You have heard the old adage, “You are what you eat.” I also happen to believe you are what you listen to. I like strange music. I will let you connect the dots. I pulled out four strange vintage Christmas records from my collection along with a strange Christmas CD to celebrate in this post. It is time to get your Christmas strange on.
The Singing Saw at Christmastime (Merge Records MRG330 LP): Julian Koster, 2008
Saws designed as musical instruments are not new, though just about any non-electric, wood saw will do (musical saws are wider, use thinner metal, and do not have sharpened teeth). The musical saw became popular in the early 1900’s in the US. Vaudeville and musical hall stages in the 20s and 30s were the primary venues for the musical saw.
Saw Playing 101
How does one play a saw? Very carefully. Seriously, sawlady.com provides this detailed guide: “Most saw players play sitting down, but some play standing up, and some play kneeling down. The common denominator is that the saw is held with the handle between the player’s knees. Most right-handed musical saw players hold the tip of the blade with their left hand, and bow with their right hand. Usually the teeth of the singing saw face the player, and the bowing is done on the blunt end, which faces the audience. Bowing a musical blade differs from bowing a violin in that with a violin every note must be bowed, whereas with the saw one can play many notes with just one bowing: you can bow, then separate the bow from the saw and continue to bend the blade into many more notes. So long as the vibrations last one can play different notes without re-bowing.” I see. Saw.
Saws Can Sing
After providing the broad view from 30,000 feet, let me now zoom in close on this rare record from 2008. Some of the saws used on The Singing Sawat Christmastime were old, some were new, some were small, some were large. It would have been more accurate to make the record’s title plural as in The Singing Saws. Sawist Julian Koster wrote in the album’s liner notes, “Each saw has its own unique voice and manner of singing. Some of their voices are quite high, others low; some have a great range, while others can only sing a few notes but with extraordinary sweetness.” Assuming you have never heard one, a musical saw sounds quite a lot like a theremin.
Music is in the ear of the beholder. Checking out reviews of The Singing Saw at Christmas on Amazon, they ranged from “…better suited for a one-star horror movie. It’s not even amusing; play it [at] a party and the merriment will dissipate”, to “…creates a wonderful mellow and magical Christmas mood. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a chilly night, sitting beside the Christmas tree and watching the snow fall outside the window.” Whomever the woman was who wrote that (“Heather Rose”), will you marry me?
Serious About Saws
Lest you think Koster is a novice, he is a multi-instrumentalist and played bass guitar, accordion, organ, and musical saw with the indie rock group Neutral Milk Hotel. He clearly has a hard on for musical saws and it makes me wonder if he is playing the saws or if the saws are playing him. It just goes to reaffirm my assertion about what I said at the start, that you are what you listen to. Yes, Virginia, there is a Saw-nta Claus.
Trivia:Singer and movie star, Marlene Dietrich, was a sawist. She entertained US troops in 1944 with her saw, sawed live on the radio, and even sawed at parties. See? Saw.
2. I Know What He Wants for Christmas…But I Don’t Know How to Wrap It (FAXLP 1005): Kay Martin and Her Body Guards, 1962
When most people think of Christmas they think of gifts, holiday decorations, and peace on earth. Kay Martin thought of sex. Martin was a blonde bombshell model (38-24-36) turned Las Vegas and Reno nightclub entertainer who also released six “party” records. I Know What He Wants for Christmas from 1962 was one of her more popular titles and is quite collectible these days, especially the original green-colored vinyl pressing. The album is a mix of studio recorded songs performed by Martin and her “Body Guards” (Jess Hotchkiss/writer, Bill Elliott/piano, and Don Miller/drums) on Side 1 and a portion of her live nightclub act captured on Side 2 (ex. “Girls Should Be Obscene and Not Heard”). The sound quality will not win any awards, but presumably Martin was not aiming to win a Grammy.
I donned my detective’s fedora to dig into Kay Martin’s life. She was born in Bakersfield, California in 1927 and was part Cherokee Indian. In addition to modeling, Martin did a one-time Playboy spread. She was an accomplished equestrienne. She married her photographer, Jess Hotchkiss, who later became her manager and writer. They later divorced but the show went on. In 1956 Martin turned business woman after opening The Kay Martin Lodge in Reno. I wrote the Lodge about a year ago asking Martin some questions about this record and included a SASE but received no reply. The Lodge does not even have a website. Twice I phoned the number I found for the Lodge but got a generic message and no call back. I later read a guest review of the Lodge from 2018 that said Martin had passed away, yet I cannot find her obituary. I guess because it is the holiday season I am reminded of the classic line from A Christmas Carol when Scrooge is asked, “You wish to be anonymous?” Scrooge angrily replies, “I wish to be left alone!”
Jingle My Bells
Between the album cover and song titles like Hang Your Balls on the Xmas Tree, I Want a Casting Couch for Christmas, and Santa’s Doing the Horizontal Twist, you know I Know What He Wants for Christmas is not music by The Tabernacle Choir. Let us cut to the chase- The music is basically a lap dance for your ears. The lyrics to the title track are a good example: “I need one hand to wrap with / Another hand to clutch it / It wiggles and it squirms / It even tickles when I touch it.” Somehow, I do not think Martin was singing about Jell-O.
Santa’s Doing the Horizontal Twist also does not mince words – ”He was kind of mellow / This chubby little fellow / So I offered him a drink / After 3 or 4 / We wound up on the floor / Man, he was quick as a wink.” Remember- Santa only comes once a year.
In Come on Santa, Let’s Have a Ball, Martin leaves little to the imagination – “It’s finally Christmas Eve / And you have come to call / I bought a brand-new nightie / But I’m waiting in my altogether/ ‘cause my nightie /Is hanging on the wall / So come on Santa / Let’s have a ball.” I wonder if Mrs. Claus knows what a hornball her husband is.
An American Original
Not that I am an expert on erotic Christmas records, but the only other naughty Christmas album I know of is comedian Rudy Ray Moore’s Merry Christmas, Baby from 1970 (not to be confused with a 2006 repackage called This Ain’t No White Christmas). That is an itch I have yet to scratch. The back of Moore’s album cover states in all capital letters: “SPECIAL NOTICE: SIDE 2 RATED X FOR MATURE AUDIENCE”, and that is no hyperbole. Moore’s foul-mouthed holiday stories make Martin’s LP look like a Sesame Street Production.
Martin’s record may be tame by today’s standards but when it was released in 1962 it was risqué. It is still great fun almost sixty years later and nobody puts out politically incorrect Christmas records like this anymore. I will be adding some vintage kink to my Christmas and putting a little “X” in my Xmas with Kay Martin this holiday.
If Martin is indeed still alive, she would be 94 years old. If you happen to read this Kay, Merry Christmas, and thanks for the mammaries.
Trivia:The British Journal of Social Psychology recently published a scientific study that concluded scantily clad women do not feel colder in winter than women dressed for the elements. The researchers studied women who stood outside of nightclubs showing a lot of skin when temps dropped down into the 40’s. The take away: Women wearing little clothing who remain focused on looking hot have a “diminished capacity to feel cold.”
3. Adventure in Carols (Westminster WP-6021): Ferrante & Teicher, 1955
Arthur Ferrante & Louis Teicher were a piano duo who graduated from the Julliard School of Music in New York where they first met. Their career spanned between 1947 to 1989. During that span of time, they released about eighty albums (!) under the easy listening and space age pop music genres, including several Christmas albums. They scored four top 10 US hits, namely Theme from Exodus, Tonight, Midnight Cowboy, andTheme from The Apartment. They also toured all over the country.
Flip Their (Piano) Lids
That lengthy time frame was certainly not devoid of easy listening piano players. What set this pair apart was their playing style and their use of “prepared” pianos…things on strings…adding objects to the piano strings such as chains, glass, paper, etc. Ferrante and Teicher would then proceed to strum, beat, and pluck the poor piano strings as if playing a guitar, at times making the piano sound like a synthesizer. As the liner notes to Adventure in Carols revealed, Ferrante and Teicher also used their “elbows, forearms or knuckles to elicit a desired chordal effect—not to mention an assortment of wooden and metal gadgets designed to give the pianos a new personality altogether. These unorthodox and sometimes gymnastic doings are not calculated to amuse. They are an integral part of the team’s very special arrangements. Their goal always is to achieve the maximum tonal contrasts and to simulate orchestral color as vividly as possible within the limitations of pianistic dynamics.” Quick- somebody pinch me.
A Hip Sound
Given all of this sound and fury, one might assume the duo butchered the twelve Christmas classics on Adventure in Carols, making the record all but unlistenable. Nothing could be further from the truth. This has become a holiday album I look forward to playing this time of year. Allmusic.com called the record “hip and fascinatingly otherworldly” and “one of the definitive Christmas records of the space age pop era.” I also really love the album cover’s period artwork. It is as much a creative departure from the traditional Christmas album cover as the music it houses.
The Sound of Tomorrow
Although this 1955 album is mono, it was recorded using Westminster’s exclusive “Panorthophonic” technique. I have been unable to uncover what that technique actually involved, but apparently, back in the day, Westminster was held in very high regard by audiophiles for their sound quality, particularly their classical music recordings. The label’s motto was “The Sound of Tomorrow- Today”. Whatever the technique, Westminster’s studio engineers must have wet themselves upon seeing the myriad of microphones positioned all over the two pianos, not to mention Ferrante and Teicher’s assorted piano string paraphernalia and acrobatic moves during their performance.
Both Teicher and Ferrante lived long lives. In 2008, Teicher died of a heart attack at age 83. Ferrante died in 2009 of natural causes less than two weeks after his 88th Birthday, leaving behind a wife, daughter, and two granddaughters. He had said he wanted to live until age 88 since that was the number of keys on a piano.
This is not the kind of instrumental Christmas record one would sing or dance to, but this quasi-space age pop music will get me in the mood for the fat guy in the red suit flying through Earth’s lower atmosphere. If Santa has a built-in record player in his sleigh, and you know he does, you can bet Adventure in Carols is what he will be listening to on his vintage headphones when he lands on your rooftop.
Trivia:Ferrante and Teicher retired near each other in Longboat Key and Siesta Key, on the west coast of Florida, in 1989. They occasionally reunited at a local piano store where they played together.
4. Joy to The World/Jingle Bell Boogie/Silent Night: The Cambridge Harmonica Orchestra (Bent Reeds Records),1983
Question: What do you get when you cram 33 harmonica players into a small recording studio? Answer: A strange Christmas record.
The Cambridge Harmonica Orchestra was founded in 1981 by Otis Read after receiving a $200 grant from the City of Cambridge, MA. As Read recalled to me in a recent email, “I wrote a grant to the Cambridge River Festival for the formation of the C.H.O. (in the 80’s) suggesting that we would march to the performance sight and then play! They accepted the grant. (Oh shit!). I had to recruit the players, so I got on the phone and sent out a flurry of emails. Pierre Beauregard was a well-known [Magic] harp player in Boston and he set about contacting various players. We got between 20-30 for the original performance. A few years later we recruited nearly 80 for The Today Show! We had a string of gigs in the 80’s & 90’s. Always a fun time!” Beauregard (who has played with Muddy Waters, NRBQ, and Room Full of Blues) became the C.H.O.’s conductor.
The Journey Is More Fun
As if 80 members were not enough, two years later, the Orchestra’s membership swelled to 350! That same year, the C.H.O. was featured in the Hohner Company’s calendar. Hohner, based in Tennessee, was the world’s biggest harmonica manufacturer. As the saying goes, sometimes the journey ends up being more fun than the destination.
Speaking of Hohner, every harmonica in their catalog was put to use in the C.H.O., not to mention bass, chord, diatonic, and chromatic harmonica sections. In addition, there were melodicas, drums, an accordion section, and even a washboard and washtub bass player!
In December of 1982, 33 members of the C.H.O. packed inside a studio and recorded Jingle Bell Boogie. Nine months later, 80 members assembled in a Cambridge, MA garage and recorded two more holiday tunes, Joy to The World and Silent Night. I suppose that officially made them a garage band. The C.H.O. released their three songs on a very limited-run EP which I am not ashamed to say I own a copy of.
The C.H.O.’s harmonicas fell silent in 1986, but their unique music lives on in this rare record, bringing some much-needed whimsy to a holiday that has been hard hit on many levels by the pandemic.
