Saturday, August 31, 2013

The *real* University of Tennessee fight song(s)

Happy New Year, college football fans!

Yes, it's the first Saturday of the season, which for most of us means happiness AND heartbreak are just around the bend.

But, the year is young, so let's be optimistic and, as someone who attended and graduated (summa cum laude, baby!) from the University of Tennessee, let me say "Go Big Orange!"

Best of luck to Coach Butch Jones as he leads the Volunteers through the T today and all season. It's going to be a bumpy ride, maybe for awhile, but nobody wants to see Rocky Top glow again more than I.

Above, you will see a photo of Butch listening to my all-time favorite UT coach, John Majors, who is no doubt telling him to stress the kicking game, special teams, and most importantly, to "Attack, attack, attack! Always attack!"

And, for all you young 'uns out there, especially those who insist on inserting that obnoxious "woo" into "Rocky Top," here is the *real* UT fight song(s).

Go Vols, and wherever you are, may your team enjoy a great year, unless you're playing Tennessee or unless you are Vanderbilt on any given week.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

This week's sign of the Apocalypse

People never cease to amaze me.

Bottom's up! (Rim shot)

Her parents must be proud.

On another note, here is an inspiring blog post from TV writer Ken Levine. The takeaway: Never, ever give up on your dreams.

Have a safe Labor Day weekend, y'all.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Now THESE are what I call cartoons!

I feel sorry for kids today. By and large, they don't get to see good cartoons anymore.

Oh, I guess "Scooby-Doo" still is showing somewhere. And maybe "Tom and Jerry."

But, I took a look at the Saturday morning lineup the other day and sighed. No "Merrie Melodies" and "Looney Tunes"!

I hate to start into the "Back in my day" bit, but back in my day, not only could you watch those 'toons (usually for an hour!) on Saturday mornings, you could also see them at Mr. Gatti's. And, whenever the Tennessee Theatre would show classic cinema, sure enough, there would be a Warner Bros. cartoon, just like in the old days.

I know it's apples vs. oranges, but Warners outshone Disney on the animated shorts by leaps and bounds. What people tend to forget is these cartoons weren't aimed at kids. They were meant to be seen by adults who went to the movies.

Bonus points: The musical scores, which often included classical music masterpieces and clips of popular songs of the day, like "Don't Fence Me In" and "Shuffle Off to Buffalo." 

Bugs Bunny is my favorite. There's something about his cocksureness and ability to talk his way out of a jam that is quintessentially American.

My favorite cartoon short of his has to be "What's Up, Doc?" It's the one that shows how Bugs made it big. And my favorite scene is the one in which Bugs is on skid row with other out of work performers (including Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny (I think -- the cigar threw me) and Bing Crosby.

Jolson pops up and says to the others, "Hey, fellers, here comes Elmer Fudd, that big vaudeville star!" Each does his trademark gag -- Jolson says "Mammy, Mammy!", Cantor sings "Ain't We Got Fun?", Benny (I think) plays the violin, and Crosby croons "You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby." Elmer ignores them all with a dismissive wave of the hand.

Then he sees the "wabbit."

"Bugs Bunny?! Why are you hanging around with these guys? They'll never amount to anything. You've got too much talent."

Bugs' ears slowly perk up.

"I'll give you equal billing! You'll be a star! Whaddya say, Bugs?"

Bugs nods, grins, and sees stars.

Off they go, tripping through Elmer's humiliating vaudeville act until Bugs stumbles onto the "What's up, Doc?" routine.


Determined to save the next generation, I took a couple of volumes of Warner Bros. cartoon DVDs over to my sister's house to show my nieces, Maisen and Reagan.

Well, Reagan is too young to get it. She just spits up and grins. But when Maisen heard Eddie Cantor sing "Ain't We Got Fun?" she laughed.

I smiled.

That's NOT all, folks!

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stream of consciousness

I haven't done this in awhile, so here is a stream-of-consciousness blog post. I'm writing whatever comes into my mind while I type. 

If you are a news junkie and you're not watching the PBS "NewsHour," you're missing the best nightly news program on television. Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill just conducted the best interview with President Obama that I have seen this year. Tough, pointed questions.

I like the show because it delves beyond the headlines and doesn't give you sound bites or shouting.

Boy, this Syria situation is tough. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Hard to stand by and watch fellow human beings get gassed. And yet, we've done it before. Sigh.

I'm hungry. Nothing sounds good. Nothing. Isn't that terrible?

Wonder where I put that DVD? Oh, well. I guess it will turn up eventually.

I've got to get going on this book I've checked out from the library. I think it's due early next week. Wonder when the person who checked out the Natalie Wood book will return it? I'm ready to read it.

 Heh, heh. My friend Dean posted this quote from the silver-tongued social studies teacher Steve Hensley:

"Do you remember the Midway at the Tennessee Valley Fair? That was where they had the freak show tents. I don't think there are any freak shows anymore. There is no need. The whole world has become a freak show." 

If I ever get to host a late-night talk show, Steve will be a weekly guest. 

Think I'll spin some wax on the turntable tonight. Mel Torme, maybe. "New York State of Mind." 

Some folks like to get away, take a holiday from the neighborhood...

OK, I guess I better stir up something to eat. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The latest reason why I love my wife...

