I post a weekly diary of the historical notes, arts & science items, foreign news (often receiving little notice in the US) and whimsical pieces from the outside world that I featured this past week in "Cheers & Jeers". For example .....
OK, you've been warned - here is this week's
tomfoolery material that I posted.
ART NOTES - the exhibit Medieval to Monet is at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT through January 27th.
HAIL and FAREWELL to James Hood who has died at the age of 70 - one of the first black students who enrolled at the University of Alabama a half century ago in defiance of George Wallace's "stand in the door" ..... as well as the tennis star Gertrude 'Gussie' Moran - whose flamboyant mode of dress in 1949 made her the "Anna Kournikova of her time" according to Jack Kramer - who has died at the age of 89 ......and also the two-time Olympic medalist in the high jump, John Thomas who has died at the age of 71 (and for whom radio personality Bill Littlefield had a nice remembrance). Speaking of obituaries .....
I GOTTA CONFESS that when I learned of the death of Dear Abby - that my first thought was not of her extensive columns, nor her complicated relationship with her sister (Ann Landers), but instead .......... this John Prine classic.
BRAIN TEASER - try this Quiz of the Week's News from the BBC.
GOOD LUCK & HAPPY TRAILS to the journalist Paul Salopek - planning to spend the next seven years walking (on a trek sponsored by National Geographic) from Ethiopia to Asia and North America all the way down to the tip of South America ...... retracing the journey of early humans out of Africa and around the world.
WEDNESDAY's CHILD is Orlando the Cat - an English kitteh who, by pushing/throwing his toy mouse on a grid of numbers (allocated to different companies) outperformed several stock analysts over the course of 2012.
HISTORY NOTES - a curator at the British Museum takes a look at the myth of the lost city of gold waiting for discovery in South America, El Dorado - which inspired many a many a conquistador to explore the continent - before going on to describe the truth behind the myth.
ARCHEOLOGY NOTES - restorers who began work in October removing layers of old plaster at the Roman Colosseum found that polychromatic decorations reveal what it actually looked like - with the work set to be completed this summer.
CHEERS to the Baton Rouge radio personality Zia Tammami - who emigrated from Iran to attend Louisiana State University, having first learned about jazz from the famed Voice of America broadcaster Willis Conover - and Zia is now to be honored for hosting the longest running jazz show (at thirty-five years) in North America.
ART NOTES - a retrospective of the works of photographer Jürgen Teller - including this one of Bjork and her son - will be at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, England beginning on January 23rd through March 17th.
TIME MARCHES ON - discussion has begun on whether the values assigned to certain letters in the game of Scrabble - which were based on newspaper usage as it existed back in 1938 - ought to be adjusted, to reflect current language usage.
ALTHOUGH he died over 130 years ago, the great-granddaughter of the Italian unification leader Giuseppe Garibaldi - long believed to be resting in a tomb on the island of Sardinia - is among those unsure as to whether he is (in fact) so entombed .... and she is seeking permission to have it opened, just to set the record straight.
THURSDAY's CHILD is Holly the Cat - a Florida kitteh who ran away (spooked by a fireworks show) but was located two months later (190 miles away) due to her microchip.
GLAD that eight architects and designers recently displayed their new low-cost houses at a show in New York City, intended for feral cats - including one model made of recycled aluminum cat-food containers insulated with recycled denim.
FOLLOWING the death of the singer Patti Page I learned that (a few years ago) she did a re-make of her old hit song .... only this time with new lyrics and entitled Do You See That Doggie in the Shelter? - even with a reference to kittehs in the spoken-word portion - which was recorded on behalf of the Humane Society.
FRIDAY's CHILD is Merlin the Cat - an English kitteh whose purr may be the loudest in the world.
...... and finally, for a song of the week ............... one of the leading British blues-rock bands of the 1970's was Wishbone Ash - with my favorite twin-guitar duo apart from the Southern Rock bands of the day. They have been in existence since 1969, never breaking up but undergoing dry periods, followed by some revolving-door personnel periods (not uncommon in bands of that era) before becoming a classic-rock band. But one hears elements of jazz, progressive rock and English folk among their sounds, which helped them garner a foothold in the 1970's.
Their origin goes back to 1966, when drummer Steve Upton formed a band (called Tanglewood) along with bassist Martin Turner. After some success, they eventually moved to London - and upon playing at a gig in Hampstead, they had the good fortune to be heard by someone later to become their manager. This was Miles Copeland - the brother of future Police drummer Stewart Copeland, and the founder of IRS Records. But in July 1969, Martin Turner's brother Glen left the band, leaving them without a guitarist.
