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This is a few months before he starts singing for the Harry James orchestra; he’s 22. The charge of sleeping with a woman is revised to adultery when she turns out to be married, and eventually dropped.

Sinatra’s life makes an interesting way to look at 20th-century America. Just this famous mugshot shows things have changed a bit since 1938: The charge is seducing a single female of good repute.

He was born in 1915 and died in 1998. Crowds screamed for him two decades before the Beatles. The documentary “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All” grounds young Sinatra in an America where race hatred commonly extended to Italians, Irish and other groups and where the Depression meant not just working hard to survive but possibly literally not surviving. Once a singing waiter, he becomes famous in every medium from radio onward; gets credited for destroying American morality by adultering with Ava Gardner; from JFK to civil rights, mobsters, Vegas and Reagan, that’s a pretty good shuffle through the decades.

He became a cliche partly because of age (paunch, fading vocals, less self-reinventing) but also by the “Seinfeld is unfunny” principle — so successful in his groundbreaking that he became the status quo. (One of my favorite moments in “High Society” is when Bing says “You must be one of the newer fellas.” Turnover is always with us.)

Late-era Sinatra parodying himself is painful, but earlier in his career, when he’s still doing it straight and singing with sincerity, the power is clear. You can probably hear it even through the audio flaws in this film of him singing to a roomful of WAVES in 1943. Criminal seduction, you say? 🙂

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Here’s Robert Earl Keen as Antonio Vivaldi opening his eighth annual benefit in Kerrville for an organization he said “it’s my passion to tell people about”: the Hill Country Youth Orchestra.vivaldi crop

Keen told the crowd at the Feb. 21 show that on his travels around the country, he’ll get to talking with people about the orchestra, and they’ll say, “Oh yes, we’ve got something like that here,” and he’ll say, “No; no, you don’t.” The HCYO provides full tuition-and-fees scholarships for each of its hundred-plus students.

He’s supporting his bluegrass album “The Happy Prisoner” right now, so his part of the concert had an old-timey feel — just not as old as Vivaldi:

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But first, the kiddos cut loose with the classical goodies:

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(Apologies for fuzzy phone photos taken at some distance)

Watch for next year’s show, likely to be in February again, and go check it out if you can. It’s a lovely night at Kerrville’s Cailloux Theater, and this year it raised $65,000 for those scholarships. Keen closed his part of the show with a completely acoustic set, playing the special guitar they auctioned off to raise part of that money:

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It was beautiful.

(Fellow Aggie/Kerrville note: The auction also included Johnny Manziel autographed memorabilia. Keen is Class of ’78, Manziel is ’15)

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A year kicked off with loved ones in Fort Worth is a year that’s gonna go well. I grew up near here, love the city and was tickled to hear the Metroplex referred to on the radio as “FW-D.”

Sundance Square decked out for the holidays. It was barely above freezing, so nobody’s loitering in the outdoor seats 🙂 But the restaurants and bars were doing good business and have nice views of the square!

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Beautiful Bass Hall, where crowds were arriving for the New Year’s Eve concert by Robert Earl Keen:

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Joe T Garcia’s turns 80 this year – the sign says “Since 1935!” Cannot count the number of great afternoons and evenings I’ve had at Joe T’s. If you go eat there on a pretty afternoon, not a freezing cold night, you can have your “family dinner” in the rambling, maze-like patio gardens out back of the old house.

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First time ever to go in Billy Bob’s Texas. Bewilderingly huge and comic place, with what seemed like half of North Texas there with their New Year’s Eve dates.

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But even at a distance (and this was one of the closer tables!) the Turnpike Troubadours were great. Wonderful way to ring in the year.

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Heard on the radio yesterday: An old norteño version of the old, old Hank Thompson hit “Wild Side of Life.” “Mi Nueva Casa,” I learn from musica.com, was a 1982 hit for Los Invasores de Nuevo León, boosting them to their first gold record. That is totally fitting in a number of ways, one being that Texas (Hank’s home state) and Nuevo León are neighbors, and one being that “Wild Side of Life” has a tendency to spin off hits.