Trivia:The Cambridge Harmonica Orchestra’s 3-track holiday EP was played on a Voice of America broadcast directed at Russia, Poland, and Palestine.
5. Songs For Christmas: Sufjan Stevens (Asthmatic Kitty Records), 2006
You are forgiven if independent musician Sufjan Stevens’ name does not ring a (jingle) bell. It did not with me either, but that did not stop me from buying his very unique Christmas collection anyway. Stevens is a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, banjo, English horn, oboe, piano, drums, woodwinds, etc.) born in Detroit but transplanted in New York. At his current age of 46, he has nine albums under his belt, plus his very own record label, Asthmatic Kitty (named after an asthmatic cat), which he co-founded with his stepfather. His music is categorized as indie folk/rock/pop, alt rock, avant-garde folk, and baroque pop. Got all that? One of the songs off of his Call Me by Your Name soundtrack received a Grammy nomination and an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. His music often deals with religion and spirituality.
Between 2001 to 2006, Stevens recorded five Christmas EP’s, but not to sell. He gave a different one out each year to his friends and family as holiday gifts. What a nice idea to privately record music and give it as a gift, though some of the recipients might not have felt that way after listening to the recordings.
Festive Frills & Flourishes
In November of 2006, Stevens released these personal gifts as a nicely packaged box set of 5 CDs (there was also a much more expensive vinyl option) to the general public. The set also included a sing-a-long booklet with chord charts and some short stories, a sticker sheet, and a fold-out comic book with a weird color poster on the back. Regarding these printed accessories, Stevens wrote in his booklet, “I also wanted to augment the music with a lavish display of ornamentation- it just wouldn’t be Christmas without all the festive frills and flourishes…all the cornucopia of junk that has come to represent Christmas…”
The 42 (!) songs in the set are a mix of traditional holiday classics and Stevens originals (emphasis on the word “original”). His own record label described the set this way: “Sufjan has, over the course of five years, constructed an odd, impressive, and compelling collection of Christmas hits (and some misses) that will either warm your heart or make you throw up eggnog all over the bath mat.” Now there is a nice holiday visual.
As you could probably ascertain from that description, Stevens’ Christmas music is not for everyone. The traditional songs are interpreted with unusual instrument choices and his voice sounds like that of a young college student. I half expected to hear his mother yell at him in the background to keep it down. In fairness, sprinkled about are brief instrumental vignettes of holiday songs that actually sound quite lovely. Unfortunately, they only last between 36 to 52 seconds each. That is enough for a segue between stories on national public radio, but that is about it.
I Grabbed Your Wrist
His original compositions add to the strange experience. More than a few have lyrics sounding like they were written by an 8year old finishing up a song writing assignment at the last minute. Take It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad!: “Sing a carol to your mom / ‘Cause she knows what’s goin’ on”, and “There are presents to be had / A promotion for your dad”, plus a few choruses of nothing but “la, la, la, la”. Put The Lights on The Tree features lyrics like “Call your grandma on the phone / If she’s living all alone / Tell her Jesus Christ Is here / Tell her she has none to fear”, plus more la, la, la, la’s. Things take a turn for the creepy in Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? “I stay awake at night / After we have a fight / I’m writing poems about you / And they aren’t very nice / I didn’t mean to yell / I said I couldn’t tell / I only grabbed your wrist / Or would you rather we kissed?”
Whomever Was In The Room
In “A Note of Explanation” in the booklet, Stevens confesses he had a few partners in crime helping craft this music. These included a college friend, his little brother, a string quartet, and a Presbyterian pastor and his wife…pretty much anyone who was around at the time that he could force in front of a microphone.
This is indeed a collection of strange Christmas songs, like a snow globe with tiny white razor blades swirling around Santa instead of fake snow. Well, maybe not that strange, but instead of including a sing-a-long booklet, perhaps Stevens would have done better to include a barf bag, just in case you do toss your eggnog.
Trivia (from Wikipedia):“Sufjan” is a Persian name that means ‘comes with a sword’. It predates Islam and most famously belonged to Abu Sufjan, a figure from early Islamic history. The name was given to Stevens by the founder of Subud, an interfaith spiritual community to which his parents belonged when he was born.”
Most of these records are out of print but can sometimes be found on used record sites like eBay, though not for cheap. The Singing Saw at Christmastime is still available on CD as is Songs for Christmas.
That puts a large, Lexus-like red bow on my strange Christmas post for 2021, which appropriately caps off a very strange year. Let us hope 2022 is not nearly as strange. I could really go for some normal right about now.
If traditional holiday music is more to your liking, circle back here in a week or two for my Recommended Holiday CDs.
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With Thanksgiving in our rear view mirror, it is time to get into the Christmas spirit. That should not be too difficult to do considering the last year or two we have had. Nothing sets the mood better than Christmas music and there is definitely no shortage of holiday Internet radio stations. There are stations like my Recommended Station for next month, which you will be able to read about if you are a Patreon supporter, that stream holiday tunes all year round. There are Internet stations that mix in holiday hits during the holiday season along with their normal music rotation. Then there are stations that play 100% holiday music for a defined period before returning to their regular programming after the holiday. Here are four stand out Internet stations that do their full-on Christmas thing for a limited time only. Feast over these stations this holiday and savor every song.
New England Classical Christmas is a seasonal, Maine-based station that has been streaming for a decade. I lived in Maine for two years when I was Assistant Manager at Cambridge SoundWorks, and at the same time, I did some part time voice work at WBACH-FM, Maine’s classical music network (I am sorry to report the station has long since imploded). I also volunteered for Maine Public Television for a couple of their on-air auction fundraisers. Although I did not live in Maine for long (I moved to take a position with B&W Loudspeakers in MA), I have many very fond memories of my time there and I often think it might be the perfect place to retire when I am able to finally stop working twenty years from now (just in time for there to be no money left in Social Security). But I digress.
Maine Public Radio, which celebrated its 60th Anniversary this year, exclusively hosts New England Classical Christmas on their website. However, you do not need to go to the website to listen. The station is available to aggregators, so you can tune it on your Internet radio. NECC emerges from its slumber every year in November to resume its dedicated holiday streaming and is expected to stream at least into January of next year if not later, as if to gradually ease you out of the holiday instead of the jarring hard stop on December 26th.
Gale Parmelee is New England Classical’s Founder and Director of Programming. He took time out from his holiday programming duties to respond to my “story behind the station” questions:
PS: Roughly how many songs are in your holiday library?
GP: “Just over 2,500 pieces ranging from Choral, Orchestral, Solo Voice, and Solo Instrumental.“
PS: Why is it called “New England” Classical? Is it because it is in Maine?
GP: “The history of the name stems from when I started Classical Vermont, which was a classical online station originating from VT where I lived at the time. I later decided to embrace all of New England and rebranded [it] as NewEnglandClassical.Com. It was after that, the Christmas/Holiday channel was launched each season. I since stopped the regular classical stream but due to the popularity (high listenership in NE and around the world) of New England Classical Christmas, I kept that going.“
PS: What is Maine Public Radio’s involvement with the station?
GP: “Four years ago, I approached Maine Public Radio (I am a classical music host/producer for Maine Public Classical) with the concept of using New England Classical Christmas as an online Holiday Channel for their website. It’s a great partnership for them and me as they are able to secure underwriting support and serve the loyal Maine Public Classical audience with a specialized Holiday channel online each season and for me to continue serving the NECC fan base around the world!“
PS: Anything else to add about the music?
GP: “I started the channel out of my passion for seasonal music and a vast personal CD collection. The core sound is focused on Choral and Orchestral pieces, both very familiar and some lovely rare tracks. A small sample of ensembles include:The Boston Pops, Handel & Haydn Society, Robert Shaw Chorale,Canadian Brass,The Cambridge Singers, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, [and] Choir of King’s College Cambridge. “In between, we feature many solo artists from the classical world (both instrumental/vocal) as well as compatible pieces from artists like George Winston and Mannheim Steamroller.”
Pass The Potatoes
I have New England Classical Christmas set to a preset and I can tell you it is as comforting and as filling as that side of buttery, hot mashed potatoes you will devour during Christmas dinner, except without the lumps.
Trivia: Though not officially using the “Pops” name until 1900, the Boston Pops was formed in 1885 by Civil War veteran Henry Lee Higginson. They performed at Symphony Hall for the 1st time in 1901.Higginson insisted the rows of seats on Symphony Hall’s main floor be replaced by tables and chairs for all Pops concerts, a tradition that continues to this day.
When I worked for my college FM radio station in Boston’s historic back bay as a jazz DJ, our weekday mainstream jazz program went on the air at 10am, immediately following the morning drive show “Coffee House”. That very popular four hour program featured classic and contemporary folk music. I used to love listening to it around this time every year, especially as the snow fell on Beacon Street in Boston, which the studio’s large picture window overlooked. Nice memories.
Unfortunately, the Coffee House (along with the rest of the station’s unique block programming) went out that picture window after the station changed its format several years ago in order to sound more like other stations. For shame. Thankfully, I can turn to Folk Alley’s Holiday Stream. Though Folk Alley’s primary folk music station mixes in holiday music on Christmas Eve-day, their dedicated holiday music station has already let its Christmas hair down with 30+ hours of old and new, secular and holy, Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, New Years, and winter-related music that gets shuffled and repeated.
Linda Fahey, Folk Alley’s Executive Director, says their holiday station is a musical chameleon, meaning it changes format based on the given holiday, like Christmas, Halloween, or even Valentine’s Day. Since they started the holiday stream in 2005, they add new holiday songs every year to keep things as fresh as a newly cut Christmas tree.
Folk Alley is a non-profit service of the Fresh Grass Foundation. What that means for you as a listener of their Holiday Music Stream is no commercials. What that means for musicians is the F.G.F. administers the prestigious Steve Martin Banjo Prize (yes, that Steve Martin), operates Studio 9, a state-of-the-art recording studio in North Adams, MA, produces Fresh Grass Music Festivals, and offers numerous grants and commissions for musicians and song writers. The latter has become especially important given the pandemic’s profound impact on musicians’ income.
To me, folk music is like milk. It will rarely offend anyone and it feels good going down. So, tell Aunt Pat to leave her acoustic guitar at home this holiday and play the Folk Alley Holiday Music Stream instead. No offense, Aunt Pat.
Trivia:In 2009, Bob Dylan released a full-length Christmas album, “Christmas In The Heart”. It opened at number 5 on Billboard’s Folk Album chart and number 1 on the Holiday Album chart. Dylan produced the album himself but used the pseudonym Jack Frost.
One of my all-time favorite Internet stations, and a previous Recommended Station, JIB on the Web, broadcasts their annual “The Beautiful Music of Christmas” starting at noon on December 24th and runs through midnight on Christmas Day. According to Founder and Program Director, and original WJIB-FM host, Warren Schroeger, 90% of the Christmas music that aired on the original WJIB FM in 1970 will be aired during this special 36-hour broadcast, but with more attention paid to the instrumental vs. vocal ratio. “JIB on the Web follows the integration of Christmas Music much the way it was done in the distant past on [beautiful music/easy listening] stations”, Schroeger explained to me in an email. “Beginning with a few tracks peppered in on the day after Thanksgiving and gradually adding more until the beginning of the continuous program on Christmas Eve, Carols are added about 2 weeks before Christmas Day. Additionally, JOTW host John Bartel provides brief Christmas vignettes between segments twice an hour.”
The “Christmas Festival of Music” program, which aired over a 24-hour period, debuted on the original WJIB 97FM at 6pm on December 24th, 1967. It was presented commercial-free and was later sponsored exclusively by The Boston Globe. Since JIB on the Web is commercial-free, like the original “Christmas Festival” program, you will not hear any commercials during The Beautiful Music of Christmas.
In advance of the special program, The Boston Globe would run a full-page ad listing of all the Christmas songs and when they would air on WJIB-FM. Surprisingly, Schroeger, says he is legally prohibited from continuing that part of the WJIB tradition because “it violates the licensing agreement stating that individual titles/artists must not be revealed in advance.” Bah Humbug!
As with the original station’s version, I look forward to JIB on the Web’s “The Beautiful Music of Christmas”. It is the ideal soundtrack for unwrapping gifts from Santa, digging into a delicious holiday meal with family, or sipping Grandma’s homemade eggnog (or not).
