The name suggests a gangster

Muggsy Spanier. The name suggests a gangster from the Al Capone era, but Francis Joseph “Muggsy” Spanier was a musician. Given that the mob controlled all the best nightclubs in those days, and that, like Capone, Spanier was a native of Chicago, they might have crossed paths.

Muggsy played the cornet. The what? It’s a cousin of the trumpet – same basic design but a bit smaller, and the tube is differently shaped, and has a mellower sound. For many years it was the preferred instrument in jazz bands. The trumpet was all a bit bold and, well, brassy.

Spanier was just outside the absolute top flight of jazz musicians in the 1930s and 1940s. He played with the big guys: Fats Waller, Sidney Bechet, Bob Crosby, many more. Just didn’t quite crack the A-list, but surely not through lack of talent.

Trumpet playing evolved, and that instrument became king in jazz. The cornet – well, it’s still around, but a minority thing. But, man, does it sound great? Certainly in the hands of Muggsy Spanier it does. This is a 1941 recording, a shellac cutting of a sort of Dixieland-meets-swing version of a gospel tune, “Little David, Play Your Harp”. Actually, no harp is played, but there are lots of horns, played with skill and exuberance. Just listen, especially to Muggsy on the cornet.

  • Artist: Muggsy Spanier And His Orchestra
  • A side: Little David, Play Your Harp
  • B side: Hesitating Blues
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Decca
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: Y5972
  • Year: 1941

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

Liquorice stick

On Sunday, my wife and I saw a jazz band, Sandra Tulty’s Swing Quartet. Australians all, and all stellar musicians: one of those jaw-dropping jazz ensembles, which sing, play multiple instruments, and take on solos without so much as raising a sweat. I was particularly impressed by the clarinettist, Michael McQuaid. He moved in and out of the music, soloing with extraordinary power and dexterity.

It reminded me of the great Artie Shaw – one of those musicians I have discovered through Planet Vinyl. Shaw was a contemporary of Benny Goodman, and they were built up as rivals, though the two men liked and respected each other. They were both Jewish (Shaw was an anglicization of Arshawsky) and they both took the jazz clarinet, the “liquorice stick” as it was called, into aural spaces no one had ever even thought of.

IMG_2241This is Artie Shaw’s recording of “Begin the Beguine”, released in 1938. The record has been played so often that the label is hard to read, but it once belonged to someone called Dawson. Whoever that was, they took good care of their records – the shellac still plays well, letting the smooth, sinuous clarinet sound shine.

  • Artist: Artie Shaw And His Orchestra,
  • Track: “Beguine the Beguine”
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue: EA 2369
  • Year: 1938

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs





Chopped and pickled

I will admit to having low expectations when I picked up this single. The name Jive Bunny, and the image of said bunny in a Hawaiian shirt aboard a Polynesian war canoe – not promising. Apart from anything else, rabbits are a major pest in Australia. Anyone who grew up in a rural area here, and has seen the damage they do, absolutely hates rabbits.

jive bunnyMore to the point, I vaguely remembered Jive Bunny as an early exponent of the sample: pinching fragments of music from various places, chopping them up like veggies in a food processor and producing something new. Often, vegetable goop. The folk purist that once I was frowned on such practices, and though I have long moved on the ghosts of old prejudices die hard.

Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, to give the full name, was a partnership between a radio announcer, Ian Morgan, and the owner of an electrical appliance store, John Pickles. They got together in the UK in the late 1980s, and put together sampled sounds over a driving disco beat. Old hits, chopped and pickled, you might say.

But Planet Vinyl is all about getting past pre-conceptions, and frightful covers.

Just listen! And I did, and there is actually a lot to like about Jive Bunny. The A-side, “That’s What I Like” is a parfait of rock tunes built around the theme to Hawaii Five-0 (hence the shirt and war canoe). It is a bit silly, but undeniably fun and danceable. That is all it sets out to be, and it succeeds.

I prefer the B side, though, which has less clowning and hangs together better. It features the John Anderson Band, a swing outfit which worked the dance circuit playing Glenn Miller numbers in the 1980s. “Pretty Blue Eyes” is a tight, swing number, discoed up a bit, and it is fun and danceable, and avoids the cheesiness of “That’s What I Like”.

Don’t think critically: just jive, bunny.

  • Artist: Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers
  • Single Title: That’s What I Like
  • Track: Side B “Pretty Blue Eyes”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Music Factory, MFD 002
  • Manufactured in: UK
  • Year: 1989

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs


Hard rubbish

There are some artists who are hard to take seriously, not because they are obscure but because they were once enormously popular. If you love to hunt for old records in op-shops and thrift-stores, as I do, you see these guys so often that you flick straight past them.

James Last. Nana Mouskouri. Kamahl. Harry Secombe. Yawn.

Even on Planet Vinyl, where inclusiveness is our creed, it is hard sometimes to give a fair go to the over-familiar. So it is that I only came to own a copy of Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream & Other Delights because someone put it out for hard rubbish collection.

whipped cream coverNot sure if people do this elsewhere, but in Australia there is a strange social convention. No honest person one would think of taking, say, an exercise bike from someone’s front porch. However, if the same exercise bike is put out on the nature strip, it is there for the taking. There is no need for a note saying “free, please take”. Everyone understands that the thing is being given away. The same applies to couches, barbeques, DVD players – the whole detritus of modern life.

Only once have I ever met records put out in this way, but it happened. Not far from my house, by the side of the road, was a birdcage, a foot bath, two standing lamps and a box of records – jazz and pop from the fifties and sixties. My family were with me, and impatient, so there was no time to be choosy – I just grabbed the whole lot. And so, after marvelling at the cover and giving the disc a good clean, I finally just listened Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass.whipped cream label

Herb, I discovered, could blow. The Tijuana Brass was slick, with a great sound: big-band swing with a touch of Mariachi.

Something else I learned. Whipped Cream & Other Delights was massively popular. The copy I found was an Australian re-issue from 1966, but it was released the previous year. It was number one on the album charts in the US for eight weeks. It stayed in the charts for more than three years. The cassette tape was a new technology then, just becoming popular as a way to play music in cars, and Whipped Cream was one of the first titles to win a “Gold Cartridge”. That sounds kinda funny now, but must have been worth a lot of money back then.

So, imagine. It is 1966. Fuel has lead in it, speeds are in miles-per-hour, no one wears seatbelts, and you have installed a tape deck in your Holden Monaro. You are out on a date on a warm summer night. Roll down the windows, and press ‘play’.

  • Artist: Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass
  • LP Title: Whipped Cream & Other Delights
  • Side 1, Track 5: “Whipped Cream”
  • Format: 12” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Festival SFL-931,680
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1966 (first released 1965)