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Preview: Muriel's Treasure: Calypso Artifacts

Muriel's Treasure: Calypso Artifacts

Updated: 2017-10-30T07:44:39.990-04:00


Go Calypso, Go


Cultural appropriation of the kitschiest variety, starring the voluptuous Mamie Van Doren:

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Muriel's Treasure, Vol. 2


Now available thru iTunes, Amazon, and everywhere else. Volumes 1, 3 and 4 also available, with more to come. Meticulously digitally remastered from vinyl—which means they ain't perfect, but they're as good as you'll find them in the absence of master tapes.


Track list:

01 Percy Dixon - Bloodshot Eyes
02 Duke of Iron - Calypsonian Invasion
03 Lord Kitchener - The Wrecker
04 Marie Bryant - Don't Touch Me Tomato
05 Fabulous McClevertys - Landlady Want de Rent
06 Mighty Sparrow - Castro Eating Banana
07 Lord Christo - Boy Days
08 Lord Creator - Mr Rake and Scrape
09 unknown - Brown Skin Girl
10 Lord Nelson - I Got The Itch
11 Duke of Iron - Undercover Man
12 Lord Spectacular - Lazy Man
13 Mighty Gypsy - Sucker
14 Mighty Prince Galloway - Confusion Men
15 Count of Monte Cristo & Congo Bey - Run Joe
16 Sir Jablonski - More Pork
17 George Symonette - Camilla
18 Lord Creator - Race Track (mono)
19 Talbot Brothers - Atomic Nightmare
20 Tony Johnson - Linstead Market
21 Lord Invader - Reincarnation
22 Telco Orchestra - Belmont Jackass
23 Mighty Zebra - The Bedbug
24 The Sparrow - Donkey Want Water (Hold 'Em Joe)
25 Mighty Duke - Play Them

The Avalanches - "Frankie Sinatra"


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The Great calypsonian Wilmoth Houdini takes uncredited vocal turns in this video by the Avalanches for their single, "Frankie Sinatra." The sampled song is "Bobby Sox Idol," which Houdini recorded in the early 1940s to celebrate the young crooner who made female hearts flutter on concert stages, over radio airwaves, and on 78 rpm platters.

HT: Mike Noble

Muriel's Treasure, Vol. 1


Now available thru iTunes, Amazon, and everywhere else. Volumes 2, 3 and 4 also available, with more to come. Meticulously digitally remastered from vinyl—which means they ain't perfect, but they're as good as you'll find them in the absence of master tapes.

Track list:

01 Lord Kitchener - Muriel And De Bug
02 The Lion - Trinidad, Land Of Calypso
03 Mighty Sparrow - The Slave
04 Duke & the Jamaica 5 - Bloodshot Eyes
05 Wilmoth Houdini - Bobby Sox Idol
06 George Symonette - Coconut Water, Rum And Gin
07 McClevertys - Don't Blame It On Elvis
08 Duke of Iron - Fifty Cents
09 Mighty Zebra - Man Smart, Woman Smarter
10 Duke & the Jamaica 5  - Hungry Woman
11 Lili Verona - Massa Johnny
12 Duke of Iron - The Music Lesson
13 Duke Errol & the Lords - Mama Look'a Boo Boo
14 Lord Brynner - Hang Them High
15 Lord Kitchener - Smoke A Cigarette
16 Count Lasher & Williams - Mufradite
17 Talbot Bros - Too Much Rock & Roll
18 Duke Errol & the Lords - Shame And Scandal
19 Mighty Dougla - Split Me In Two
20 Mighty Zebra - We Like Ike
21 Duke Errol - Back To Back and Belly To Belly
22 Lord Christo - Trip To Mars
23 Two Gun Smokey - Vacation
24 Nap Hepburn - The River
25 Mike Alexander & the Pott Steelers - You Are My Sunshine

We can do it!


Calypsos for Adam and Eve


(image) This vivacious tropical cover for the Monogram label (disc: Kalypso Records Ltd., Jamaica) appears to be the handiwork of the same uncredited artist who illustrated Ritmo's Calypsos from Jamaica.