Trivia: Eggnog originated in Britain during medieval times as a hot, milky drink mixed with alcohol. It became associated with the holidays thanks to American colonists in the 1700’s who had more eggs than they knew what to do with along with an abundance of cheap rum.
My final limited Christmas-worthy station to make note of this month is Vinyl Voyage Radio started by history teacher and novelist, Bruce David Janu in 2012. Vinyl Voyage’s music files are harvested exclusively from vinyl records. They also have interesting specialty shows such as The K-Tel Time Machine that only plays K-Tel records and The Detention Club dedicated to Frank Sinatra. On top of all this, VVR is non-profit so you will not hear any commercials.
80 Years of Christmas Music
VVR changes over to all Christmas music starting December 19th as part of their 9th annual “Vinyl Christmas” (the music for which is also taken only from vinyl records): “…over 2,000 tracks we are streaming—from instrumental to choral, from Motown to crooner. This is the music you grew up with.” The station says their music playlist draws from holiday records issued over the past 80 years. VVR’s Vinyl Christmas has a limited shelf life, ceasing its holiday music on December 27th.
Janu put himself in the Christmas spirit to answer my questions about his pro-vinyl station:
PS: What was the catalyst for switching over to all Christmas music during the holiday?
BDJ: “It was in response to the local radio station that starts streaming Christmas music in early November. And they basically have a playlist of 300 or so songs, and repeat the same songs over and over again. It is horrible.”
PS: Everything VVR plays is from vinyl records?
DJ: “Except for the Sinatra Christmas show from 1957, everything we play during this time is sourced from Vinyl.“Currently we have 1,387 tracks in our library that we stream every Christmas — so, way more than the local radio station. These are broken down into 1) Vocals and Songs (our largest category). 2) Instrumentals. 3) Choral Music and 4) Christmas Hits. We’ll probably add another 100 or so tracks before we start streaming this year.“Since 2012, we have added some 100 albums to the Vinyl Voyage Library. Each year, we add 5-10 more. One of the things I start doing around this time is going to Goodwill to grab some Christmas albums I don’t yet have. I usually find a few. In fact, I may stop off today after doing some grocery shopping.”
PS: Do you have any favorite holiday songs?
BDJ: “I am a huge Sinatra fan. So, my favorites are the Sinatra Christmas tunes. We even stream his Christmas special with Bing Crosby from 1957. But I love the classics — especially the albums from the 50s and 60s. Other than Sinatra, my favorite albums to put on the platter are the Christmas compilation albums that were released by True Value Hardware. Remember those? I have over a dozen of them, and hoping to get more.”
PS: What is the oldest holiday song you’ve ever played?
BDJ: “I am not sure exactly what our oldest song is. But “Santa Came in the Spring ” by Benny Goodman is from 1935. So that is among the oldest. Some of the big band songs we have in our catalog are probably mid-to-early 30s. I do have some shellac albums that I play on a 1920 Victrola, but I haven’t yet digitized those. Maybe this year? :)”
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Vinyl
If you do not own a turntable (yet), or have one but do not have a vast Christmas record library, tune in Vinyl Voyage Radio’s Vinyl Christmas and have yourself a vinyl little Christmas.
Trivia:The oldest Christmas song in terms of what we traditionally think of as Christmas songs is “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” According to billboard.com, “while the standard lyrics come from the 19th century, variations on the song go back to at least the 1650’s. A century later, in 1739, we have the first published version of ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.’ By the 1800’s, a number of the Christmas carols we know and sing today start cropping up.”
I hope you enjoy these limited edition holiday stations. I wish all of my RecommendedStations.com readers a safe and happy holiday. Remember- The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to play your favorite holiday Internet stations for all to hear!
I try to post a Halloween-themed article every year around this time. This year I wanted it to be at least somewhat music-related. I was unsure how I would accomplish this until I saw a TV commercial for the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Rhode Island.
The Roger Williams Park. Zoo is the 3rd oldest Zoo in the country, having opened to the public in 1872. They have held this event for the last ten years or so. Last year it was reduced to drive-through only because of the pandemic. This year it was open to the walking public again and the theme was music. Perfect. I am so there!
Let me set the table for you. The Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular features 5,000 professionally-carved pumpkins lit from the inside with LED lights. The carvings are done by a company called Passion for Pumpkins who have been perfecting their unique craft for 25 years. Over a million people have seen their work at shows throughout New England. The Library of Congress proclaimed their events a “local legacy”.
How does Passion create such detailed carvings? Their carvers are not just carvers, they are full-fledged artists. The process starts off as a thin sketch drawn on a pumpkin. The carving is done by hand with different instruments cutting at different depths. Certain areas are filled in with a black Sharpie which ends up creating an almost a 3-D effect when the pumpkin is back lighted. To my eyes it looks like the pumpkins got tattoos. Although this is a Halloween event, the designs are not intended to scare the bejesus out of you. Rather, Passion puts on family-friendly events they consider to be on the same level as outdoor art exhibits.
I got in touch with Mike Finizza, owner of Passion for Pumpkins, via email to find out more about this fascinating fruit art.
PS: Did you pick the event’s music theme or did the Zoo do that?
MF: The name of our company is Passion for Pumpkins Inc. and we have 3 events located in Providence, RI, Louisville, KY, and Minneapolis, MN. We design and produces pretty much everything that goes into the show from a performance perspective….Themes, Pumpkin designs and music.
PS: I noticed more than a few pumpkins had some kind of plastic or fabric inside placed over the carved openings. What was that for?
MF: That is a fiber paper we use to make the pumpkins glow a little better. Many years ago, we used candles for all the pumpkins, but that became a fire hazard so we went to Christmas lights and they can get too bright so the paper makes the light filtered and glows better.
PS: I know each design is different, but how long does it take to create a design on a pumpkin? For example, Prince and John Lennon.
MF: Those typically take artists 4 to 6 hours each depending on size and amount of carving.
PS: I’m curious why a purple light was not used inside the Prince pumpkin. Do colored lights not work as well?
MF: Yes, they don’t work well in the artwork pumpkins.
PS: Was there a reason why some of the “standard” pumpkins did not have a flickering light inside to simulate a candle?
MF: We have used flickering led lights in the past, but durability seems to be an issue with them.
PS: Roughly how long does a carved pumpkin last until you have to touch it up or replace it?
MF: Typically, they last 7 days depending on weather factors. Sometimes a little less or a little more. So, we replace them 4 to 5 times per year.
PS: Are all 5,000 pumpkins real? I heard one spectator comment that some could not be real because the tree branches could not support that kind of weight.
MF: Years ago, we used organic pumpkins in the tree[s], but branches fell with heavy winds and it became too dangerous.
PS: Any other comments to share?
MF: We have been doing the event for over 30 years dating back to the original show in Oxford, Massachusetts.
This event is called the “Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular”, which made me curious where the term Jack-O-Lantern originated from. It turns out it dates back to an old Irish folk tale. There are different versions of the tale, but the gist of it is, a guy nicknamed “Stingy Jack” invited the Devil to drink with him. Sounds like something an Irishman would do. Since Jack was stingy, he managed to trick the Devil into paying the bar tab. Needless to say, the Devil was none too pleased. Many years later when Jack died, the Devil exacted his revenge by preventing Jack from transitioning to the afterlife. Jack was doomed to forever walk the earth at night with a single burning piece of coal to light his way. He hollowed out a white turnip to put the coal in to use as a lantern. From then on, his new nickname was “Jack of the Lantern”, which became Jack-O-Lantern. People began carving turnips and eventually pumpkins and placing candles in them to ward off Jack’s and other ghostly spirits.
The Eyes Have It
Now that I have dispensed with the educational part of the program, let me return to the main event. Although I lived the first half of my life in R.I., I had never been to the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular before. The prospect of a long night drive was concerning to me. I had surgery on both of my eyes three decades ago that left me sensitive to bright light, so driving in the dark is not exactly my favorite activity. Street lights, headlights, and brake lights look like starbursts and sometimes feel like daggers…What would be an ordinary evening drive for you is sensory overload for me. Nevertheless, I hopped in my car and drove 75 minutes from my MA home down to the Zoo hoping it would be worth it.
Driving into the Zoo’s entrance was the complete opposite of my highway experience. There was zero signage directing people to the event and the roads were poorly lit, with some stretches having no lighting at all. At one point, traveling at about 20 MPH, I hit a massive speed bump I never saw coming. I thought it was going to rip apart my nine year old car.
Having survived the speed bump from hell, I was then presented with colorful Halloween lights on the water designed for the Zoo’s popular swan boats. However, I was anxious to embark on my pumpkin extravaganza, so I bypassed the illuminated swans and headed straight for the Zoo’s parking lot, all the while on the lookout for more industrial speed bumps.
With a clear sky and a cool temperature, the conditions were perfect for pumpkin gazing. Before I started down the long and winding dark path, I pulled out my smartphone to prepare to get some snaps. A friendly Spectacular staff member advised me I would get better results if I turned the flash off. My camera does not usually perform well without the flash but I did as he suggested and, for the most part, his advice proved sound.
Getting pictures was not a problem, nor was navigating the path. There were a lot of people but everyone was spaced out so it did not feel congested. Spectators included children, teens, adults, and seniors.
The music theme began with ragtime and a pumpkin with the likeness of Scott Joplin carved into it. Ragtime music blared through a nearby loudspeaker. Walking at a leisurely pace, it took me nearly an hour to complete the tour. Some of the other musical time periods I would pass through included World War II, Christmas (complete with imitation falling snow), the 60’s, the 80’s, and the 90’s, all with appropriately carved pumpkins and music.
While in the 1990’s section I discovered a new song I liked playing over the loudspeaker. I launched the Shazam app on my smartphone and found out it was Don’t Laugh by Winx. The song was a rave anthem from the 90s and the creepy laughing fit right in amongst the grinning pumpkins. I just wished I was in on their joke.
Everywhere I turned I was surrounded by pumpkins…big ones, little ones, pumpkins to the left of me, pumpkins to the right, even pumpkins hanging from the trees! I had never seen so many illuminated carved pumpkins before. It was stunning, and unlike my nighttime driving experience, my eyes happily soaked it up.
On a personal note, I love fog machines and I wish Passion for Pumpkins had strategically deployed a few of them. It would have added a spooky touch, but besides that, they are just cool, and this is the only time of year to see them in action.
The Fab Four Pumpkins
Being the big Beatles fan I am, I especially appreciated the individual John, Paul, George, and Ringo-carved pumpkins, although Ringo’s face was represented as a cartoon character which was not very flattering. There was even a pumpkin carved with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s likeness. John Lennon referred to him as “the giggling guru.”
There were occasional fun deviations from the music theme, like sci-fi. And just to remind everyone they were at a Zoo, at one point I spied an elephant enjoying a bale of hay suspended from a rope (the hay, not the elephant), and a humongous turtle in its pen keeping warm under a heat lamp.
Back To The 60’s
My favorite pumpkin time period was the 1960’s. Gerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan’s faces were all expertly pumpkin-fied.
“Everywhere I turned I was surrounded by pumpkins…big ones, little ones, pumpkins to the left of me, pumpkins to the right, even pumpkins hanging from the trees!”
Making my way further down the path, there was a tastefully carved Prince pumpkin. I took a picture of it but it was one of several that inexplicably turned into a solid green block. So much for state-of-the-art smartphone camera technology. I was surprised Passion for Pumpkins did not use a purple-colored Sharpie instead of black for this carving, but as with a purple light, perhaps colored Sharpies do not translate well on lighted pumpkins.
Not every pumpkin was stuck in the past. As I neared the end of the trail, there were a gaggle of pumpkins featuring Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and others, though no Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, or Justin Bieber. I would have found a Miley Cyrus pumpkin very interesting. They would have to expose a lot of flesh for that one. Pumpkin flesh.
The biggest omission in my opinion…Elvis was not in the building…no Elvis pumpkin anywhere I could see, unless it was in the back enjoying a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. I realize every music legend could not be represented, and I am not a big Elvis fan, but a music theme is just not complete without The King. Sorry, Mama.
I must say, I thought the final pumpkin on display was a curious choice…an Apple on a pumpkin. Steve Jobs was not a music legend, but I guess since he pioneered digital music downloads and developed the most popular portable music player in the world, it was appropriate.