... She buys me gifts like the Webster's New International Dictionary (Second Edition, Unabridged), from 1935.

As Sinatra once swooned, "But just in case you couldn't guess, or didn't know, or hadn't heard, I love my wife."

The English language is sacred to me. I admire it, I respect it, and I love to read those who can create pure poetry out of it. Shakespeare outdid every other scribe. But you know that.

Anyhow, Jenn found me this gem while scouring flea markets and yard sales the other day. What a keeper, huh?

I looked up the definition of one of my favorite words, which describes, oh, for example, Miley Cyrus, and, even more sadly, so many people one encounters with increasing regularity:

Solipsist (noun) -- One who adopts, or is believed to adopt, the theory of solipsism; the hypothetical individual who asserts his self to be the sole reality or the necessity that he must be skeptical of all else.

And don't worry. I have something of a surprise ordered for my wife as an "I love you" thank you, a little item fit for even a movie star whose real name was Norma Jean. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

The good ol' days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems...

After reading all these comments about Miley Cyrus and the MTV VMAs (no, I didn't watch the clip), I am tempted to go on a curmudgeonly rant worthy of Andy Rooney.

But, no. Let's do something else.

Most of you know that I'm a proud, nostalgic, old soul. My favorite two singers are dead. My favorite movie was released 44 years ago. My favorite dramatic TV series was canceled in 1988 and my favorite sitcom was canceled in 1983. My favorite sport is no longer the true national pastime.

By and large I do think that popular culture is a vast wasteland. But that doesn't mean that everything old is spectacular and that everything new stinks. Far from it.

Example of the former: "The Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini."

Example of the latter: Michael Buble

You have to sift among the dross more than you used to, but it's out there, if you look.

Woody Allen is still churning out good films. Brian Stokes Mitchell is one of the most talented singers of any era. Two of the best biographies I have ever read (James Kaplan's "Frank: The Voice" and Paul Hendrickson's "Hemingway's Boat") were both released in this decade. "Mad Men" is one of the best television shows I have ever seen, and "Downton Abbey" is just as addicting as was the original "Upstairs Downstairs."

All this being said, the crap outweighs the quality. It's tempting to say it keeps getting worse.

Last week, I saw a few minutes of a revolting show in which two people roam around naked while trying to survive in the wild. I'm not a prude about nudity, but I hate everything about so-called "reality TV," from the fact that networks like them because they can make them on the cheap (which means you don't need writers) right down to the fact that it has taken voyeurism to a new low.

Some of these folks should know better. Jimmy Buffett, for example, has cut a single with Toby Keith (a guy I liked in the '90s who has long outstayed his welcome) that is actually called "Too Drunk to Karaoke."

Somebody should check to see if cracks have appeared in Hank Williams' grave.

(Note to Nashville: I'm pretty sure Hank DIDN'T do it this way...)

But, I try to keep remembering a line from a Billy Joel song:

"The good ol' days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."

When all else fails, I just put on my records or surf over to YouTube and get "Lost in the '50s Tonight."

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Second acts

Didn't sleep a wink last night. Didn't feel well. Finally nodded off about 7:30.

But that's not what I wanted to talk to you about. Hope you're having a good day.

I'm spending Sunday afternoon the way I usually do, with the papers and Jonathan Schwartz.

Interesting news from the literati today. Looks like the late J.D. Salinger, reclusive and retreating in life, may publish again. If this New York Times story is true, all those hidden works we have heard about may see the light of day. (For you "Field of Dreams" fans, the Terrence Mann character in the movie was actually named J.D. Salinger in the novel, "Shoeless Joe.")

How about that?

 The director of a to-be-released film on Salinger is quoted in the article as saying this is going to be a second act unlike any other, especially for a writer. Jonathan Karp, publisher of Simon & Schuster, says it will be the publishing event of the decade. Schwartz just corrected him on his radio show:

"Of the century!"

Second acts are relatively rare in American life. Scott Fitzgerald claimed there aren't any, although scholars have argued for years over what he meant.

Sinatra had one. So, too, did Tony Bennett. And Elvis.

And Churchill. And Nixon. And a few others.  

So, in the truest sense, they happen.  But rare they are. Rare indeed.

For some reason, we as a country love to build up people, then watch them fall. I never have understood that.

Still don't, on a Sunday afternoon or any other day of the week.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Quiet Saturday night

What's shakin' on this Saturday night?

It is relatively quiet here. Mel Torme (and Friends!) is on the turntable. "Porgy and Bess Medley." Doo be doo be doo dah. Remind me to tell you a Torme tale here in a minute.

Hate we couldn't make it to Brent and Katie's wedding in Music City. Of all things, I passed a small kidney stone. And I'm getting over an infection. Hey, at least I passed the darn thing. It's only the second of 14 I've been able to get rid of naturally.

Thank God for Spencer Solomon. Not only does the 20-something give me hope for the future in terms of his musical taste, but he's also a darn good guy.

Spencer brought over 15 DVD volumes of "The Dean Martin Variety Show" for me to watch while I'm laid up this weekend. How about that?

Everybody loves somebody, sometime...

As I told somebody earlier, I was a little disappointed when my condo didn't have a pole on which I could swing down from the upstairs to the living room, like Dean did. Maybe I can get Jenn to buy me an orange couch, "Mad Men" era, though.