The above 7" EP features tracks by the Duke of Iron ("Big Bamboo"), Lord Kitchener ("Big Toe"), the Four Deuces ("Lemme Go Emelda"), and Sir George Brown ("He Like It, She Like It"). The A-sides, with Kitch and Duke of Iron, are classic Trinidad calypso, while the artists on side B reflect the Jamaican mento variant.

We would appreciate any information about the illustrator, whose style is audacious and singular.

The Day Van Dyke Parks Went Calypso


(image) Crawdaddy magazine (Nov 19): "Parks is generally a well-mannered and affable Southern-born gent with a mildly mischievous streak. A one-time child prodigy on clarinet, he’s often mentioned in tandem with his Southern California work with Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who was reportedly too tripped-out to continue their Smile-era collaborations. A formidable freethinker and raconteur of psychedelic dimensions himself, you can hear the Parks imprint, curly-cuing through 'Heroes and Villains' and 'Sail On, Sailor.' ... Rarely at a loss for bookings as a composer, arranger, musician, and producer (Parks would go on to work with artists from Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr to Joanna Newsom and Rufus Wainwright), ... he juggled sessions by psychedelic bands as well as singer-songwriters Randy Newman and Phil Ochs. It was following the critical success of his first solo work, Song Cycle, in 1968 and the oil spill in ’69, that Parks began in earnest his pursuit of the music of the West Indies—specifically calypso and ... steel pan."

HT: Jeff Winner

Pillow Fight (Lord Kitchener)


Domestic violence on YouTube:

(image) No guns, no knives, no fists—just a weapon whose use was chronicled by Monty Python's take on the Spanish Inquisition.

HT: Lane Steinberg

Tomatoes, touching


Bob Marley's mom recounts her young son's discovery of songs about fruit:

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HT: Thelma

Nobody but she husband


"Murder is nothing to brag about"—unless it sells a half-million records. TIME magazine fêtes calypsonian Wilmoth Houdini, August 26, 1946.

HT: Doug Schulkind

True, Man, True


Somebody has to play Cleopatra. Why not Mary Tyler Moore?


Calypso girl


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HT: Michelle Shaw



Claims he's "never eaten white meat yet."

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Bloodshot Eyes


(image) Muriel's Treasure will not be returning to the WFMU airwaves this Fall. The host (who is not actually named Muriel) has been concentrating on this project and that.

Doesn't mean the Treasure won't return in 2008. Calypso is Dead! Long Live Calypso!

In the meantime, podcasts of previous broadcasts continue.

David Stone Martin does Calypso


(image) Disc Records 78 rpm CALYPSO album with cover illustration by the legendary David Stone Martin (1913-1993), whose work adorns hundreds of 1940s and 1950s jazz, blues, folk, and ethnic records.

In the early 1940s, the Chicago-born and -bred Martin befriended artist Ben Shahn, whose work proved inspirational. Martin got started in album cover design in 1944 when his friend, pianist Mary Lou Williams, persuaded her label to hire Martin to illustrate her next release. The company honcho, Moses Asch, was so impressed by Martin's virtuosity that he hired him as art director.

In the 1950s, Martin's moody figure studies for Norgran, Clef, Verve, and Mercury practically defined the illustrated jazz LP cover (in a manner far different than, say, Jim Flora). Eric Kohler, who reprinted over a dozen classic Martin LPs in his book In The Groove: Vintage Record Graphics 1940-1960, observed: "Many of Martin's covers did not have an actual image of the recording artist, but rather an abstract image that might recall the feeling of the music."

A book of his work, Jazz Graphics: David Stone Martin, was published in Japan in 1991. It is, sadly, out of print and hard to find. Martin's vital, cosmopolitan line art deserves renewed circulation.

The calypso album above contains three sides by Lord Invader ("Tied-Tongue Baby," Yankee Dollar in Trinidad," and "New York Subway") and three by Lord Beginner ("Shake Around," "Nora, the War is Over," and "Always Marry a Pretty Woman").

Look Out, There's a Monster Coming


(image) On the 2007 Muriel's Treasure WFMU marathon CD, entitled More Bedbugs, there's an unlisted 26th bonus track. Several recipients of the compilation have inquired about the mystery calypso. This isn't a clue; it's the answer. Not the worst calypso ever, nor the funniest. Not the most improbable — The Muppets recorded "Pig Calypso" — but perhaps the most ethnically unhinged. All hail, Victor Anthony Stanshall.