Was it worth taking my life into my own hands to make the round trip night time drive? You betcha! It was wicked good as we say here in MA. It was amazing to see so many illuminated pumpkins and such intricate carvings. I have a hard enough time just cutting two eyes, a nose, and a mouth on my pumpkin. If you are in the area, the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular is a must-see. Just watch out for those pesky speed bumps.
The Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, R.I. runs through 10/31 rain or (moon) shine. Similar events are being held at Iroquois Park in Kentucky and the Minnesota Zoo.
Trivia: According to syfy.com, dressing up in Halloween costumes dates back 2,000 years.“Marking the start of winter, the traditional British and Irish Celtic calendar began on November 1, so the pagan festival of Samhain was celebrated on October 31, marking the time in which the barrier between living and dead is at its weakest. The souls of the dead, spirits, and fairies can walk among the living causing all kinds of mischief and danger. Costumes were worn to disguise and protect from those spirits wishing to do harm.A custom of dressing up (known as ‘guising) and going from house to house performing short scenes in exchange for food or drink was part of the festivities. This harvest collection was seen as an offering to the souls wandering the land, which would then translate into good fortune. If a person could impersonate a supernatural being, it would ensure they could not be seen by the spirits…”
You can see more of my pumpkin pictures on my newly minted Recommended Stations Instagram page.
Halloween Internet Radio
My annual Halloween post would not be complete without a few select Halloween Internet radio station and album suggestions to get you in the “spirit” of the season.
HHRN (HorrowAndHalloweenRadio), USA (128 kbps/MP3)
This station plays Halloween music, scary old time radio dramas, and non-Halloween songs with Halloween-related titles. They also slip in fun, vintage B movie trailer clips now and again. Their logo looks suspiciously like the pumpkin mask in the horror film Halloween III.
Playing New Age and meditative music and ambient sounds, this station is only for good witches. As the station’s description says, “Let yourself be enchanted by the world of Witch Music- Music for Witches. Witches Radio is a digital radio station that invites you to open the doors to a unique musical experience indeed.” Personally, I love the station IDs spoken by a woman in French. She sounds like a Witch I would like to meet.
This station’s format changes based on the current holiday. Interesting. But that is not the half of it. It plays only Disney Halloween music. I did not know there was such a thing but apparently there is. Examples? Out There from TheHunchback of Notre Dame, Witch Doctor by The Chipmunks, Grim Grinning Ghosts by Barenaked Ladies, the theme from the film Halloween (not sure what that has to do with Disney), The Nightmare Before Christmas (Main Title), and the 23 minute commentary and scary sound effects from Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride. Since it is Disney, it makes sense that Sorcerer Radio streams out of Orlando, Florida.
This is another Internet station that morphs to fit the holiday at hand. “Doomed” has been away for a year, but now it is back again for Halloween. It is currently streaming “Dark industrial/ambient music for tortured souls”, according to SomaFM’s website. I did not understand a single thing I heard when I tuned in. In mid-November the station changes to “Department Store Christmas”, which sounds even more horrific.
Before I leave you, here are five Halloween album suggestions:
Real Gone Music
My good friends Gordon and Gabby over at Real Gone have rolled out numerous Halloween soundtracks on fun colored vinyl just in time for Halloween. Some of these include Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Mad Doctor of Blood Island, Demon Knight, Groovie Goolies, and The Munsters (which actually is not The Munsters singing). I’m including links at the end of this article for the titles in my list.
Trivia:The Wrecking Crew, a group of Los Angeles session musicians, performed the songs on The Munsters LP in 1964. The largely unknown group had been used by Producer Phil Spector and they backed artists like Sonny & Cher, the Mamas and the Papas, and Frank Sinatra. They also played the instruments on the first two Monkees records.
2. Munster, Go Home Soundtrack, La-La Land Records, LLLC1539
You have heard of Rom-Coms. I would call The Munsters TV show a Monster-Com. I used to watch the show when I was a kid and sometimes still tune in on cable channel Cozi TV. I had hoped there would have been a special reunion episode with the original cast and Fred Gwynne before he died, but that was not to be. Gwynne played the loveable Herman Munster on the black and white TV series.
The Creators of Leave It to Beaver came up with the idea of an all-American monster family. After airing for two years on CBS, the series was cancelled due to falling ratings (likely due to ABC TV’s Batman). The studio was keen on milking the characters and cultivating a new overseas audience, so Munster, Go Home was developed. It featured the original TV cast sans Pat Priest (“Marilyn”) who was replaced by Debbie Watson. The film presented the cast in glorious Technicolor for the first time and with no laugh track.
Perhaps the most memorable scenes in the film involved a drag race with Herman Munster driving the DRAGULA, a custom dragster built with a real coffin, Ford Mustang V-8 motor, and two four-barrel carburetors.
This previously unreleased CD soundtrack from 2020 includes the film score by Jack Marshall who also scored the music for the TV series. Marshall was a professional guitarist and former Capitol Records Producer. Unlike the TV show, for the big screen soundtrack, Marshall used an orchestra and recorded the music in two channel stereo. With 20 tracks plus 3 bonus tracks, the CD clocks in at nearly an hour, and the sound quality from this 1966 recording is excellent thanks to the high-resolution transfer. The CD comes with an extensive 23-page booklet, but a magnifying glass should have also been included to read the small type.
Surprisingly, Marshall did not perform the original TV theme music for the soundtrack. There are variations on the theme throughout all of the music, but the closest we get to the actual theme is the track Meet The Munsters, which is a slow version of the theme performed on a harpsicord.
This title is limited to 3,000 pressings so get yours before they disappear like a ghost on Halloween.
Trivia:Musician, Movie Director, and major Munster’s fan, Rob Zombie, is currently directing a Munsters movie in Budapest. No formal release date has been set.
3. Various artists: 18 Classic Blues Songs, Volume 6, Nightmare, Blues Images BIM-106
This CD is a collection of rare vintage blues songs mostly from the 1920s taken from their original 78 RPM records. Three songs have a Halloween theme…Nightmare, Graveyard Dream Blues, and Death May Be Your Christmas Present.
The real reason to get this collection is because it includes Alcohol and Jake Blues by Tommy Johnson which is so rare it is scary. John Tefteller bought the Paramount record on eBay for $37,100 in 2013. There are only two known copies in existence and Tefteller owns the other one. He started Blues Images and sells calendars that feature rare blues-related photographs that come with a different blues CD every year, but you can buy just the CDs if you do not need the calendar.
Trivia:According to his brother, Tommy Johnson claimed to have sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroads in exchange for being able to master the guitar.
4. Buck Owens and The Buckaroos, It’s A Monster’s Holiday, Sundazed
Buck Owens was a country music singer and guitarist, but I will always remember him as the co-host of the long running Hee Haw TV show.
Owens never recorded a Halloween album, though he did record a Halloween song. It’s A Monster’s Holiday LP was released in 1974 and is the only track on the record with a Halloween theme. The novelty song became a country music hit and the entire album was recently reissued (the first-ever reissue of this title) by Sundazed on “ghastly green” vinyl. Monster Mash it is not, but the song is still fun: “Frankenstein was the first in line / And the Wolfman came up next / Dracula was a doing his stuff / Breathing down my neck / Jump back, make tracks, here comes the Hunchback / Better get out of his way / Fee fee fi fi fo fo fum / It was a Monster’s Holiday.” Great stuff.
Trivia:It’s A Monster’s Holiday LP made the top 10 country chart in 1974 and the single peaked at #6.
5. Young Frankenstein, Original London Cast Recording, Notefornote Entertainment
I have seen Young Frankenstein more times than I can count, and I also saw the Broadway production. It was not as enjoyable as the film, but it was still fun. The original London cast recording was released a few months ago and the film soundtrack can still be had as well.
Trivia:For the Young Frankenstein film, Director Mel Brooks tracked down the electrical equipment used in the original Frankenstein movie of 1931 and rented it for use in Young Frankenstein in 1974.
6. Halloween Kills Soundtrack, Sacred Bones Records
Just released in time for the season is the soundtrack to the new film Halloween Kills, a sequel to last year’s excellent Halloween. Sacred Bones’ limited edition versions on molten and flame flicker colored vinyl as well as their “art edition” quickly sold out. However, the orange and “charred pumpkin” colored vinyl pressings can still be had. They also offer the soundtrack on CD and digital download. Why you can even buy it on cassette tape, just like Michael Myers used to listen to on his boombox.
6. William Shatner: I Put A Spell On You, Cleopatra Records
I love Bill Shatner and I am happy for him that he now has the distinct honor of being the oldest person who has been in space thanks to Blue Origin. I was thrilled to meet him in person a few years ago at a R.I. ComicCon. He autographed a photo to me, signing it “Get a life.” No, I was not dressed in a Star Trek uniform.
Blues is Captain Kirk’s most recent recorded offering recorded in 2020. It is not a Halloween album, but Shatner does a hilarious version of I Put A Spell On You worthy of inclusion on Rhino Records’ Golden Throat series.
Trivia:Shatner’s first record album was The Transformed Man released in 1968while he was still starring the Star Trek TV series. It has gone on to become a cult classic.
And on that note, have a safe and fun Halloween.
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I recently purchased Welcome 2 America, a full-length album of previously unreleased music issued by Prince’s estate. That, along with a 60 Minutes segment on Prince, and this month marking the 5th Anniversary of Paisley Park opening to the public, inspired me to fly out to Minneapolis to check out some Prince landmarks and tour Prince’s Paisley Park home and recording studios. Before I get to that, here is my personal take on Prince’s new album.
Prince could be a strange guy, and that sometimes revealed itself in his music. Yet the material on Welcome 2 America is more approachable than much of his previous work and it seemed like Prince knew it. According to a July 27 interview broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition, in 2010 Prince played this music on a CD-R for his friend and keyboardist, Morris Hayes, while they were sitting together in Prince’s car at Paisley Park. Prince was very proud of the music and asked Hayes to co-Produce the new album. An album photo shoot was eventually done. He even embarked on a tour he called “Welcome 2 America”. So, it is puzzling why he later relegated these recordings to his vault. Like I said, Prince could be a strange guy.
Though the music on Welcome 2 America might be more accessible, it is a heavy album. Judging from the picture on the album cover, Prince meant business. The 12 tracks deal with racism, politics, religion, sex, and capitalism. Heavy stuff. Even though the songs were written eleven years ago, his words are just as relevant today. Take the lyrics from the title track for example: “Distracted by the iPhone/ Got an application, to fix your situation”….and…”Welcome To America / Where everything and nothing that Google says is hip.”
Prince apparently still harbored a great deal of resentment toward the record industry as evidenced in Running Game: “How much do you want for that real dope beat? / Another A&R man lyin’ through their teeth”…”There goes the publicity / You’re back on the street.”
“Judging from the picture on the album cover, Prince meant business.”
Racism gets equal time as well. Bear in mind, Prince composed these songs when Barack Obama was in The White House, but the messages still resonate. On One Day We’ll All Be Free he sings:“Kneeling down beside your bed / Praying for a sign / And everything your mother said / Was just a waste of time.”
Even religion does not escape comment. In 1000 Light Years From Now, Prince, who was a Jehovah’s Witness, sings,“Why would God make Heaven so far way? / With a whole world of His children / Cryin’ to Him every day.”
Aged 52 at the time he recorded Welcome 2 America, Prince also exposes his kinky side to us in When She Comes: “When she comes / She never, ever / Holds her sighs…Some people might think it’s rude / But she’s more comfortable in the nude.”
Yet all of this heavy commentary is beautifully wrapped in funk, R&B, and pop music that is so fresh and enjoyable, it goes down like a spoon full of purple-colored natural sweetener.
It’s All About Balance
Not to leave you with the wrong impression, Welcome 2 America is not all heavy. The heaviness gets balanced out with some easy-breezy tunes like Hot Summer which sounds like it could have the makings of a hit single. Stand Up & Be Strong is Dr. Prince lifting you up on a bad day…”In the times of unrest / And you’re all depressed / If your life’s a mess / Remember you’re blessed.”The song features great keyboard and guitar work by Prince. YES is another fun track that would have been a perfect song to perform during a Super Bowl halftime show or a live concert: “We got the keys we gonna give ‘em to you / Only if you’re ready for your dreams to come true / Oh yes!”