I mentioned Mel. True story: A friend of mine went to see Torme years ago here in Knoxville. He was single at the time and brought along a buddy who, uh, had bent one elbow too many earlier in the day.

After the show, my pal got to meet Mel. He said Mel was nice, gracious, welcoming ... until the bombed buddy said, "It's very nice to meet you, Mr. Bennett."

And off the bus went into the night.

Also, I had forgotten that my favorite disc jockey -- WNYC's Jonathan Schwartz -- shows up on "Mel Torme and Friends Live at Michael's Pub New York." Talk about the best of both worlds.

Let's toast one to Brent and Katie. We're there in spirit, y'all.

Have a good weekend.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Frank Sinatra does WHAT?

Hey, gang. Gotta make it short and sweet today.

You're not going to believe this, but Frank Sinatra -- that cool cat, The Chairman of the Board -- recorded his version of "The Twist."

No, it isn't the Chubby Checker version. It's Frankie's attempt to be hip, a little number called "Everybody's Twistin.'"

My buddy Brad Reeves says, "It's so bad, it's good," and I guess that's about right. Kinda like the Adam West "Batman" series.

Listen for yourself and tell me what you think. There's one line near the end that's guaranteed to crack you up! (No pun'll know what I mean when you hear it.)

See y'all tomorrow.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Happy National Radio Day!

Happy National Radio Day, fellow babies!

From Jack Benny and the late, great Orson Welles, to Vin Scully and Ernie Harwell, to former Vol Network legend John Ward, to Wolfman Jack, to Jonathan Schwartz and WNYC-FM, to NPR, to local favorites Dan Bell, C.P. and Walker, Mike Hammond, Jean Ash, and the late, great Claude Tomlinson (and Lester Longmire and Old Man Schultz), to WDVX, radio will forever be my favorite medium. And that includes listening to news, sports (particularly baseball) and entertainment, nowadays "A Prairie Home Companion" and "Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me!"

Besides Benny's show, my favorite radio programs were "Gunsmoke," "The Shadow," "The Whistler" and "Inner Sanctum." (And anything with Bing Crosby!) Listen to some of your favorites here.

But, without question really, the greatest disc jockey of them all was WKRP in Cincinnati's own Dr. Johnny Fever.

"Oh, I almost forgot, fellow babies ... BOOGER!"


Hole in the heart of Halls

Well, I spared the Beaver Dam Baptist Church senior citizens from hearing my usual $1.98 vaudeville routine tonight.

They had heard it before and anyway I wanted to share some tidbits from my research into the history of my native Halls community and more importantly pay homage to one of its finest citizens, Mr. Sam Hardman, who passed away Friday at the age of 95.

It would take the talent of Shakespeare to capture Sam's story. He served his country in World War II and ended up in Halls because his company found a job for him in Knoxville when he returned home.

Sam had one of the great final acts of any human being I know. After his wife died -- when he was 80 years old -- Sam decided to give back to his community. He said sitting around and being sad was no way to live.

Each morning, he'd drive to Kroger and buy expiring bread and other items to take to the Halls Food Pantry. He became the ambassador for HonorAir Knoxville, the organization that flies World War II and Korean War veterans to Washington to see their memorials. He was active in American Legion Post # 2. He was a spokesperson for the Woodmen of the World. He is a former Halls Man of the Year. There's no way I can list all of his accomplishments here.

Sam was so busy, even his family had to make appointments in order to see him. And I think that added 15 years to his life.

But, most of all, Sam was a sweet, super human being. I never saw him without a smile. If you talked to Sam for about 30 seconds, you and he were no longer strangers.

Perhaps E.B. Hunter said it best:

"If there were more Sam Hardmans, this world would be a much better place."

There's a hole in the heart of Halls this week.

For more information on HonorAir Knoxville, visit this website.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Nuts over Natalie

Got a great sick gift yesterday.

TCM saluted Natalie Wood on Sunday as part of its "Summer Under The Stars."

My, my. I've had a crush on Natalie Wood since I first saw her in "The Searchers." It isn't just her physical beauty. She has this presence. I can't quite describe it. But I love it.

By the time I realized she was on, the station was screening "Rebel Without A Cause." I had seen the film once -- back in high school -- and didn't much like it. My friend Dean Harned, who is so well versed on classic cinema he teaches a high school class about it, hates it.

 I liked it better this time around. For a '50s film, it's dealing with a lot of issues that weren't talked about at the time. Tortured Sal Mineo, James Dean's issues at home (Jim Backus' character is truly pathetic in the charitable sense), Natalie feels her parents don't care what she thinks. It's the first film (perhaps along with "Blackboard Jungle") to really start looking at teenagers in a realistic, non "Gidget" kind of way.

What I don't like about the film is James Dean. He's got the look, he wears cool clothes, you want to like him, but he just hadn't found his acting chops yet. As you know, he died young and thus remains an enigma.

Next  up was "Splendor in the Grass," a film I really like that also deals with teen angst. Unfortunately the cold medicine I had taken knocked me out halfway through the picture. Oh, well. I'll get it on DVD.

I woke up in time for "Sex and the Single Girl." OK, it's ridiculous, but it's a heck of a lot of fun, especially the final chase scene, something straight out of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." Larry Storch! Lauren Bacall! Henry Fonda driving like a bat out of hell! What's not to love?