Inspiration: Ben Jackson

The Grotesque Dummy (El Monigote)


(image) William Smith sent a 1958 paperback entitled Folk Songs of the Caribbean, collected by Jim Morse, published by Bantam. Along with a preface by noted songwriter Lord Burgess (Irving Burgie), the book contains lyrics to songs from Trinidad, Haiti, Jamaica, Honduras, Guatemala, and elsewhere in the tropical climes. I'm not familiar with many of these titles—it's not a calypso compendium, though works from Trinidad and Jamaica predominate, including such favorites as "Linstead Market," "Gin and Cocoanut Water," and "Out de Fire." Then there's this: "The Grotesque Dummy," from Venezuela. Macabre! Would love to hear a recording, if anyone's got one. Elsewise, here's the lyrics and chords—make your own version.

Muriel launches podcast!


(image) As previously noted, Muriel is taking a summer respite from the WFMU schedule, relaxing at her bungalow with rum-based remedies while hunting for Big Bamboo. She expects to return to the airwaves in the Autumn.

However, because she knows how important vintage calypso, soca, pan, and mento are to you, she is offering two new ways to hear Classic Muriel: via podcasts and streaming WFMU archives.

All one-hour installments of Muriel's Treasure (72 total) are being edited from Irwin's three-hour free-form program for your listening pleasure in these two formats. Twice a week (starting today) new podcasts will be automatically delivered to your computer and/or mp3 player. As each podcast is sent out, that program (and playlist) will be added to the WFMU archives for eternal good listening.

Now you can hear all your favorites -- Sparrow, Kitchie, Invader, Atilla, King Radio, Duke of Iron, Houdini and their impertinent brethren -- at your convenience.

Congo Man (Mighty Sparrow)


(image) National Records (LP 5050), 1965. Sparrow recorded the title track (a paean to cannibalism—white meat, in particular) at least three times. Each version is singularly spectacular, and each is punctuated by Sparrow's demonic laughter that seems to imply, "Pass the salt."

Muriel's Treasure on WFMU


(image) Muriel's Treasure is on summer hiatus from the WFMU schedule. Muriel hopes to return to the airwaves with her tantalizing treasure in the Fall.

In the next few weeks, WFMU will start offering all prior 72 episodes of MT as podcasts, with twice-weekly installments. (As of this writing, WFMU is dealing with a server crash that disabled the station's archives and interrupted podcasting; we'll post anew when the problem has been fixed.)

In addition, we'll soon have all MT hours extracted from my three-hour free-form show and posted as separate programs in the WFMU archives with playlists. These will be added one-by-one in conjunction with each podcast.

(image) We're in editing mode at present. As soon as the archives are posted and the podcast is launched, we'll beat you with a kalenda stick as a reminder. It won't hurt.

The blog will continue, as ever, with regular irregularity thru the summer.

: WFMU server restored. Muriel's archives and podcasts start Monday June 18.

Sir Galba


(image) Small Island Pride, King (Mighty) Sparrow, Sir Galba (mid-1950s)

London-based Kate Blenman is great-grand niece of Sir Galba, a Trinidad calypsonian who reigned briefly in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but led a troubled life. Kate discovered one of his songs on a Muriel's Treasure playlist, and wrote that despite years of searching, she had never been able to find any of Galba's music. She explained about her great-grand uncle:

Most of the information I have was obtained from Ray Funk, a kaiso researcher. Galba's real name was George Brindsley McSween, and he made his recording debut in 1946 with "Hooligan Hide Yourself" and "Put the Knife on the Shelf." In 1949 he recorded "Calypsonian from Toco" and "Residents of Nowhere Square." He was crowned Calypso King of 1952 at the Young Brigade with "Man in the Garden Hiding" out of the Victory tent. That same year he stabbed someone in a nightclub. He sang "I Don't Want Any Women Police in Trinidad" and won second place in an intercolonial calypso contest for Princess Margaret in 1955, singing "The Queen at Montego Bay." He also recorded three singles for the Sagomes label. He died September 18, 1957, at the age of 38, by committing suicide after stabbing his girlfriend.

(image) "Too Many Fires" is the only recording I've heard by Galba. An mp3 transfer from an original 78 (Sagomes 138-27) was provided by friend and Optigan savant Pea Hicks, who does all manner of audio restoration. It can be heard here (about 20 seconds in).