On the majority of the tracks, Tal Wilkenfeld played bass guitar, Chris Coleman played drums, and Morris Hayes played keyboards, but Prince was clearly the leader. The guitar might have been his first love, but Prince was musically promiscuous. As well as lead vocal and guitar, he played drums, synth bass, keyboard, piano, percussion, and the drum machine. He also composed, arranged, and produced or co-produced most of the songs.
Sorry, You Didn’t Get Your Bonus
I was really hoping to hear a little chatter at the start or end of some of the songs to get a glimpse of what Prince was like in the studio, but no such luck. He was a very private person so perhaps he did not want private Paisley Park studio talk to leave the studio…What happened in Paisley Park stayed in Paisley Park.
Likewise, a bonus track or two, like the B Side live version of Welcome 2 America from the 7” single, would have been nice. Or better yet, a cut from the CD-R Hayes heard in Prince’s car. Again, no such luck here. I suppose we have been spoiled by CD bonus tracks. We have come to expect them as standard, so not getting even one is a bit of a disappointment, especially with the price of CDs and vinyl (Welcome 2 America is available in both formats for your listening enjoyment).
Toward the end of my Paisley Park tour, which I shall write about in Visiting A Prince: Part 2 next month, I told my guide I had purchased the Welcome 2 America CD. He asked me what I thought of it. I said it was not what I expected. He replied, “That’s Prince.”
“The guitar might have been his first love, but Prince was musically promiscuous.”
Welcome 2 America peaked at #4 on Billboard’s 200 chart and #1 on Billboard’s R&B Album chart. According to Billboard.com, Prince joins about a dozen other acts to have 20 albums in the top 10. Moreover, he is just the sixth artist to have top 10 albums in each of the last five decades.
Was Welcome 2 America worth waiting 10 years for? To quote from one of the songs on the album, YES. Whether you are a purple dyed in the wool Prince fan or not, you should hear this record. Listening to it, I cannot help but wonder what other unreleased gems are gathering purple dust deep inside Prince’s private vault, and what else he might have given us if he were still here. Thanks to Welcome 2 America, he still is.
Trivia:Eric Clapton reportedly cited Prince as one the world’s greatest guitar players. Clapton covered Prince’s hit Purple Rain live in 2019.
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Want free Prince music on your Internet radio? Try tuning these purple stations:
Inspired by a 60 Minutes segment about Prince, his new posthumous CD, and the fifth Anniversary of Paisley Park opening to the public, I took a purple pilgrimage to Minneapolis and to Paisley Park.
I arrived in Minneapolis a day before my Paisley Park tour in order to independently explore several places from Prince’s past. An abundance of bright sunshine, a healthy breeze, and comfortable temperatures would be my welcomed companions for my day-long excursion. I narrowed my list to six purple places. There were more, but my time was limited, so I excluded landmarks that were renamed or no longer existed, like Prince’s childhood home (a house built in 1995 stands there now), and Sound 80 where Prince made his first recordings, which is now home to a research lab, the building of which is almost entirely obscured by ivy.
1. The Purple Rain House, Minneapolis
The top spot on my list was the house featured in Prince’s film, Purple Rain. The house was used for the exterior shots only. The interior scenes were filmed inside a warehouse. Prince quietly bought the house in 2015, eight months before he died. It is not known what his intentions were for the house which was quite run down inside at the time. I read Prince paid about $117,000 for the single- family property.
Surprisingly, there were no signs or markers identifying the house, and as my confused Uber driver discovered, it was not the easiest house to find. I read conflicting reports about whether the house was occupied or not. Some stories claimed no one had lived there since Prince bought it, while other reports said a family resided there and fans should be respectful when visiting the property. When I was there, I noticed a red plastic bag hanging from a door knob holding what appeared to be a newspaper. The front entrance wood railing looked like it had been recently constructed. One thing was clear to me…whether anyone lived there or not, somebody was keeping up the property’s exterior and grounds.
At some point the house was modified since the 1984 film. The front door was now on the left side (though the front concrete steps are still there), and the large front bay window was replaced with 4 single hung windows. Regardless, it will forever be “The Kid’s” house.
During my visit I noticed a plain metal mailbox anchored to the wooden stair railing. With nothing to lose except two 0.58 cent first class stamps, I snail-mailed a letter to the “Current Resident” asking the recipient to please confirm someone indeed resided at the property. I included a self-addressed stamp envelope in hopes of encouraging a response. I never received one, so the mystery endures.
Trivia:The filmPurple Rain won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and has grossed over $72 million in sales worldwide. In 2019, the film was preserved after being added to the Library of Congress’ National Film registry.
2. First Avenue Dance Club, Minneapolis
The next stop on my list was First Avenue, the iconic dance club that opened in 1970. Prince performed live at First Avenue at least nine times during his career and the club was featured prominently in Purple Rain. Most of the movie’s music scenes were shot here using the actual staff as extras.
This former Greyhound Bus depot did not need Purple Rain’s help to become famous. The exterior is adorned with the names of musicians and groups that played at First Avenue over the decades, each framed in their own individual silver star. You will no doubt recognize some of the names: U2, R.E.M., Foo Fighters, Aerosmith, B.B. King, Nirvana, John Lee Hooker, Frank Zappa, Pearl Jam, Iggy Pop, Cheap Trick, 10,000 Maniacs, Duran Duran, King Crimson, and Gil Scott Heron. I could go on but we would be here all day.
Trivia:According to Wikipedia, First Avenue was paid $100,00for the use of its facility during filming and had to close for 25 days.
3. Schmitt Music Mural (“The Music Wall”), Minneapolis
Though I knew this mural still existed, I was not sure if the parking lot in front of it did and whether I would be able to get a decent picture of the mural. I had read reports that the parking lot had been sold and a building was to be constructed there which would effectively obscure the mural. When I arrived, I do not think I had ever been happier to see a parking lot.
The five-story mural was painted in the 1970s when the building was the headquarters for the Schmitt Music Company. In preparation, they had to brick up 32 windows in the wall. Though the building has changed hands over the years, none of the owner’s dared paint over the landmark.
What is depicted is not just random notes on a wall. Maurice Ravel’s 1908 Gaspard de la Nuit was selected as the subject because of its dramatic visual impact. The section used was taken from the third movement called “Scarbo”. Apparently, this is also a notoriously difficult work for a pianist to perform.
Prince’s first professional black and white photography session happened in front of this mural in 1977. Thus, my selfie is in black and white.
Trivia:The music mural project originally cost about $17,000. According to dollartimes.com, that translates to $76,083 in today’s money. That’s a lot of money for a mural.
4. The Electric Fetus, Minneapolis
This has to be the craziest name for a business I have heard of. Perhaps you can tell by the name that this record store opened back in 1968. Prince was a long-time customer, buying records and CDs here. With a reported 50,000 titles in stock, he certainly had a lot to choose from. I believe this is the largest independently-owned record store I have been in, and I have been in a lot of record stores.
I reached out to the store to ask if an employee would be willing to share any memories of a Prince visit but was told Prince had requested privacy during his visits and the staff continue to respect his wishes. In short, no comment.
The Electric Fetus sells new and used records, CDs, DVDs, and even cassette tapes, along with a plethora of items to help you settle into the music vibe…incense, candles, t-shirts, posters, desk top amplified speakers, record accessories, and a lot more. I was tempted to spend more time there but I still had a couple of other places to get to before I lost the daylight.
Trivia:According to Wikipedia, five days before he died, Prince purchased music at The Electric Fetus.
5. The Capri Theater, North Minneapolis
In early 1979, Prince performed his first-ever live solo shows here to promote his first record, For You, released the previous year. Prince was just 20 years old. The tickets cost $4 each ($4.75 at the door) and all the proceeds benefited the Theater. Not long after Prince’s gigs, the Plymouth Christian Youth Center took over ownership and they remain the owners to this day.
The Capri originally opened in 1927 as a movie theater. In 2018 the Theater embarked on a $12.5 million renovation. The project included a 20,000 square foot addition seating up to 125 people. The Capri’s Grand Opening was the week of October 3rd. Architecturally speaking, the new addition, which has a basket weave-like design, looks like it would be much more at home in Prince’s Paisley Park then tacked on to the side of the brick Capri building.
Trivia: According to Princevault.com, the setlist for Prince’s Capri performances included For You, Soft and Wet, So Blue, and Just as Long as We’re Together.
6. Chanhassen Movie Theater Mural, Chanhassen
Shading things often happen behind movie theaters, but not this one. The Chanhassen Movie Theater, which is only a few minutes from Paisley Park, does not have any direct connection with Prince. Yet it was well worth a visit to view the stunning 20-foot mural painted on the Theater’s backside, complete with rain and white doves. New Zealand’s self-taught, world-renowned muralist, “Mr. G.” (Graham Hoete), painted it in 2016 using only spray paint.
I connected with Mr. G. via email and asked him what inspired him to create this Prince mural. “I was living in Sydney, Australia at the time when I heard of Prince’s passing. I then painted a tribute portrait of him in Sydney. I was then flooded with requests to go to his home town in Chanhassen and paint a mural of him. Nobody commissioned me. I went because I am a huge lover of his music. Was given permission to paint on the cinema’s [wall] and that’s how it came about. I used about 50 cans of paint to paint this.”
Trivia:Prince’s family was so moved by this mural they personally invited Mr. G. to Prince’s private memorial service in 2016.
I toured Paisley Park and intended on writing an article about it but pictures were not allowed until the very end (they search your bags and lock up your phone before entering). Not having pictures makes for a pretty dry article. Also, the tour lasted just over 3 hours. That would make for a very long article. I expect I will post a Reader’s Digest version at some point, so keep an eye on the blog.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please help support my blog by contributing $1 to my Patreon campaign. Every Patreon supporter gets access to my monthly Recommended and Hitchhiker Stations plus exclusive blog content.
Last month I held my first annual Recommended Station of The Year Contest and I asked RecommendedStations.com readers to vote for their favorite Internet radio station based on the stations I have recommended to date. The more than 400 responses I received far exceeded my expectations considering my website was brand new.
Voters did not have it easy. There were dozens of superb Recommended Stations on the ballot, but there can only be one winner. Congratulations to Classic KABL Radio, The 2021 Recommended Station of The Year, as voted by its listeners worldwide. Having amassed 69.93% of the vote, the overwhelming support KABL received from its loyal listeners is, like its programming, truly impressive. If you want to find out more about this great station, read last month’s Recommended Stations blog article that includes KABL.
On winning the award, Tony Onorad, Program Director of KABL radio said, “KABL is honored and extremely grateful to receive this listener-based 2021 Recommended Station of the Year award! Dedicated to streaming America’s Best Music, KABL breathes San Francisco’s rich and colorful history in the air – everywhere! We congratulate our award-winning mentor and announcer, Professor Bill Moen; Sunday host Trish Bell; and streaming founder David Jackson. Thank you for this most high honor!”
Former KABL personality Bill Moen wrote me to express his thanks “for recognizing that Radio does, still, have an audience. Of course, to David Ferrell Jackson for putting KABL on the Internet, years ago, to Tony Onorad and his crew for reviving it this past summer and programming it so superbly but, most of all, to those who have listened for the past SIXTY years and to those newcomers, around the world. And, finally, to the inspiration and reason for it ALL. . .San Francisco, the only American city that can be compared to Paris, not in its history or its size but in that indefinable thing that can take your breath away. . .charm.”
Support Your Station
Thank you very much to everyone who voted. Regardless of whether you voted for KABL or not, please consider making a donation to your favorite listener-supported Internet radio station to help them continue streaming the great programming that made them a Recommended Station to start with.
As you may know, when I select a station to be a Recommended Station, I do not do so at random. I do a lot of searching and listening, trying to find a station that stands out and has an interesting backstory. Being named a Recommended Station is a great achievement in itself. All of the stations included on the ballot are superb stations worthy of an audition.