I went to bed during "The Great Race," a picture I want to like but don't, I think because I was spoiled by "Mad World." I kept waiting for Jonathan Winters to show up and demolish a filling station.

Was sort of miffed I couldn't stay awake for "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" because (cough) you know, but thank goodness for the DVR.

TV writer/blogger Ken Levine loves Natalie Wood more than I. Here's his post from yesterday. (Thanks for the heads up, Ken!)

 Do some searching while you're there. He writes about her often.

Happy Monday, y'all. Have a good week.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Other jobs I'd like...

Yesterday's post was so well received, I thought I'd share another one along the same vein. Forgive me if this is shorter than usual. I feel terrible and it is Natalie Wood Day on Turner Classic Movies.

Here are a few other jobs I wish I had -- ones I think about during those Walter Mitty moments...

Being Charles Kuralt -- Longtime Pull Up A Chair readers know this one. I have often dreamed of taking what I do for the Shopper-News and doing it from sea to shining sea.

Oh, I couldn't do it with Kuralt's eloquence and mastery of language, but maybe I could do it in print, about a quarter as well as Kuralt. His "On the Road" segments were my favorite part of the old "CBS Evening News." I own a lot of them on DVD.

After all, Kuralt said two things I very much believe:

"It does no harm, just once in awhile, to acknowledge that the whole world isn't in flames, that there are people in this country besides politicians, entertainers and criminals."


"The everyday kindness of the backroads more than makes up for the greed in the headlines."

Being Ed Murrow -- I'm not and never will be anywhere near Murrow's universe, but, gosh, I admire that guy. In addition to all the important work he did with Fred Friendly, he also hosted "Person to Person," interviewing everybody from Bing Crosby to Liberace, all while the wisp of smoke floated up from his fingers.

Being on "What's My Line?" Yet another fact that won't shock all five of my longtime readers. I love this show. It is by far the classiest, coolest, most stylish "game show" in network history.

Half the time I want to be John Charles Daly, news reporter during the week for ABC, erudite host  of "WML?" on Sunday nights for CBS. The other half of the time, I wish I were Bennett Cerf, the hokey wit of the panel, but as his day job, co-founder of Random House at the high-water mark of 20th century American literature. Heck, Arlene Francis and Martin Gabel were his next door neighbors!

"That's three down and seven to go...Mr. Cerf?"

(Look up some of the mystery guest segments from "WML?" on YouTube. It's a "Who's Who" of 20th century stars from all galaxies.) Here is my favorite.

Working for The New Yorker in the William Shawn era -- Every writer's dream. A few years ago, Garrison Keillor played out my fantasy in a fun novel called "Love, Me" I would have missed had it not been for my friend and fellow bibliophile, Mercer University professor Dr. Bridget Trogden. Read it, if you're of a certain persuasion.

Being "The Announcer" -- Johnny Olson, Ed McMahon, Gary Owens ... I know, for example, I lack the talent to be Carson, so let me be Ed. For years, introducing the guests and saying, "Heeeeeeeere's Johnny!" was on my bucket list. I also had this incredible urge to exclaim, "Get ready to match THE STARS!" every time I watched "Match Game." And, yeah, I sometimes say "From beautiful downtown Burbank!" when nobody's listening. Sock it to me!

Have a good week, y'all. See you in the Shopper. Don't miss my column this week on Archie "Hee Haw" Campbell. Some things may surprise you. (This particular link will work for one week.)

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Walter Mitty dream jobs

OK, let's get one thing straight:

I've got the best job in the world.

Sure, the pay isn't great, the hours are long, you hear more complaints than applause, and when you screw up 100,000 people can potentially see it.

But that's my story and I'm sticking to it. I tell tales for a living. Doesn't get much better than that.

Still, I have my Walter Mitty moments. So, here are a list of jobs I sometimes dream about on cloudy days.

Being Rob Petrie -- I don't want to be just any ol' comedy writer for a TV show. I want to be Rob Petrie from "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Let's face it: He sits around all day thinking up jokes with Rose Marie and Morrie Amsterdam. Every now and then they get to make fun of bald guy Mel. They work for Carl Reiner's Alan Brady. At night, Rob goes home to Mary Tyler Moore circa the 1960s Capri pants era. (OK, we'll forget that he also trips over the ottoman -- sometimes! -- and for some strange reason has to sleep in a single bed next to Mary's.) His neighbor is Jerry Paris. What a life!

Being Jack Benny -- I'm a big radio guy and missed out on its Golden Age. Thank God I can listen to endless hours of Benny's classic comedy. Picture perfect timing, classic routines, the self-confidence to make yourself the butt of every joke, Jack Benny's show created the sitcom. He was everything his radio/TV character wasn't -- warm, generous, even talented on the violin. I would have loved to have had a radio show like Jack's, Sunday nights at 7. LSMFT!

Being Harry O/Magnum, p.i./Jim Rockford -- Yes, I would like to be any member of this trio of TV detectives. Oh, I know it's a fantasy. The work is hard, tedious, dangerous. But, I'll take a beachfront cottage in San Diego (Orwell), a guest house in Hawaii (Magnum) or even a seedy trailer by the highway in Los Angeles (Rockford). Shows about quirky detectives have given way to a saturation of rote procedurals. It's such a shame.