Update (5 May 09): Hear Sir Galba's "Bajan Diplomat," a Vitadisc 45 courtesy listener John Hill (with thanks to Don Brockway for the mp3 conversion).

It's The Rhythm We Want


It's pricey—anywhere from $196.06 to $305.99. Lifting it could dislocate your vertebrae. In today's media-saturated, sensory overloaded world, no one will have time to absorb it all.But you must buy it. Now.West Indian Rhythm, released in 2006 by the obsessives at Bear Family Records, is one of the best collections of classic calypso ever commercially released. Hyperbole? Forget it — there's nothing comparatively close. You want deep cuts? Start here.The historic collection contains all but one of the 268 performances recorded by New York engineers of Decca Records on field trips to Trinidad in 1938, '39, and '40. (Yes, one track is AWOL. Don't think the producers of this album didn't search exhaustively for it.)Besides ten CDs of music — 267 rare recordings, impeccably remastered — West Indian Rhythm comes packaged with a 316-page hardcover book that contains so much essential and authoritative information, is so beautifully designed and so dedicatedly researched, that it's a bargain at any price. Colorfully written essays chronicle the history of the genre and the artists who developed it. There's a glossary of calypso terms; lyrics transcribed for every track; photos; hundreds of illustrations; news clippings; bios of the singers and entrepreneurs; discographies. The CDs include a dozen or so previously unreleased — that is, censored — songs. The only thing they didn't include is a bottle of rum.All performances were recorded in one take. Decca didn't return in 1941 or thereafter, so you've got the history of pre-World War II Trinidad calypso preserved in amber. Legends like Atilla the Hun, Cyril Monrose, Lord Invader, Tiger, Lion, Growler, and King Radio. Forgotten footnotes like Codallo's Top Hatters, Joe Coggins, and Lord Ziegfield. A dozen songs about Hitler, and countless syncopated chronicles of unfaithful wives, drunken louts, lecherous old men, and municipal scandals.If you needed any further convincing about the integrity of this package, the name Dick Spottswood appears prominently in the credits as Reissue Co-Producer. 'Nuff said."These compelling performances personify calypso at its best," writes Spottswood. "Mostly sung in English, they represent a sophisticated world-view unique to the small population of a remote Caribbean island. Popular music in England and North America at the time was largely escapist, designed for social dancing and romantic fantasy. Calypso ignored those tendencies, replacing romanticism with scepticism, and mindlessness with content. The calypso chantwell [singing storyteller] observed events at home and abroad with informed incredulity, readily pronouncing humorous judgments that nonetheless ranged from troubled acceptance to outright contempt."Be good to yourself. Splurge. It will take you a year to get through this box and you'll continue listening for the rest of your life.Center photo L to R: King Radio, Beginner, Executor, Tiger, 1939Bottom photo L to R: Lord Invader, the Growler, Atilla the Hun, Lion, February 1943[...]

Wilmoth Houdini on 365 Days Project


(image) Two Wilmoth Houdini mp3s are available for free download from The 365 Days Project, hosted by WFMU. The tracks, "He Dead, He Gone Already" and "Moan, People, Moan," were posted by Bob Purse, who adds a colorful encomium to the great Houdini.

Aside from having a really cool name ..., he had a vocal style which gives me chills, featuring a wicked vibrato, and an intensity on held notes which expresses as much emotion as just about any singer I can name.

These recordings, which are not available on commercial CD, were transferred from the 1958 vinyl LP Calypso Capers. They were likely recorded in New York in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

Let's Go Calypso (Somerset)


(image) Features King Scratch and the Bay Street Boys, ca. late 1950s. "These two acts," the brief liner notes attest, "have long been favorites in the islands and many a tourist has felt the gay and carefree spell they cast with the charm of their readings and infectious Calypso rhythms. This is as much a part of the islands as the palm trees or lovely beaches." Despite a preponderance of cruiseship standards (e.g., "Marianne," "Sly Mongoose," "Jamaica Farewell," "Donkey Wants Water"), the performances are refreshingly "native" and highlighted by raucous percussion. Meaning, these recordings were not prettied up for export. Is good.

Fabulous cover illustration, unsigned, uncredited.

Calypso (Rico)