I also want to take this opportunity to give a shout out to those of you who signed up as a monthly Recommended Station Patreon supporter in advance of the first Recommended and Hitchhiker Stations. Thank you so much for your invaluable support and for sharing my enthusiasm for Internet radio. However, much more support is needed to cover expenses so please consider supporting RecommendedStations.com via Patreon for just $1/month (not $1/day or $1/week) if you have yet to sign up. The money will help keep RecommendedStations.com going. Remember, Patreon will be the only way to access my monthly Recommended Station and Hitchhiker Station (they will not be posted on the free blog). October’s Recommended and Hitchhiker Stations will be posting to my Patreon page in just a few hours from now.
Get On The Email List
If you would like to know when new articles post to the free blog or be advised of notifications like this one, please sign up on my email list on RecommendedStations.com’s home page. I promise not to bombard you with emails and I will not sell or share your email address.
Finally, if you enjoy the content, please pass the word along via social media, etc.
Many of my Recommended Stations readers told me they would rather read one Recommended Station a month than wait six months for five or six Recommended Stations. So, instead of accumulating multiple stations over several months and crafting two Recommended Stations articles per year, I started this website and shall be issuing one Recommended Station per month exclusively to all of my Recommended Stations Supporters on Patreon. This will be the only way to access my Recommended Stations. You can become a supporter via Patreon for just $1/month. For more, click the link embedded in the paragraph below the voting ballot.
The following is my final multi-Recommended Stations blog article before my monthly recommendation starts in October. These five Internet radio stations (and two Hitchhiker Stations!) will serve as a free introduction of what to expect each month as a Patreon Supporter, though as explained, I will be recommending one station every month.
I deployed my Internet radio divining rod and uncovered a constellation of Recommended Stations for you along with a few classic Hitchhiker stations thrown in for good measure. As I am known to do, I have included the history of each as well as illuminating station-related interviews where possible, plus my trademark trivia at the conclusion of each segment.
Please read all the way down to the end because there is an important contest announcement I think you will want to participate in if you enjoy listening to any of these or my past Recommended Stations.
Crooner Radio, California (192 kbps/MP3)
Not to be confused with the array of Crooner Radio Internet stations also sporting a black logo but streaming from Paris, France, and at lower quality, this Crooner Radio was the first and is based in California. It has been streaming golden throats for 14 years, and at 192 kbps, the hi-fi sound is very good. The thousands of songs in the music library are first filtered through a program that improves the sound quality before making it on the air. Windows Media voted it the #1 vocal jazz station on the Internet. Although most popular here in the states, Crooner Radio has listeners in more than 100 countries including the U.K., Canada, France, and Germany. As many as 1,000 listeners tune in each day. You should be one of them. I recommend Crooner Radio without reservation.
Part of what makes a Recommended Station is its backstory, and Crooner radio has a unique one. The station was founded by Morgan Manning with help from singer/pianist Buddy Greco (R.I.P.) along with support from Jack Jones, Jerry Vale, Keely Smith, and other crooners. Some of them provided Manning with exclusive music to air on his station that had never been released before. Yet another reason Crooner Radio is worthy of Recommended Station status.
Frank Was My Friend
Manning has a fascinating history as he explained to me in an email: “I grew up knowing Frank Sinatra, as he heard a tape of me singing in the 80’s and called me and told me that I should pursue a singing career. He also said that when I did my first show that he would come. Over the years I got to know him, and was invited to his many parties here in Palm Springs, and would be on his guest list whenever he performed in Vegas. I have seen him 34 times in concert. Being that I would be invited to the parties, I ended up befriending singers such as Buddy Greco, Jack Jones, Keely Smith (R.I.P) and others. I then ended up being invited to other parties and functions by other crooners and ended up being good friends with them over the years. I brought up the idea of Crooner Radio to them and they loved the idea, and they started providing me with music, including unreleased material.”
“As many as 1,000 listeners tune in each day. You should be one of them. I recommend Crooner Radio without reservation.”
The station more than lives up to its motto, “All Crooners, All The Time!” In addition to Greco, Ella Fitzgerald, Al Martino, Sammy Davis, Jr, Jane Monheit, Frank Sinatra, Margaret Whiting, Dean Martin, Engelbert Humperdinck, Eartha Kitt, Wayne Newton, Lena Horne, Johnny Hartman, and Paul Anka are a sampling of the legends Crooner Radio delivered to my eagerly awaiting ears. The station also features several nifty specialty programs like The Retro Cocktail Hour, Swingin’ Saturdays, The Sounds of Sinatra with Sid Mark, and Sundays with The Rat Pack.
Fool Me Once…
As for that imposter Crooner station in France, Manning told me, “The Crooner Radio in France copied us. We are the original Crooner Radio. We have unfortunately tried to pursue legal action against the France station, however it is hard with them being in France and us being based out of the U.S. We have many people who come to us saying…there is something wrong with the station, only to find that they are [listening to the station] from France and not ours…I have personally spoken with the owner and instead of taking the station down, he asked to join forces. We had declined to do this and are still pursuing avenues to stop their station…we have found out that they have actually recorded some of our music to play on their station. We monitor the Crooner in France and found that the exact music, including the music given to us by the artist directly, was playing on their station as well. The only way that could happen is by recording our songs and replaying them on their station. We also have applied for a copyright, which in time will remove their Facebook and Twitter pages, as these are U.S. based companies, so they have to honor the copyright laws in the U.S. We are commercial free and have no talking. France has commercials and lots of talking.”
There are not many original crooners left…Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett are two big names that immediately come to mind. I have tickets to see Mathis live next year. Years ago I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Bennett live in Boston. Diana Krall opened for him and the two performed a few numbers together. It was magic. Take away one name from the list because just two weeks ago Bennett, aged 95, announced his retirement from performing. Today’s crooning music scene is dominated by the likes of Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr, Jamie Cullum, Michael Feinstein, and Diana Krall. As gifted as they are, there is just no beating the legends. We cannot bring them back, but we can relive their amazing artistry any time we like through Crooner Radio. Just be sure to tune theoriginalstation in California with the big microphone in its logo.
Trivia (from Wikipedia): “Crooner is a term used to describe primarily male singers who performed using a smooth style…It is derived from the old verb “to croon” (meaning “to speak or sing softly”). This suggestion of intimacy was supposedly wildly attractive to women, especially younger ones such as teenage girls, known at the time as “bobby soxers“. The crooning style developed out of singers who performed with big bands, and reached its height in the 1940s and 1950s.”
2. Classic KABL 960 Radio, California (64 kbps/AAC)
Robert P. from Glendale, CA emailed me raving about this station, saying it sprinkled “tidbits of Bay Area nostalgia” in with its wonderful music programming. Today, KABL (named after San Francisco’s iconic cable cars) is a commercial-free Internet-only station, yet it still retains its classic AM radio sound and even plays the original station jingles. KABL describes its format as Big Band-Swing, Jazz, and Vocals. Say no more. They had me after Big Band-Swing. Their website describes it best: “…lush, timeless instrumentals, unforgettable vocalists, swinging Big Bands, sophisticated jazz and countless cool musical surprises that you haven’t heard on the air in years.” Their slogan sums it up perfectly: “Playing America’s Best Music”.
I Left My Heart In….
Given KABL’s history, the station will understandably be forever tied to San Francisco, but that does not alienate us listeners who do not live there. On the contrary. Now that it has joined the ranks of tens of thousands of other free Internet radio stations, KABL can share its classic sound with the world. Thanks to Internet radio, the station truly is “in the air- everywhere.” Note you will find KABL listed as “Classic KABL 960 Radio” even though they no longer broadcast on 960AM.
In The Air Tonight
What is that classic sound? I have heard some of this music referred to as “adult standards”, but the closest format I could ascribe to KABL would be “beautiful music”. Frankly, I hesitate using that label because it implies the audience ranges from 80 years old to dead. I am happy to confirm I am neither. Perhaps specific examples will help…Patsy Cline, Frank Sinatra, Mantovani, Patti Page, The Skyliners, Peter Nero, Keely Smith, Dean Martin, Eartha Kitt, Mel Torme, and even Doc Severinsen. Whomever crafts KABL’s playlist does an excellent job and clearly puts a good deal of thought into it. KABL also brought back the popular Sunday Sounds with Trish Bell that ran on the original AM station for over a dozen years.
In addition to the music, I enjoyed hearing original vintage KABL jingles, promos, history, and contests such as describing your worst nightmare with the winner getting to spend a night in the Chamber of Horrors section of the local wax museum. Being the huge horror movie fan I am, I would have loved that. Then there was KABL’s annual running of the snakes held every St. Patrick’s Day with the winner taking home $1,000 along with his pet snake. That is, until an animal rights group put an end to the huge public attraction in 1987.
Moen- Listen for Life.
Bill Moen, a Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame inductee, started at KABL 960 AM way back in 1960. He recorded little vignettes about all-things San Francisco. Think Paul Harvey but much briefer, only covering subjects about San Francisco, and without the Bose commercials. Eventually, Moen went on to host the very popular morning drive show, “Moen in The Morning”. You will hear Moen’s musings on the current-day KABL.
Donning my detective’s fedora, I tracked down Moen and asked him what made KABL-AM so special. “How to capture KABLs essence is tricky”, Moen wrote me. “San Francisco is a city in love with itself, its history, its cosmopolitan outlook, its culture, its diversity and, of course its beauty. KABL held up the mirror and successfully appealed to its vanity with paeans of flattery, self-congratulations, listenable music, subtle, even zany, humor and the impression that YOU, the listener, were ‘special’…a San Franciscan.”
“Frankly, I hesitate using that label because it implies the audience ranges from 80 years old to dead. I am happy to confirm I am neither.”
Ironically, Moen was an unknown voice on KABL for many years as he explained to me. “The announcers were not allowed to, even, use our names from [KABL’s] inception in 1960 until 1974. Any recognition that I achieved was after the first 14 years of anonymity…”
As for Internet radio and the current KABL, Moen told me: “Internet Radio is great, as I once said, ‘Never did I dream in Fargo, North Dakota, on my first job back in 1954, that someday I would receive a fan letter from Istanbul!’ Moen called Recommended Stations “an idea whose time has come.” “I don’t listen to any other stations”, Moen continued, “and, only, sporadically, to KABL. I am still the voice that they use but I no longer write nor interpret the copy, as my 92 years have taken, as one would expect, their toll…The guys who are carrying the KABL banner now have, certainly, improved on the original, in their Herculean efforts to revive a 62 year old memory.”
I have not been able to quit KABL since saving it as a preset. If its format is indeed beautiful music, then KABL is one of the most beautiful stations on the Internet. I do not think I have heard anything quite like it before, which is precisely the kind of station I love bringing to you in my Recommended Stations.
Trivia:The first cable car went into operation in 1873.Today, only forty cable cars are left in San Francisco, serving 9.7 million people. They are the last manually operated trolleys in the world.
3. TRUSA – Trucker’s Radio USA, Texas (192 kbps/MP3)
I confess I used to be a dedicated viewer of Hee Haw re-runs until Verizon Fios unforgivably removed the RFD-TV Network from its lineup several years ago. Thankfully, Circle TV airs Hee Haw reruns. Admittedly, Hee Haw was not exactly the source for the best in country music, not that I am a country music connoisseur. But it was a fun, wholesome program, and I loved the Hee Haw Honeys. As part of this month’s Tech Rap, I embarked on a search for a fun, wholesome country music Internet station. After all, with 2,200 country music radio stations in the USA, Country is this country’s leading radio format according to statista.com.
What’s Your Genre?
One thing I discovered on my country music station quest: Country music has a slew of sub-genres…Classic Country, Christian Country, Cowpunk, Outlaw Country, Progressive Country, Gothic Country, Country Rock, Canadian Country, Cowboy Country, and even Country Rap if you can believe it. I wanted to find an Internet station that invested heavily in Classic Country but without completely ignoring some of the newer stuff. I found my answer in TRUSA- Truckers Radio USA.
In It for The Long Haul
TRUSA was founded in 2017 by former truck driver and long-time disc jockey (two great tastes that tastes great together) Ron Tyler, with hit country music recording star Rex Allen Jr joining later as a partner (and radio host). Tyler passed away in March of last year but the station keeps on truckin’. Tyler amassed an extensive country music collection and wanted to create a station formatted around the kind of traditional country music he knew truckers wanted to listen to. As TRUSA states on their Facebook page: “The music may be thirty or forty years old; it may have been released recently…but it’s produced in the spirit and style that made country music an indelible part of America’s soul.” TRUSA’s website expounds a little more on this: “Traditional Country – you know, the good stuff from the 1950’s and 60’s on. Traditional country is more than a time period; it’s a style and approach to music that we cherish. We have an incredible collection of the songs that defined country music, and also sprinkle in Western Music (cowboy music), Bluegrass, Americana and Country Gospel…At TRUSA we have a heart for the road and the heritage of country music. Wherever you roam, we hope you’ll take us with you. Enjoy the ride on Truckers Radio USA!”