Being Jonathan Schwartz -- He's been a fixture on New York radio for decades. Jon Schwartz is one classy cat. Saturdays and Sundays on WNYC, he spins everything from Sinatra to the latest showtune singer. He used to be a cabaret singer himself. His dad was a famous composer. He lives in Manhattan. He likes baseball. He writes books. Yes, sir. Yes, indeed.

Being Robert Osborne -- Need I explain it? Although he's finally slowing down, Osborne has been the host of TCM since its inception. He waxes poetic about classic cinema. And he does it with class, confidence and cogent comments. Roll the next clip!

Being Vin Scully -- Oh, that sounds too pretentious, but I'd love to be a radio/TV play-by-play announcer for a major league baseball club. The national pastime is tailor made for radio really, and Vinny and the late Ernie Harwell and a couple of others are the cream of the crop. They knew what to say, they knew when to shut up and they did it (and in Vin's case is still doing it) with class and competence.

Having said all this, being Jake Mabe is pretty darn good.

But I can dream, can't I? (To coin a phrase.)

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Friday, August 16, 2013

'You'll Never Walk Alone'

Thank you very much to the host of folks around the world who called, emailed, texted, and most especially listened to the WDVX-FM "East Tennessee Quiver" last night.

Special thanks to Tony Lawson and the gang for this great American(a) treasure of a radio station, to Bradley Reeves for inviting me to be a guest, to Dewayne Lawson, who listened to the entire four hours, to blogger Brian Hornback for the shout out, and to Wayne Bledsoe, Jim Childs, Bill Householder, Spencer Solomon, and Brad Walker for showing up at the studio.

We had a blast to say the least.

I'm going on three hours' sleep, so I'm too tired to wax poetic about Elvis tonight. But I think we said it all (I hope) in the music last night.

The show will be archived for two weeks at by clicking on the dates Aug. 15 and Aug. 16 and listening to the hours from 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Thanks also to all of you who have read and commented on the week-long blog tribute to The King of Rock and Roll.

As a final salute, here is a fitting song to close out Elvis Week.

God bless ya, Elvis.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Listen to the radio...

To quote the country crooner Don Williams, "Listen to the radio, oh, listen to the radio..."

Tonight promises to be a big honor for your humble servant. Bradley Reeves, host of the super "East Tennessee Quiver" on the superb WDVX-FM radio station, has asked me to be the guest and talk about musicians with local and regional ties about whom I've written during my 15-year newspaper career.

(My first response: "Guess somebody couldn't make it, huh?")

Seriously, this is quite humbling and we hope to treat you to a good show.

It will begin at 10 p.m. (Eastern) and can be found in Knoxville at 89.9 FM or 102.9 FM on your radio dial or streaming on the interwebs at

During the hour, we'll talk about and play music by Mary Costa, Robinella, Carl Smith, Carl Butler, Archie "Hee Haw" Campbell, the Brad Walker Orchestra, Ross Southerland and Ronnie Speeks. We also have a few surprises and the promise of some special guests.

Tune in if you can and hang around at 11 p.m. for a hunk-a hunk-a burnin' love, if you get my drift...


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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

'Duke and The King'

This post continues a week-long series on Elvis in celebration of Elvis Week. 

Duke Bardwell found out the hard way that more tears have been shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.

Bardwell, one heck of a talented singer/songwriter/musician, got a chance to play electric bass with one of his childhood heroes, Elvis Presley, in 1974. Jerry Scheff, Elvis' bass player since 1969, had left the TCB Band. Bardwell met Elvis' drummer Ronnie Tutt while playing on sessions with Jose Feliciano. Ronnie suggested Duke try out for the band. Duke did and got the job.

And a dream became a nightmare.

I'm at a loss to describe why Elvis rode Duke Bardwell the way he did throughout 1974. Those who want to be kind suggest The King was just displaying his usual oddball humor. Others gently suggest the King's meds played a part. Still others say Elvis wanted Scheff back and resented Bardwell's mere presence.

Whatever the case, it isn't pretty. In one concert, he introduces Duke and then says, "Is that D-O-O-K?" In another Elvis says, "He looks like a little F. That's E-L-F."

Bardwell finally had enough and left, pissed at The King and doubting his own musical ability and self-worth.

His tale is told in a documentary I'm dying to see, "Duke and The King." I hope it eventually finds a distributor. Watch the trailer here.

What's sad about the whole thing is Bardwell was a heck of a picker. Even if I don't know the date of an Elvis concert recording, I can usually distinguish Bardwell's bass playing from Scheff's. He had a unique technique and sometimes played with picks.

As my buddy and noted guitarist Ross Southerland says, "Duke's bass playing was funky, not as busy as Jerry's."

If you watch the movie trailer, you'll see a bunch of Elvis impersonators make fools out of themselves by not even knowing Duke's name.

Well, Duke, I'm here to tell you that the serious fans sure as hell know you and like your picking very much.

Bardwell also briefly played with a band that has become a cult favorite, Gritz (sometimes called Cold Gritz). Here is a fascinating story about Bardwell's background, "The Bard of the Bayou."

And, whatever you do, don't miss this cut by Gritz, a cult classic co-written by Bardwell called "Bayou Country." This bad boy simply ROCKS.