Western Swing pioneer Hank Thompson and the Brazos Valley Boys were Billboard’s top country and western band of the year for 14 years straight, 1951-1964. The tune behind “Wild Side” itself is “an old traditional English melody” on which the Southern hymn “Great Speckled Bird” was based, according to a biography of Roy Acuff. “GSB” was Acuff’s first radio hit and got him a recording contract in 1936. In 1952, “Wild Side of Life” stayed at No. 1 for nine weeks, newly fitted out with lyrics about a temptress who breaks up a man’s marriage and then leaves him to go back to her bar-room good-timing ways – its most famous line being, “I didn’t know God made honky tonk angels.” That inspired an answer song, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” the first country No. 1 by a solo female artist, which sold a million copies and launched Kitty Wells’ career. It put the blame back on men for cheatin’ and was considered so shocking that NBC and the Grand Ole Opry both banned it. Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter did a mashup of the two songs in 1981, which brings us neatly back around, chronologically speaking, to Los Invasores:

Hank Thompson:

Hank sang (not wrote, but sang):

You wouldn’t read my letter if I wrote you
You asked me not to call you on the phone
But there’s something I’m wanting to tell you
So I wrote it in the words of this song

Los Invasores’ lyrics with my translation (which reads very stilted because I’m not translating for the feeling of it but literally the words themselves. Language major, sorry 🙂 I like to know what the original words were and then fill in the feeling):

Te escribi una carta y no me contestaste         I wrote you a letter and you didn’t answer me
Fui a buscarte y ya cambiaste dirección          I went to search for you and you’d already moved (lit., changed address)
Como tengo unas cosas que reclamarte          As I have a couple things to complain to you about
me obligaste a que te cante esta canción        You’ve obliged me to sing to you this song

The song goes on to talk about how he gave up his home to be with her and is pretty miserable where he’s living now, a place that features bottles, a jukebox and a neon sign. “Y una cualquiera es la que ocupa tu lugar” — and her place is taken by whatever lady is around.

Kitty’s entry in this tune’s history books:

If you have something stuck in your throat and need to upchuck quickly, or alternately to gain an immediate visceral understanding of the Nashville tendency to slap sappy strings and gooshy backup singers all over a defenseless song that caused musicians like Buck Owens to rebel with the “Bakersfield Sound,” etc., listen to this alternate version of Hank’s “Wild Side.”

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Turnpike Troubadours have been closing some shows with an acoustic version of “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” a lovely Paul song whose description in “Revolution in the Head” is just so wonderful I wanted to share it here: “the simplest of descending-sequence guitar songs, made indelible by a melody based on” intervals of the A-major scale and paired with a “love-at-first-sight lyric … with its tumbling internal rhymes and gasping lack of breathing spaces.” Yup.

Turnpike (in this case Evan Felker soloing to start their encore) does it beautifully. The song’s been covered as bluegrass since the ’60s, maybe not a total shocker for a band the BBC said in 1962 was “not as rocky as most, more country and western.”

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“Revolution” analyzes each Beatles song, so that the experience of reading it is essentially like replaying them all in your head but learning about them as you do so, and while on Amazon I learned my hardback version of it is going for $115 now. Muahaha! Not for sale.

More Beatles/C&W: Ringo even sang Buck. A shame that guitar groups were on their way out 🙂

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I usually favor Guy’s album cuts because they seem to catch his meaning best and he tended to have people like Emmylou hanging around harmonizing, or Waylon sawing away at the top end there in the back of “Anyhow I Love You.”

An exception is the solo acoustic version of “Texas Cookin’ ” that was filmed for “Heartworn Highways,” in which Guy’s bluesy playing makes much more sense to me than what I decided at about the age of 10 was a kinda goofily over-produced album version, its musical style coming out of nowhere with a big banging synthesized sound, practically a comedy or novelty track. (I was, as I have noted elsewhere, a slightly weird 10-year-old.)

Stripped down with some quite lovely playing,  the song’s blues roots stand out clearly. That gives Guy’s little foray into funk here some context that makes sense with the rest of his music.

Guy’s goofiness of course is one of the most wonderful things about him. Watch him bend his body into the music in another clip from “Heartworn Highways” –he’s 33 or 34 years old here:

… and then watch that same goofiness pop up in an interview 27 years later or so. Guy gets playful and nostalgic and then suddenly there’s his young self, weaving around and almost laying his head on Susanna’s shoulder.

Lagniappe: From John Spong in January 2014, here’s what has to be one of the best features ever written about Guy.

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hewittvioladagambaviolsideI saw this beautiful thing played at a concert by La Follia Baroque; its player, James, told me about its history. Designed and built by luthier Timothy Johnson of Hewitt, it is a division viol (which the VdGSA says is an English type of bass viola da gamba). Johnson says the inlaid pattern is acanthus (scrolling decoration used since the ancient Greeks and based on a Mediterranean plant), “created using an intarsia technique called tarsi a incastro which was brought to a high level of perfection by George Boule, furniture maker to King Louis XIV.  It became a very popular decorative style of the late 17th century for both furniture and musical instruments.”

More photos of this viol’s inlaid back, sides and details here.

La Follia is a wonderful group that plays Vivaldi, Mozart and contemporaries on the original instruments — sitting in a small chamber with them is a bit like really, really pleasant time travel.

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