Country Music for All
Like jazz, country music is a purely American invention, yet TRUSA has heard from truckers tuning in from as far away as the UK, Australia, Germany, and Canada. The fact that this Recommended Station was originally developed just for truck drivers almost landed it a spot in my Hitchhiker Station list. The reality is, Truckers Radio USA is enjoyed by anyone who appreciates traditional country music. Their highlight reel includes such artists as Mel Tillis, Mac Davis, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Waylon Jennings, Charlie Rich, Johnny cash, Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette, Brooks & Dunn, and Roy Clark (speaking of Hee Haw). More contemporary artists on their playlist included Don Henley, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and The Judds.
Country Is Their Specialty
As with any good radio station, TRUSA offers up a goodly number of quality specialty programs including classic episodes of The Grand Ole Opry, Bluegrass from the Rockin’ Banjo Ranch, Western Swing & Other Things, Full Gallop (cowboy music), The Americana Road Show, and two hours of country gospel every Sunday morning. All of TRUSA’s hosts are musical performers and thus lend real authenticity to the programming.
TRUSA is also the only music station to air Land Line Now, an award-winning, hour-long news magazine specifically geared (excuse the pun) for American truckers. As TRUSA says about the program, “think ‘All Things Considered’ for truckers.”
General Manager and station partner Martha Farrell emailed me some great information about TRUSA and answered my questions about the station:
PS: What is it about Truckers Radio USA that your listeners find so appealing?
MF: “Truly great hosts who are interesting people. Music that is hard to find on contemporary radio stations. Our hosted shows premiere new episodes every weekend, and it is a wonderful listen. Some people tune in for the whole day on Saturday. In addition, each host has a fan base. Rex Allen Jr has the largest one; thousands of fans have been following his career for 50 years, and he has been very accessible to them. During the week our playlist is surprising – covering 5 decades of traditional country music, with limited commercials.”
PS: How do truck drivers access the station in their trucks if TRUSA is an Internet-only radio station?
MF: “Today’s trucks are hotspots. Some are equipped with internet radios already, but everyone can plug in their phones and listen…straight from the website.”
PS: TRUSA is more than just a country music Internet station.
MF: “We remember the good old days of local radio and are developing a regional model for it. We’re the media sponsor for the 200th Anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail. This is a 5-year series of events covering 5 states. Michael Martin Murphey is the Honorary Chair. This is a natural partnership for us because today’s truckers still travel the Santa Fe Trail today. We’re running PSA’s and feature a new podcast every week about the history of the Trail and the events that are commemorating it. We’re also getting into sponsoring of live musical events in the Western and Bluegrass genres. We believe in live music and want to get people out to experience it. We hope our spotlight will encourage the growth and professionalism of Western music in particular. Cowboy music, traditional or contemporary, is “comfort music”, and the world needs a lot more of that today.”
PS: Anything else to add, Martha?
MF: “It’s a joy to be in the internet radio business today. I grew up in AM radio of the 1960’s and 1970’s when everything was very hardware based and our reach was small. Now the world is literally our community. Last month I corresponded with a civil engineer in Greece who listens every day. We’re touching lives in ways we’ll never know.”
Flatbedders Do It with Straps and Chains
You do not need to take up big rig driving to listen to Truckers Radio USA, nor must you be a fan of Hee Haw. Thanks to Internet radio, you do not even have to be in the USA. So, put the hammer down and turn the volume up on your music system for Recommended Station, Truckers Radio USA. Keep on truckin’. 10-4, good buddy.
Trivia:According to noregon.com, the average mileage of a semi-truck is 5.89 miles per gallon. Class 8 trucks travel an average of 65,000 miles per year. In 2018, 3.5 million people were employed as truck drivers in the USA.
4. LuxuriaMusic, California (65 kbps/AAC)
Lady luck must have been smiling on me for this one (Lady Luck is about the only lady who will smile at me, and she does not do it very often). I discovered this Recommended Station by chance from a printed advert. Captivated by the ad’s Josh “Shag” Agle retro graphics, I put on my detective’s fedora, transformed into a gumshoe, and began my station investigation in earnest. My neurotransmitters, which went into partial hibernation during COVID, were ill-prepared for the dopamine explosion they were about to experience.
LuxuriaMusic showcases music for cool cats…bosa nova, space age pop, exotica, surf, Latin, go-go, and bachelor pad music. This all generally falls under the “lounge music” umbrella, but I prefer to categorize it as music other stations refuse to play. Listening to The Lettermen cover The Doors’ Hello, I love You and Touch Me, and The Chipmunks’ Herb Alpert parody, Sorry about That, Herb, was a delight.
My Kind of Scene
But I do not want to give you the wrong impression. Luxuriamusic is not married to musical oddities. This far out station plays plenty of outstanding mainstream songs by such musical squares as Nelson Riddle, Al Cohn, Maynard Ferguson, Les Baxter, Dusty Springfield, Henry Mancini, Eydie Gorme, Esquivel, Lalo Schifrin, The Jackie Gleason Orchestra, and Percy Faith. LuxuriaMusic is your one-way ticket to loungeville, with pleasant layovers along the way. My ears never knew what was around the next musical corner, like when they were caressed with Gil Scott-Heron’s Lady Day and John Coltrane. Solid, baby.
Though they have Les Baxter and Martin Denny on speed dial, Luxuriamusic is not a one trick pony. You will hear a smattering of newer retro groups too, like Combustible Edison, Stolen Idols, Senor Coconut, and Nutty. If this is lounge music, then lounge me up.
Pick A Show, Any Show
LuxuriaMusic’s staff includes over thirty talented hosts, more than any radio station I ever worked for. Most of them host one of a plethora of live specialty programs like Thrifting for Tunes (exotica), The Beyond-O-Phonic Action Hour, Fiberglass Jungle (surf music), Paisley Underground Consortium (psychedelic), Easitaly (easy listening Italiano style), and Saturday Night Special which features a different host and different genre every Saturday night. The station is quite proud of their (unpaid) hosts and their intimate association with their music. One of them even started their own record label.
“My neurotransmitters, which went into partial hibernation during COVID, were ill-prepared for the dopamine explosion they were about to experience.”
Mixed in with this mosaic of magnificent musical madness are vintage commercials and sound bites from vintage TV shows, movies, and cartoons, but not to the extent where they become annoying. The only thing missing is the occasional sound effect of a cocktail shaker and two martini glasses clinking. Actually, there is one other important element missing…commercials (thankfully).
I fired off an email to the station with questions, unsure who would get it. A couple of weeks passed with no response and I thought I had been ignored. Then I received a call from LuxuriaMusic’s Program Director, Kat “Den Mother” Griffin. As it turns out, Griffin grew up in Stoughton, MA. Although she moved to California when she was in high school, she still has family ties in MA.
Snobs Need Not Apply
Luxuriamusic has an interesting history as Griffin relayed to me. The station originally started streaming in 2000, was sold and went dark, and was resuscitated by current owner Cliff Chase in 2005. Griffin signed on as Program Director and also carried over her show “Madly Cocktail” from another radio station. She told me she cannot take credit for the station’s format, which was designed to celebrate the artistry and musicianship of this type of music. However, she said she did work hard at purging the station of its “snobbish” reputation, as they want as many listeners as possible to appreciate the playlist.
Make The Connection
Besides the music, the other big factor that makes LuxuriaMusic a Recommended Station is its connection with its listeners. They want listeners to feel as if they are a part of the station. Griffin told me the listeners are just as important as any other aspect of the station. For example, she personally airs thank you messages by name to listeners who support the station. They even have a chat room where listeners can chat live with the DJs. You would do well to get to know this station that gets to know you.
25,000 Songs Can’t Be Wrong
As far as the music is concerned, Luxuriamusic has somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 songs in their data base, many of which have been transferred from the original vinyl records. Though the emphasis is on music from the 1950s-60s, on rare occasions you will hear some tunes from the 1930s. Swing it! Plus, they stream in the AAC codec so you know the music will sound good. In short, LuxuriaMusic provides a smooth, satisfying listen without any bitter aftertaste. This is my kind of bag, baby.
Like a big, lumbering, tail finned Cadillac from the 1950s, LuxuriaMusic was built for comfort not speed. It is a gas, man. I mean, it really razzed my berries. The sounds are so out of this world they will send you straight into orbit. You dig, Daddy-O?
Trivia: According to allmusic.com, lounge music is “a strain of easy listening music from the ’50s and ’60s that was based on the lush styles of latter-day swing and big band music. Lounge scaled these back, borrowing ideas from the worldbeat exploration of exotica, as well as the futuristic aspirations of space age pop. Lounge wasn’t as adventurous as either form, yet it wasn’t as watered down as Muzak — instead, it occupied the middle ground, appealing to fans of traditional pop as well as space-age pop.”
5. Brazilian Birds, Switzerland (320 kbps/MP3)
Given the rapid deforestation of the Amazon rain forest, who knows how much longer we will be able to hear the mesmerizing music of the more than 1,300 birds that make their home in the treetops. Some of these species include the Toucan, Hummingbird, Macaw, Parrot, and Harpy Eagle. Nature provides these beautiful birds with a free buffet of insects, nuts, fruit, and leaves, but illegal logging to create space for cattle ranching is robbing these feathered creatures of their natural habitat. Forty flying species are endangered and 150 more are at risk for extinction.
It’s For the Birds
Internet station Brazilian Birds maintains its server in Switzerland, but its bird calls are 100% from the Amazon rain forest. Although the rain forest spans across nine different South American countries, its largest footprint is in Brazil, so it follows these bird calls originated in Brazil. Streaming in very high quality at 320 kbps, you will think your music system has turned into a massive birdhouse.
Can You Solve the Mystery?
There is one mystery I was unable to solve despite wearing my detective’s fedora. The station’s meta data shows a Roman numeral at the end of the description. At first, I thought the number corresponded to one of the four layers of the Amazon rain forest (Emergent, Canopy, Understory, and Forest Floor), where the recording took place, which would be very cool, but this cannot the case since the numbers go past IV. I am not sure what the numbers represent. Perhaps I am over-thinking this and they simply indicate the recording number.
“Streaming in very high quality at 320 kbps, you will think your music system has turned into a massive birdhouse. “
Who knows how long the Amazon rain forest will be with us. Thanks to this Recommended Station, many of the sounds will be with us whenever we like. Brazilian Birds will serve to re-calibrate your usual music routine. If you use your music system as an alarm clock, set a preset to this station and gently wake each morning to authentic birdsong direct from the Amazon rain forest. Sweet. Or perhaps I should say “tweet”.
Trivia (from rainforestcruises.com): “You will most likely hear a macaw before you see it. These birds are highly intelligent and gregarious creatures that congregate in flocks of anywhere between 30 and 100 individuals. Their loud calls, squawks and other distinctive vocalizations can be heard reverberating throughout the jungle, especially in the early morning.”
Searching Internet radio is like picking up hitchhikers on the highway. You never know what you are going to hear when you play a station for the first time. When I discover a quirky Internet station I call it a Hitchhiker Station. Here are two more gems for your amusement (or amazement). Welcome to the world of Internet radio.
Wave Farm -Weather Warlock Quintronics, NY (96 kbps/MP3)
I have run across some bizarre Internet stations in my unending quest for Hitchhiker Stations, but Wave Farm- Weather Warlock ranks right up there with the strangest of them, as does its backstory. Wave Farm is a non-profit organization dedicated to experimentation with airwaves and broadcast media and has been around for more than twenty years. Wave Farm does a lot of things, but in this particular case, it hosts outdoor weather sensors on its 29-acer property that are calibrated to the climate of New York’s Upper Hudson Valley. The outdoor sensors measure what outdoor sensors are made to measure- sunlight, wind, precipitation, and temperature. Makes sense. Now here comes the strange part. These sensors are connected to a large, custom-built analog synthesizer called the Weather Warlock. The Weather Warlock converts the weather data into audio and streams it live over this Internet station. The more complicated the weather, the more complex the sound output. According to Galen Joseph-Hunter, Executive Director of Wave Farm, the Weather Warlock is most active at sunrise and sunset. Tune this Hitchhiker Station and you will essentially be hearing the weather in real time, and I do not mean a forecast read by a meteorologist.