Host Bradley Reeves and I will be highlighting some of Elvis' lesser-known songs on WDVX-FM's "East Tennessee Quiver" beginning at 11 p.m. (Eastern) Thursday, Aug. 15. Listen locally at 89.9 FM, 102.9 FM or online at Email your requests to or call 865-544-1029 #221 or 866-946-9389 #221. The one proviso is that the song must be a non-hit.  

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Essential Elvis movies

This continues a week-long series of blogs on Elvis for Elvis Week...

At the Michigan ElvisFest last summer, while listening to an Elvis tribute artist perform songs from what is generally considered The King's weakest period musically -- his movie soundtracks -- my friend David Romas leaned over and asked, "Of all those movies, how many of them would you say are worth watching?"

My answer?

"Ten." (For the casual fan, the count may be a bit lower.)

Now, I'm not counting the two performance documentaries, "That's the Way It Is" and "Elvis On Tour." Both are essential if you are a fan and interesting even if you're just a fan of American music.

But the scripted movies are another story. A handful are must sees for any Elvis fan. A few are fun. Another handful are so bad I can't even make my way through them. Most -- let's face it -- are forgettable.

So, I thought I'd list my choices of 10 essential Elvis movies. These are in no particular order, just 10 flicks I think are fun or worth seeing for one reason or another.

Change of Habit (1969) Elvis as a hip doctor and Mary Tyler Moore as a nun? You had me at hello!

A lot of people hate "Change of Habit." I'm not sure why. The songs are kept at a minimum, but what's there is great -- the title track, "Rubberneckin'" "Let Us Pray" and even -- if you're in the right mood -- "Have a Happy."

A member of Elvis' inner circle (it was either Charlie Hodge or Sonny West) said by this point Elvis knew this was his last movie and he simply had fun with it.

"If you want to see Elvis as he really was, watch that film ('Change of Habit')," he said.

Some say Elvis and Mary have no chemistry together. While sparks don't exactly explode, I think they play off each other pretty well. Both were at the peak of their physical looks. I try to watch it at least once a year.

Live a Little, Love a Little (1968) This is a guilty pleasure. It's silly, bizarre even at times, but a lot of fun. Elvis looks great, co-star Michele Carey sizzles and you're even treated to a great fight scene between Elvis and his buddies/Memphis Mafia cohorts Red and Sonny West. And it's as adult as an Elvis film is going to get. He throws a few "hells" and "dammits" into his speech and even is shown taking photos for a girlie magazine (albeit in G-rated fashion).

Several of the songs are super sweet, including "A Little Less Conversation," which would become a smash remix hit in 2002. Rudy Vallee, Don Porter, Dick "The Later Darren" Sargent and Sterling Holloway round out a good cast.

King Creole (1958) Perhaps Elvis' best film performance is captured in this dark story of a teenage rebel trying desperately to make something of himself. Shot on location in New Orleans, Dolores Hart and
Carolyn Jones costar along with Walter Matthau. The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz, who also helmed "Casablanca."

Jailhouse Rock (1957) You know why this one is here.

Viva Las Vegas (1964) Elvis. Ann-Margret. Vegas. "What'd I Say?" No need to say more.

Flaming Star (1960) A good -- not great -- western sees Elvis play a half-breed caught between a rock and a hard place. Co-starring Steve Forrest and Barbara Eden, this movie gives you a glimpse of what might have been.

Blue Hawaii (1961) This picture is fluff but fun. It's the best of the three movies Elvis shot in Hawaii and features the song that would become his concert closer, "Can't Help Falling in Love."

Wild in the Country (1961) Definitely not your typical Elvis flick, this one again gives you glimpses of the actor Elvis could have become had he been given better scripts. It co-stars Tuesday Weld, Hope Lange and Millie Perkins.

Kid Galahad (1962) This one is a bit of a guilty pleasure, but it co-stars Gig Young and Charles Bronson and I just like it, especially the movie's signature song, "I Got Lucky."

Roustabout (1964) Decent script, fun movie, couple of great songs and Barbara Stanwyck.

Five Elvis films to avoid:

If you can sit through "Harum Scarum," "Paradise Hawaiian Style," "Stay Away Joe," "Clambake" and "Easy Come, Easy Go," more power to you.

What's your favorite Elvis flick?

Host Bradley Reeves and I will be highlighting some of Elvis' lesser-known songs (although probably not many movie tracks) on WDVX-FM's "East Tennessee Quiver" on Thursday, Aug. 15. The show begins at 10 p.m. (Eastern) but the Elvis segment will start about 11. Listen at 89.9 FM or 102.9 FM in Knoxville, TN, or online at Email us your Elvis requests (non-hits only) beginning at 11 p.m. (Eastern) to or call 865-544-1029 #221 or 866-946-9389 #221.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

'Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues'

This post continues a week-long tribute to Elvis Presley to celebrate Elvis Week 2013.

One of Elvis' most admirable attempts to shake up what had become a fairly rote stage show -- at least in terms of song selections -- happened on Aug. 19, 1974, the opening night of his summer engagement at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Scrapping "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and "See See Rider" and the usual routine, he opened with "Big Boss Man" and forsake most of the '50s hits, too, for some more interesting material, including "Down in the Alley," "It's Midnight" (which became a staple for a short while), "I'm Leavin'," "If You Talk in Your Sleep," "Promised Land" and a song he had recorded but performed live only once -- Danny O'Keefe's elegiac, "it's past time to grow up" lament, "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues."

