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03/25/16

Here's a story that found me while I was chopping cone flowers yesterday afternoon. I think there are a whole lot more of these farm animals with stories to tell- I hope so!

Oh Red Hen
Oh Good Little Hen

By now you've heard about the Good Little Hen, otherwise known as Little Red? She spent all of her time preparing to make bread, and she did make it, but nobody helped. So she and her children ate it all up. There's a lesson in that.

But did you know that there was also a Bad Little Hen? The bad hen was named Violet, but most people just called her Vi. Vi didn't seem bad. She took care to look good, and always had a word or two for the other farm animals, but down inside her she was very bad.

See, Violet had a thing. She was greedy. She wanted everything for herself, and nobody else. If she had children, and she had some bread, she would have eaten it all herself! But that isn't what she did, that's just a for example.

Well, it all started one day when the farmer let the Little Violet Hen off the back of his truck. Come to think of it, the farmer might not have known she was back there! But she just walked up to eveybody and said "Hi! I'm Violet! You can call me Vi if you like." An that was that.

The other hens showed her a place in the coop, and showed her where to scratch, and explained a little about the farm, such as who the pig was and how the cow got along with the others. It didn't take long before nobody could remember when Vi hadn't been there with the rest of them all.

But after a while, it began to seem like Little Vi was always hanging out with Jim the rooster. They sure did like playing together! The other hens got a little jealous, and would call "Jim, come play with us!" and he would laugh "Cock-a-doodle-do!" but he'd just keep playing with Vi.

Soon the farmer noticed that none of the hens was laying, and he squinted an eye at Jim, and quick as a wink gave him his walking papers. The new rooster was Dan, but very soon he became best friends with Vi too, and things did not improve.

Dan was followed by Franklin, and Franklin by Dwight, until one day, at long last, the farmer observed that his roosters always seemed to be in the company of the one hen in particular. Meaning the bad little hen Violet. The farmer squinted an eye, and quick as a wink, Violet had her walking papers!

And that is the story of Violet, the bad little hen who wanted everything to herself.

Tomorrow, I will tell you what the Crow said to Violet when she was looking for a new home.


03/20/16

I listen to America's Best Music®. It's "aimed at the more mature end of the Baby Boomer generation". I don't actually fall within that demographic, but I'm close.

This music is broadcast, through the air as they say, from a short tower next to a small building centered on a five-sided patch of lawn. The reason for the pentagonal property isn't immediately obvious, but it has to do with the guy wires that support the tower.

tower

It's not on a mountain top, but low, in a boggy area near the city. In radio school I learned the reason for this. Radio waves in the frequencies used by AM stations propagate along the surface of the earth, rather than in straight lines like light waves. The important thing is to have a good connection to the ground, and nothing is better for this than boggy wet soil.

So there, in the middle of an industrial zone, without even a driveway leading up to it, is the transmitter of WLPA, home of America's Best Music®. Who knew, right?

wlpa logo

I like the experience of song choices coming from the 1950's through 1980's on AM radio. It's the appropriate medium for it. I've heard most of these songs before, but not in many years, so I play name that tune with them when they start. I like the way the station fades out as I drive out of town. Even better is driving into the signal and trying to pick out the song that's playing through the static and distortion. They haven't made a pedal for this yet.

Another thing that makes music "special" on AM radio is the reverb and heavy compression they add. The compression I understand, it helps the signal carry farther. The reverb? I don't get that, maybe to make everything sound bigger? These songs, carried to a radio receiver through the "airwaves", are being crafted in such a way that alters the actual sound of them- but altered in a way that the creators of mid-century records understood and used to their advantage. There are many stories of producers listening to mixes through car speakers to fine-tune them for the listening public. Hearing them now in this way brings out a lot of the original intent.

If I had to select one song that exemplifies this sound, it would be "So Many Ways" as released by Brook Benton in 1960. It practically leaped from the radio last week- a song I don't think I ever heard before.

Brook

How does that work? Why does this sound so good? I want to make recordings that can do this! I need to figure this out.

First of all, I knew who Brook Benton was, but not as a fan so much as someone who laughed. This video for "Mother Nature, Father Time" is truly bizarre. Nevertheless, the guy had pipes. All respect to him for "Rainy Night in Georgia".

So it helps to have a first-rate singer. But there's more. I'm grabbed by the rhythm of the song. You can hear it, just a touch faster, in Bobby Vintons' "Blue Velvet", released a few years later. There's a special kind of swing to it. Listening closely, you can hear how the bass line is doubled in a higher register. That walking line is a key element, as is the timing of the rhythm guitar backbeat. Speed it up some more and you get bluebeat.

Another element to the sound is the clarity of it. There's space around the instruments, and they sit perfectly together. Maybe Phil Spector was right- maybe we should go back to mono. If you look closely at the lush album art of Mr. Benton, you'll see that he was on Mercury Records. Mercury was well known for the quality of their recordings. Some of their classical music recordings from this era are still iconic.

I've discovered that So Many Ways was cut in 1956 in New York City, with the Ray Ellis Orchestra. Ray Ellis had been around, making recordings with Billie Holiday and others, and was a composer and record producer, but it's hard to pin down exactly who was playing in his orchestra at any given moment. Kenny Burrell may have been the guitarist, but it's pretty safe to say that Ellis was responsible for the arrangement and approved the mix from this session.

Where does that leave me and my search for the magic? Mr. Benton cut dozens of sides every year in those days, only a few of which have that certain feel to them now. Ray Ellis went on to make a series of easy listening LPs (Ellis in Wonderland???) and score music for Spider Man and other cartoons. All in all, it was just a job for these guys- they didn't have any secret other than hard work and persistance.

And AM radio, of course...