The Spit Machine
If you think that is strange, hold on to your umbrella. The Weather Warlock was invented by Quintron in 2014 and was made possible in part by support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
What or whom is Quintron? I was afraid you would ask me that. Quintron is a New Orleans-based, one-man band, organ player, music club proprietor, and inventor with several patents to his name. One of his inventions is the Spit Machine which uses human saliva as a tuning conductor. Pause for laughter. I could not make this stuff up if I wanted to. But wait, it gets better. Quintron and his wife, “Miss Pussycat”, who sings backup vocals, plays the maracas, and puts on puppet shows, describe their music as “barely controlled electronic chaos, ‘Swamp-Tech’ dance beats, small explosions, incredible clothes, and entertaining puppet stories.” Jane, stop this crazy thing. Quintron has performed with other musicians (Sean Ono Lennon, Aaron Hill, and some members of the Sun Ra Arkestra) accompanied by a Weather Warlock as an instrument. Quintron will be an artist in residence at the Wave Farm next month working on a new project. Thank you, sir, may I have another?
Trivia (from Wikipedia):“Quintron utilizes a custom-made Hammond organ/Fender Rhodes synthesizer combo which he has had outfitted to resemble the body of a car, complete with working headlights and a Louisiana license plate which reads ‘Quintron’. Quintron is often accompanied by The Drum Buddy, a rotating, light-activated analog synthesizer, one of many which he has created and manufactured himself.”
2. KGRA Digital Broadcasting, Oregon (128 kbps/MP3)
As I am sure you were aware, July 2nd was World UFO Day, but sixty years ago this month, Betty and Barney Hill were the first Americans widely publicized to have been abducted by aliens in a rural part of New Hampshire. The interracial couple were returning from a belated honeymoon at Niagara Falls. At some point as they tried to escape the large, cigar-shaped craft in their 1957 Chevy Bel Air, the flying object hovered directly over their vehicle. They then heard odd beeping sounds emanating from the trunk. That is the last thing they remembered. The following day, they realized both their watches had stopped, Mr. Hill’s shoes were all scuffed up, and Mrs. Hill’s dress was torn and coated in some kind of pink dust. Mrs. Hill reported the incident to Pease Air Force Base which later issued a report characterizing their encounter as an “optical condition”.
The couple were unable to recall their actual two-hour abduction, so a few years later they separately underwent hypnosis. The hypnotist concluded Mrs. Hill’s story was likely the result of dreams and her husband’s story was possibly a fantasy inspired by his wife’s dreams. The couple steadfastly maintained their account and never sought attention to their story. In 1966, author John G. Fuller wrote a best-selling book, The Interrupted Journey, about the Hill’s ordeal. Mr. Hill died at the age of 49 in 1969 while his wife died in 2004 at age 84.
In the immortal words of Mr. Spock- fascinating. If this kind of thing intrigues you, I am here to tell you there is a Hitchhiker Station for that. The station succinctly describes itself as “The best in UFO, paranormal, and alternative talk radio.” KGRA devotes numerous shows to these and other related topics.
You Bet Your Asteroid
At the time I tuned in to KGRA, the hosts were gushing over the upcoming Annual Pine Bush UFO Fair in Pine Bush, N.Y. Besides the obligatory speaker conference, food, and vendor novelties on offer, the Fair also features a Best in Galaxy- Alien Beauty Pageant (first prize: $500), the Area 52 Paranormal Space Prom (“Break out your space ruffles because we need this tacky prom in our lives!”), and the interactive “You Bet Your Asteroid” game show.
I am not a UFO enthusiast, but the UFO Fair sounds out of this world, and so does KGRA, just like a Hitchhiker Station should.
Trivia:The term “Flying saucer” was coined by the press after private pilot Kenneth Arnold described observing nine shiny flying objects “like a saucer if you skip it across the water” while flying over Washington State in 1947.
New Contest Announcement
2021 Recommended Station of The Year!
I am very excited to announce my first annual 2021 Recommended Station of The Year Award. Complete and submit the official ballot below to cast your vote for your favorite Internet radio station from all of the stations covered in my Recommended Stations articles. You may also cast your vote via Twitterbut your single vote must come from one of the stations listed in the Official Ballot below. Votes via the Recommended Stations Contact Form, Facebook, email, or other methods will not be accepted. Voting is free, open to anyone, and will run from now through September 26, 2021. The station receiving the most number of votes by the September 26th deadline wins. Sorry, there is second place, runner up, or swimsuit category. There is no physical prize but the winning station will get serious bragging rights and enjoy a virtual victory lap. The winner will be announced on the RecommendedStations.com blog on October 1. Sign up on the right side of the home page with your email address to be notified of announcements and new blog posts. Your email will not be shared or sold.
In addition to the five stations profiled in the above post, all previous Recommended Stations are eligible and are listed on the ballot so as not to unfairly exclude them. Those stations include (in order of most recently posted): WLVN, Radio Nostalgia, Kaleidophonics Radio, Your Classical- Radio, Exotica, Radio Preston Air, Dr. Pundit Slow Jams, Radio Aruba, Radio Unique FM, WWOZ, Atomic City, Time Machine, Sun FM Beach Radio, Bop 80s, Circle of White Light Radio, The Great American Songbook, Slow Jams Radio, JIB On The Web, Seeburg 1000 Background, Mi Generation Radio, 87.7 MeTV, Audiophile Jazz, WHRB, Radio Swiss Jazz, BIRN, KEXP, 1010 WINS, BBC World Service, C-SPAN, Voice of America, and FIP.
Rally your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to support your favorite Recommended Internet station. Heck, stop perfect strangers on the street and ask them to vote as well. Thank you in advance for voting for and for supporting your favorite radio station. Best of luck to all of the Recommended Stations and may the best station win.
Voting Has Ended. The Winner Will Be Announced On This Blog On 10.01.2021.
Recommended Stations need not be the best kept secret on the Internet. If you enjoy any of these stations, or my past recommendations, spread the word about RecommendedStations.com. Please also consider becoming a Patreonsupporter to access my future Recommended and Hitchhiker Stations starting October 1st. Your monthly support will help me keep RecommendedStations.com going.
2021 Recommended Station of The Year Terms & Conditions
“2021 Recommended Station of The Year” OFFICIAL RULES & GUIDELINES NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A PURCHASE WILL NOT INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING.
1. Sponsors: RecommendedStations.com (the “Sponsors”).
2. How to Enter: The 2021 Recommended Station of The Year (the “Contest”) starts at 11:00 A.M. Eastern Standard Time (EST) on September 1, 2021 and ends at 11:45 P.M. EST on July 26, 2021 (the “Contest Voting Period”). To enter, submit the ballot form in the Recommended Stations blog post to receive one (1) vote (a “Vote”). Limit one (1) Vote per person during the Contest Entry Period. By submitting your Vote, you agree that your Vote conforms to these Official Rules and that the Sponsors, in their sole discretion, may disqualify your Vote for any reason at any time, including if they determine, at their sole discretion, that your Vote fails to conform to these Official Rules in any way or otherwise contains unacceptable content as determined by the Sponsors.
By participating, where allowable by law, entrant agrees to receive emails from www.RecommendedStations.com. Entrants will have the option to unsubscribe from such emails at any time.
3. Eligibility: No Automated Entries. You must fill out your own ballot form without the use of any automated promotion entry filling services or form filling services. The use of any automated, programmed, robotic or similar system to enter is prohibited and will result in disqualification. Votes submitted via Twitter will also be accepted provided they are from one of the stations listed in the Official Ballot. Other methods of voting will not be accepted. Employees, directors, and/or officers (including immediate family members or members of the household) of Sponsor(s), their subsidiaries, affiliated companies, distributors, advertising, fulfillment and promotion agencies and all other companies or entities associated with the Contest are not eligible to participate. This Sweepstakes is void where prohibited or restricted by law. Participation constitutes voter’s full and unconditional agreement and acceptance of these Official Rules which shall be final in all respects.
4. Award: The winning station will be declared the 2021 Recommended Station of the Year. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible Votes received during the Entry Period. Winner may not substitute, assign or transfer prize or redeem prize for cash but Sponsors reserve the right, at its sole discretion, to substitute a prize with one of comparable or greater value. Winners are responsible for any applicable federal, state, and local taxes, if any, as well as any other costs and expenses associated with the prize receipt and/or use not specified herein as being provided. All prize details are at the Sponsors’ sole discretion.
5. Determination and Awarding of Prize; Verification of Winner: Votes will be accepted from 9/1/2021 to 9/26/2021. Votes received after the 26th will not be accepted. Sponsors will select one (1) potential winner (“Potential Winner”) on or about September 27, 2021 based on the most number of eligible Votes received. The potential winner will be notified on or about September 28th, 2021 via email. If the Potential Winner cannot be contacted or refuses their award for any reason, that Potential Winner forfeits their award and the station with the second most number of votes will be named the Potential Winner by the Sponsors.
6. Disclaimer: RecommendedStations.com’s contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Furthermore, neither Facebook nor Twitter nor Instagram is responsible for any issues related to this contest. Accepting these terms indicates a complete release of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by each entrant or participant. The contest is also in no way sponsored, endorsed, or administered by, or associated with any of the eligible Internet stations.
7. Limitation of Liability: By entering this Contest, all voters agree to comply with these Official Rules. By entering this Contest, voters agree that the Sponsors shall have no liability and shall be held harmless for any damage, loss or liability to person or property, due in whole or part, directly or indirectly, by reason of the acceptance, use or misuse of the prize or participation in this Contest. Sponsors and their advertising and promotion agencies are not responsible for lost, late, garbled, delayed, destroyed, inaccurate, misdirected or stolen entries or transmissions, or problems of any kind whether mechanical, human or electronic. Sponsors are not responsible for technical, hardware, software or telephone failures of any kind, lost or unavailable network connections, fraud, incomplete, garbled or delayed computer transmissions, whether caused by Sponsors, entrants or by any of the equipment or programming associated with or utilized in the Contest or by any technical or human error which may occur in the processing of entries which may damage a user’s computer or system or limit a entrant’s ability to participate in the Contest. Sponsors may prohibit a voter from participating in the Contest or a station winning the prize if, in its sole discretion, it determines that such voter is attempting to undermine the legitimate operation of the Contest by cheating, hacking, deception, or other unfair playing practices or intending to annoy, abuse, or threaten any other entrants or Sponsors representatives. In the event of a dispute regarding Votes received from multiple users having the same e-mail account, the authorized subscriber of the e-mail account at the time of entry will be deemed to be the voter and must comply with these Official Rules.
These terms and conditions shall be governed by, construed, and enforced in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, United States of America, without regard to any choice of law principles. Voter hereby agrees and irrevocably consents to submit to the exclusive jurisdiction and venue of the courts of the State of MA and of the United States of America located in the State of MA USA, for any and all claims arising from or related to this Agreement. Entrant agrees that all claims relating to this Contest shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action.
Should a voter engage in fraud or misconduct of any nature, including but not limited to a violation of the Official Rules, such entrant shall be subject to immediate disqualification. Sponsors reserve the right to terminate, modify or amend the Sweepstakes at any time if the fairness, integrity, and or proper administration of the Contest is jeopardized. IN NO EVENT SHALL SPONSOR(S) BE LIABLE TO ENTRANT FOR ANY LOST PROFITS, OR FOR ANY SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL OR OTHER INDIRECT DAMAGES ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THIS CONTEST. Voter’s sole damages shall be limited to voter’s actual out of pocket expenses, excluding attorneys’ fees. WITHOUT LIMITING THE GENERALITY OF THE FOREGOING, SUCH PRIZES ARE PROVIDED “AS IS” WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, AND SWEEPSTAKES ENTITIES HEREBY DISCLAIM ALL SUCH WARRANTIES, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSES AND/OR NON-INFRINGEMENT.