Elvis' live take of "Good Time Charlie" is a fine performance and also one of two songs during the '70s to showcase rhythm guitarist John Wilkinson on stage (the other being Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain"). He appears to be engaged and in great spirits, a far cry from the September tour a month later. (Arriving for a concert at College Park, Maryland, an obviously stoned Elvis fell while getting out of his limo and gave a performance so listless that one fan on an audience recording of the show can be heard to say, "He's lost it!") To his credit, he somewhat bounced back the following night, but a later show on the same tour is nearly as bad.

Anyhow, during "Good Time Charlie" back in August, Elvis tries to joke his way through parts of the song that hit too close to home. After he sings the line, "You play around, you'll lose your wife," he quips, "Already done that!" And when he sings "You play too long, you'll lose your life," he appears to utter, "Almost did that, even." (Whatever he says, Charlie Hodge breaks into laughter.) Tellingly -- tragically -- he chooses not to sing one line in O'Keefe's original version:

Got my pills to ease my pain; can't find a thing to ease the rain...

I don't say that with any judgment or sense of irony. I just think doing so would hover over a truth Elvis didn't or couldn't touch, even in song.

The critics were kind -- excited even -- by the new show, but the fans didn't care for the changes. The next night he brought back the same basic setlist he'd been singing for a couple of years and would continue to use -- with a few glorious exceptions -- until the final curtain fell in June 1977 at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. It was a chance to break the monotony, give him a challenge he desperately needed in hindsight, but, alas, it wasn't to be.

Thankfully, the show was recorded and is available on CD as "Nevada Nights" on Sony/BMG's excellent (albeit expensive) FTD label, which has been turning out true treats these last few years for serious Elvis fans.

I will be highlighting some of Elvis' lesser-known songs and hidden gems with Bradley Reeves on WDVX-FM's "East Tennessee Quiver" at 11 p.m. (Eastern) Thursday, Aug. 15. Tune in locally on 89.9 FM, 102.9 FM or online at Call or email the studio with your favorite Elvis request. The only "rule" is the song must be a non-hit. 

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

"I'm Leavin''

In the spring of 1971, Elvis Presley recorded a song that should have been a smash.

Whenever anyone asks me which Elvis record is the best "unknown" track, "I'm Leavin'" is my No. 1 answer.

I first heard it on a British documentary about the singer. Its haunting lyric and unusual structure made me curious about its origins. I knew there had to be a story there somewhere.

It finally surfaced on a fan website in a fascinating 2010 interview Arjan Deelan conducted with song co-writer Michael Jarrett. Jarrett had been on the road right out of high school -- including a stint with Jerry Lee Lewis -- and finally had his fill of the lifestyle. During a performance in Portland, Ore.,  he had an epiphany, he says, that enough was enough. He was tired of playing other people's music. After the show, he picked up his guitar and left.

Resting in San Francisco, clearing his head, he happened to see that his Vegas friend Sonny Charles was singing one night. He eventually stayed with Charles for awhile in Los Angeles and ultimately wrote "I'm Leavin'" with him.

"Sonny put me up for awhile, and it was in the fall of 1970 that I took Sonny's 12 string into the shower (water off, of course) and shut the glass door and was getting off on the natural echo and the 12 string, it sounded huge!," he tells Deelan. 

"I just started singing the la la la's and was just fooling around and the first verse just happened. It was then I realized I was singing about this girl I'd left behind in Portland who really wasn't supportive of my quitting the band and taking off for parts unknown, and had said to me at one point, 'What if your songs aren't good enough'? She said this to me when I told her I wanted to go to LA and get my songs recorded, and I'm thinking, 'Gee baby, if you're my girl, why can't you dream with me?' ... well, she just didn't understand so I said, I'm leavin' and that's that, I'm not beating my chops up in the bars anymore and if you can't dream with me, then what good is it anyway.....'

The song peaked at a meager No. 36 on the top 40, but Elvis thought enough of it to sing it several times in concert, including at the Boston Garden in 1971 and again in 1974 and 1975.

Here it is, backed by some poignant footage from Elvis' funeral. 

Bradley Reeves and I will highlight "I'm Leavin'" and several more of Elvis' lesser-known songs on the WDVX "East Tennessee Quiver" beginning at 11 p.m. (Eastern) Thursday, Aug. 15. Tune in at 89.9 FM or 102.9 FM locally in Knoxville or online at Call or write us with your request. Just remember: It has to be a non-hit!  

