the first half of the 20th century.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Janie Fricke's First Record - The Colorado Connection

If Janie Fricke's path had gone the way her parents had hoped, she would have been a teacher.

"I was on a path toward elementary education," she said. "I was a student at the University of Indiana, but my love was music."

In between her studies, she would pick up singing gigs at "little restaurants" in her home state.

"I heard that there was a restaurant, in Elizbethtown, Kentucky, which was looking for a singer," she said. "So in between semesters, I went down there and  became a strolling minstrel, singing popular songs of the day, in between the tables at this restaurant."

One night a patron, so impressed with her vocals, suggested that she move to Memphis, and sing commercial and radio station jingles.

"This was around 1968. So I went down to Memphis and auditioned for this group, at Pepper Tanner studios. I didn't know what I was getting into. I was hired and immediately started singing. That's when I really fell in love with studio work."

While she was finding success as a backing vocalist and jingle singer, her family had other ideas.

"My parents wanted me to come back and finish my degree."

She would later return to Indiana, to earn her diploma, but the lure of a singing career kept her from using her university education. In between the books, she would try her luck in Los Angeles and Dallas.

"I went down to Texas and worked at TM Productions, doing radio station call letter jingles, and station IDs. We did so many, I couldn't even begin to tell you how many stations I did. On any given day, we would have a radio station representative come in and watch us record, then they would leave, and another radio station representative would come in, and we would record his station. This would go on and on, all day long. They would come in, from all over the United States."

She did remember one station ID, in particular, which included a then-unknown singer, Dan Seals.

"We were recording one for KLIF, there in Dallas. Dan was one of the other jingle singers. Of course, this was way before England Dan and John Ford Coley [and their 1976 #1 hit "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight"].

Fricke's own vocals were so in-demand that competing companies tried to recruit her.

"When I worked at TM, we were not allowed to work for any other studios, including PAMS, which was a competing studio, there in Dallas. We had to sign an agreement."

By then, she knew that if she wanted to pursue a singing career, she needed to be in Nashville.

"I took my jingle tape, and my first job there was as a secretary. I was meeting producers, and background singers, and that's how I got on with the Lea Jane Singers."

Formed by Lea Jane Berinati, the ensemble was one of the most in-demand backing vocal groups, in country music. The group included several soon-to-be famous names, including Judy Rodman, and Chuck Woolery.

By the mid to late 1970s, Fricke was considered one of the most prolific commercial jingle singers, in the country.

"I still have my little black book, showing all of the studio work I was doing, back then," she said. "I was so busy, doing jingles for Red Lobster, Dial soap, McDonald's, and Pizza Hut.

On September 18, 1977, as so noted in her personal records, she recorded a 2:29 song, for the Golden Colorado-based, Coors beer company. The song was written by John Adrian, who would later have hits for Billy Crash Craddock ("Broken Down in Tiny Pieces," which Fricke sings backing vocals on, and was a #1 song, in 1977), as well as songs for Loretta Lynn ("Out of My Head and Back in Bed") and Conway Twitty's "This Time I've Hurt Her More."

The song was recorded at Woodland Studios, in Nashville, and produced by Ron Chancey, who would later have hits with the Oak Ridge Boys, Sawyer Brown, and T. Graham Brown, among many others.

"I think that session may have lasted 45 minutes, to an hour," she recollected.

 Listen to a sample of "Make it Coors."

Little did she know, the Coors song was pressed into a promotional 45. She is credited as the vocalist on the label, and the single is considered her first record.

"I didn't know they did that," she told me. "That has to be pretty rare, as I'm sure they didn't press very many of them, but yes, that Coors song is actually my very first record."

The flip side of the disc is credited to singer Don Gant, who previously formed (with Tupper Saussy), the 1960s psych-rock group Neon Philharmonic. He passed away in 1987. 

 Fricke winning the Academy of Country Music Top Female Vocalist Award (1984)

Fricke would soon go on to super stardom. She would rack up 18 top 10 Billboard hits (9 peaking at #1), named Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year  (twice, consecutively), and Academy of Country Music's Top Female Vocalist. 

She still tours, and will soon be part of a Lee Greenwood tribute event, celebrating the multi-platinum performer, known for "God Bless The U.S.A." She will be performing his song "Hopelessly Yours," as part of an all-star line-up, which is scheduled October 10, in Huntsville, AL. She's also booked to perform at the Texas Country Music Celebration, set for August 12-15, in Carthage, TX.

Even with all of the accolades, Fricke still looks back on her jingle career with much fondness.

"In my shows I do a jingle medley, and I still sing 'Make it Coors,' in my set list."