Sep 19, 2015

Kitty's On Fire, Joan Speaks, Plus Tons 'O' Funk, Much More Parrott And A Clownish Secret Song!

"Hey, ya'll, Kitty's back!" I really hope someone, somewhere, called that out when Kitty returned to their local jazz club. She looks like an approachable singing star, the kind of gal who's "just folks" - until she opens her mouth and sings. Then you know; there's nothing "just" about her at all. Kitty, as you may know, never achieved great fame, but on the West Coast in the 30s and 40s, she was "it."

Born in 1923, and likely influenced by the burgeoning jazz scene on Central Avenue, the nerve center of the African-American community where visiting black luminaries stayed at the stylish Hotel Summerville, Kitty eventually hit the road and was noticed by Mercury records. Her 1956 LP - a Kitty On Fire Cheerful Exclusive! - was alternately called "Kitty White" and "Kitty White: Cold Fire." Whatever you choose to call it, you'll love the seeming informality of her delivery, an ingratiating facade which masks her prefect pitch, stunning breath control and finely-controlled vibrato. Oh, and if you've seen "Night Of The Hunter," you've heard her before; the movie's composer introduced her to director Charles Laughton. She sings "The Lullaby Song" in this brief, haunting scene:

She only recorded seven LPs during her lifetime, the last in 1978, but trust me, she's a keeper.

Let us now pause to consider the many relaxed moods of Joan Crawford. Yes, I said "relaxed." She's carefree...

She's flirty...

She's bashful...

Oh, Joan, who are you kidding? Joan never "relaxed." She was, if anything, the most brilliantly calculated movie queen ever (the Sondheim tune "I'm Still Here" is all about her, dont'cha know). Even when her movie heyday was over, she was not. Not by a long-shot. She married a Pepsi executive, became their spokesperson and in 1971 published a book that almost landed me face-down flat on the curb.

It happened like this: In the mid-1980s or thereabouts, a friend and I were walking down some mangy East Village street - and we saw it from nearly half-a-block away. For sale by a street peddler. A pristine copy of "My Way Of Life," Joan's coveted How-To book on everything. We ran like lightning, determined to snag it before the other. My friend had the nerve to bodycheck me - damn him! - but I quickly righted myself, leaped like a gazelle (I thought) and pounced on the book. It's was mine-mine-all-mine!

It is, without doubt, the best unintentionally - even deliriously - funny book you'll ever read. Because Joan just can't help herself. She tells you how to dress, how to walk, how to stand (no, really), how to wash your face, how to cook, how to please a man - and yes, how to bring up children. And all with dictatorial, don't-fuck-it-up, military precision. There is nothing else like it. You can purchase the book yourself, if you like (and I heartily recommend that you do). Or you can let Miss Joan read it to you.

I'm not kidding. Not too long ago, I learned that she read the whole damn thing, filling up five LP records; a book-on-record, if you will. And here it is just for you. It's a special Cracked Crawford Cheerful Exclusive! You'll marvel at her advice, of course, but you'll also be astounded by her ever-so-slightly inebriated delivery, for Joan was by that time a friend of the sauce. Planning on a long road trip? The hours will fly by with Joan. You're welcome.

Now it's time to celebrate Shirley Jones. No, not that Shirley, this Shirley, from the 1970's and 80s-era R&B group The Jones Girls, pictured below with her sisters Brenda and Valorie.

They're just one group included in what I promise is the best collection of funk tunes I've heard in quite some time. There's the Jones Girls, of course, serving up "Night Over Egypt," plus Herbie Hancock, Gladys Knight, The Reddings and Boz Scaggs, to name just a few. Better still, they perform a lot of tunes you that may not have have heard before (or at least I haven't) (and I've listened to a lot of funk over the years). It's one of the few compilations I listen to all the way through.

Finally, Nicki is back. Have you missed her? Of course you have.

This time, she's joined by Rebecca "Becky" Kilgore, an Oregon-based jazz singer who, like Nicki, isn't as well known as she really ought to be. She also plays rhythm guitar (in case you were wondering) (you were, weren't you?), and in "Two Songbirds of a Feather," she blends perfectly with Nicki. They've performed as a duo before - at various jazz festivals and clubs - but this is their first CD together. Their opener, "Two Little Girls From Little Rock," is pure jazz bliss and it only gets better from there. Just wait till they do "Them There Eyes."

The Secret Song File was rummaging through her drawerful of old CDs the other day (right next to her old school typewriter!) and came upon an artist who scored an unlikely Top 10 hit in the 1970s with a song from a Broadway musical. Why was it unlikely? Because the Broadway composer/lyricist has long been accused of penning difficult-to-remember songs (try singing some of them, then we'll talk difficult). To which I say, "Isn't it rich?"

If you don't know who the singer is yet, then you really must love farce (*cough*cough*). At any rate, she has a brand new CD chockfull of duets - because that's how the olds roll these days - with singers like Bhi Bhiman, Jackson Browne and, yes, Jeff Bridges. It's kinda folk, it's kinda bluegrass and our lead singer has never sounded better. But then, she ain't losing her timing this late in her career (*cough*cough*). Okay, so enough hints. We've come to the end of another posting, with me here at last on the ground...

And you in mid-air!

Clown around in the comments, if you like!


Franchot said...

Another great post, will have to steal those gifs of La Crawford.

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Aren't they delicious? And so "natural."

tony said...

Re: J.C.'s photo on her sofa- the plastic covers says it all!
Brings back memories when I took those things off my mom's sofa while she was at work at a time when those awful covers were the rage. Speaking of rage, J.C. would have been in rage if her kids did that to her sofa! Thanks for the laughs and nice selection of music.

Anonymous said...

(As if) I have to ask...the portrait above the encapsulated sofa...Joan?

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Anonymous, of course that portrait is Joan! Who else??
I hope you and Tony enjoy listening to Joan's ramblings. Do exactly as she says...OR ELSE!

wiredream said...

Great picks as per usual! Can't wait to learn proper etiquette from a sauce-y Joan!

Speaking of another Joan, the SSF isn't what you specified. The Oboom link is actually for "Studio Rio Presents - The Brazil Connection" not JCs newest duets. Le bummer! :)

Anyway to fix that?

Wishing you and your Cuban luvah the best, always!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Oh, how EMBARRASSING! But it's fixed now.
Thanks for pointing that out.

wiredream said...

Gracias, mi amore!