What a time to be in L.A.! Sonny put me up for awhile, and it was in the fall of 1970 that I took Sonny's 12 string into the shower (water off, of course) and shut the glass door and was getting off on the natural echo and the 12 string, it sounded huge! I just started singing the la la la's and was just fooling around and the first verse just happened. It was then I realized I was singing about this girl I'd left behind in Portland who really wasn't supportive of my quitting the band and taking off for parts unknown, and had said to me at one point, 'What if your songs aren't good enough'? She said this to me when I told her I wanted to go to LA and get my songs recorded, and I'm thinking, 'Gee baby, if you're my girl, why can't you dream with me?' ... well, she just didn't understand so I said, I'm leavin' and that's that, I'm not beating my chops up in the bars anymore and if you can't dream with me, then what good is it anyway.....' - See more at:
What a time to be in L.A.! Sonny put me up for awhile, and it was in the fall of 1970 that I took Sonny's 12 string into the shower (water off, of course) and shut the glass door and was getting off on the natural echo and the 12 string, it sounded huge! I just started singing the la la la's and was just fooling around and the first verse just happened. It was then I realized I was singing about this girl I'd left behind in Portland who really wasn't supportive of my quitting the band and taking off for parts unknown, and had said to me at one point, 'What if your songs aren't good enough'? She said this to me when I told her I wanted to go to LA and get my songs recorded, and I'm thinking, 'Gee baby, if you're my girl, why can't you dream with me?' ... well, she just didn't understand so I said, I'm leavin' and that's that, I'm not beating my chops up in the bars anymore and if you can't dream with me, then what good is it anyway.....' - See more at:
What a time to be in L.A.! Sonny put me up for awhile, and it was in the fall of 1970 that I took Sonny's 12 string into the shower (water off, of course) and shut the glass door and was getting off on the natural echo and the 12 string, it sounded huge! I just started singing the la la la's and was just fooling around and the first verse just happened. It was then I realized I was singing about this girl I'd left behind in Portland who really wasn't supportive of my quitting the band and taking off for parts unknown, and had said to me at one point, 'What if your songs aren't good enough'? She said this to me when I told her I wanted to go to LA and get my songs recorded, and I'm thinking, 'Gee baby, if you're my girl, why can't you dream with me?' ... well, she just didn't understand so I said, I'm leavin' and that's that, I'm not beating my chops up in the bars anymore and if you can't dream with me, then what good is it anyway.....' - See more at:

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

'My Heavenly Father Watches Over Me'

Well, as those of you who love King Elvis the Presley know, this is always a difficult week for his family, friends and fans.

Elvis Presley died, way before his time, at age 42 on Aug. 16, 1977. You know the reasons. No need to rehash them here.

Anyhow, this week is designated as Elvis Week, which officially kicks off today in Memphis. I'm celebrating vicariously through Sirius/XM's Elvis Radio and by spinning records from my own collection. And, as I promised you Thursday night, I'm also dedicating a week of blogs to the King.

Today, in honor of her birthday, I'd like to present to you Kathy Westmoreland's soaring, stunning live version of the song she would ultimately sing at Elvis' funeral, "My Heavenly Father Watches Over Me."

Elvis loved singers who could sing in the stratosphere and those who could hit low notes several keys off the piano. So, after Millie Kirkham quit singing live with Elvis in 1971, he hired opera singer Kathy Westmoreland to take care of the former. (And, as you probably know, he soon after hired his childhood hero J.D. Sumner and Sumner's Stamps; J.D. took care of the low notes.)

This live version was recorded in concert in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 1976. Kathy's soaring vocal sends shivers up my spine every time I hear this concert. I wish there had been an audio recording of Elvis' funeral service. I know he was somewhere smiling knowing that Kathy was singing for him as only she could.

Happy birthday, Kathy. Thanks for sharing your talent with the world.

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Friday, August 09, 2013

'It's Easy for You'

On what turned out to be his last studio album ("Moody Blue"), Elvis recorded what I consider to be one of his most underrated songs, "It's Easy for You."

The song was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. I have heard they composed it especially for The King. If you can confirm or deny this, shoot me an email at

By 1976, Elvis had lost interest in studio recording. Desperate for material, RCA sent a truck and equipment to Graceland. Elvis recorded several songs in his Jungle Room that provided material for two albums, "From Elvis Presley Boulevard" and "Moody Blue."

"It's Easy for You" is a haunting, beautiful song that obviously had a lot of meaning for Elvis at that point in his life. The lyrics are posted below. Listen to the song here.

Happy Elvis Week, y'all!

It's Easy for You

You may not mind that it's over
But I've a different point of view
Even though I am shattered
It's easy for you

You don't have to face the music
You don't have to face the crowd
Just go back where you came from
You ain't even proud

I had a wife and I had children
I threw them all away
And now you tell me, you dare to tell me
I should go back to them
What do you think I should say?

I found it hard to leave them
Saddest thing I ever had to do
My problems haven't started
And it's easy for you

I had a wife and I had children
I threw them all away
And now you tell me, you dare to tell me
I should go back to them
What do you think, what on earth do you think I should say?

If you ever tire of the good life
Call me in a year or two
I've got no choice, I'll forgive you
'Cause it's easy for you

You only have to call me, it's easy for you
You only have to call me, it's easy for you

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Thursday, August 08, 2013

Kicking off Elvis Week

Hi gang.

Sorry it's been awhile since I've pulled up a chair. Had some fun with sciatica (insert your old man joke here) and a killer migraine that didn't want to quit.

Tomorrow kicks off Elvis Week. Nope, I won't be walking in Memphis, but I am going to commit to blogging something about The King for seven straight days, culminating with the special show that Brad Reeves and I will be doing on WDVX-FM at 10 p.m. (Eastern) Thursday, Aug. 15, that will include a tribute to Elvis. Don't miss it -- 89.9 FM or 102.9 FM in Knoxville, TN or online at

This photo is from Elvis' March 15, 1974, concert at Stokely Athletics Center in Knoxville. Somebody had given him an orange and white "guitar." Go Vols!

Happy Elvis Week. And hail, hail rock and roll!

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