And so - like many other British bands of the day - they placed an ad in the (sadly) now defunct music weekly Melody Maker that read, "LEAD GUITARIST: Positive thinking, creative and adaptable, for strongly backed group with great future."
During the auditions, they could not decide whether Andy Powell or Ted Turner was best. Unlike Jimi Hendrix and his manager Chas Chandler (who flipped a coin and chose Mitch Mitchell on drums instead of Aynsley Dunbar), Martin Turner and Steve Upton decided .... well, why not take both of them? Then, they needed a new name, and once again used a tried-and-true method: choosing a name from a list of possiblities. But with a twist: they used two lists of words ..... and the combination Wishbone Ash was put together and adopted as the band's new name.
They rehearsed at their new manager Miles Copeland's house and with new material began to open for bands such as Aynsley Dunbar's Retaliation. Their big break came when they opened for Deep Purple - and when their guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was warming up during a sound-check before the show, Andy Powell started (very softly at first) trading licks with him ... until they had a call-and-response, on-stage. Rather than feel upstaged, Blackmore came over to shake the new kid's hand and (more importantly) introduced the band to a producer who secured a recording contract.
Their 1970 self-titled first album gained fans across Britain. The band always lacked a singer with authority, but their ability to jam - especially with the song Phoenix that was for them what "Free Bird" was to Lynyrd Skynyrd - made them an opening act that got respect.
1971's Pilgrimage was a more mature recording, with The Pilgrim among their most-requested songs from it. The rhythm section of Steve Upton and Martin Turner became as adept a duo as the twin guitar heroes Powell and Turner, and the band always had a sense of humor both in their song titles (Where Were You Tomorrow) and in interviews where Martin Turner (asked what amplifier he used on-stage) replied, "I don't know .... it's rather dark when we go on stage".
Their highest-charting album of all time came next, as 1972's Argus had medieval themes ("Warrior", "Throw Down the Sword") and more of a folk sound woven into their twin guitar harmonies. That trend continued with 1973's Wishbone Four becoming their highest-charting album in the US, leading to tours opening for The Who at stadiums.
It was at this time, though, that the first personnel change occurred as Ted Turner left the band after being tired of endless touring (without much actual traveling). His replacement was Lawrence (Laurie) Wisefield, whom Ash fans embraced after while. It was at this time that Wishbone Ash - again, like many other UK acts of the time - moved to the US in part as tax exiles, and in part because their US tours were now a major source of their support. 1973's Live Dates was for me an introduction to the band, as it highlighted their best songs from the first four albums.
The next five-six years saw the band struggle with their record company's desire for a more commercial sound, and their albums were often uneven. Martin Turner left the band in 1979, and this is where the revolving-door syndrome set in: as he was first replaced by former King Crimson bassist John Wetton, then by former Blodwyn Pig bassist Andy Pyle ... among others. Laurie Wisefield left in 1985 (first, to become a member of Joe Cocker's band) and yet other changes took place.
First, though, there was a reunion in 1988, with the original four members recording Nouveau Calls and then Here to Hear in 1989, with their first major venue gigs in a decade. But slowly the band began to change as first drummer Steve Upton retired from the music business in 1990 to manage Miles Copeland's chateau in the south of France. Martin Turner left in 1991 and Ted Turner in 1993, with Andy Powell now the only original member of Wishbone Ash still in the band.
A resident today of Connecticut, Andy Powell still leads Wishbone Ash (he is on the right of both photos below: the original lineup on the left, the current one on the right) and Andy points out that the current line-up has proved stable - "with bass player Bob Skeat in his 16th year and Finnish guitarist Muddy Manninen in his 7th year". They are currently on a European tour but will turn up on a North American stage before long. There are two annual conventions held: AshCon in the UK and AshFest in the US, and a biography of the band was released in 2000.
For the past few years, Martin Turner has led his own touring UK-based band called Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash - which as you can imagine doesn't sit well with Andy Powell - and Martin released his memoirs last year. Ted Turner lives in Arizona and (after touring with several bands over the years) in 2010 finally released Eclektic Value - his first solo album. Laurie Wisefield has performed with Tina Turner and other touring bands, and was part of the orchestra for the long-running Queen musical "We Will Rock You" at the Dominion Theatre in London - currently, Wisefield is in the band Snakecharmer - along with former members of Whitesnake and Thunder .
Just last year, at a performance in England of Martin Turner's version of Wishbone Ash - there was a reunion of three of the original members (plus Laurie Wisefield). Ted Turner had been asked to perform and had declined - but when he heard that the (rather reclusive) Steve Upton was going to attend (although not perform) .... Ted did fly from Arizona to take part and in the 1st photo (left-to-right) are Steve Upton, Ted Turner, Laurie Wisefield and Martin Turner. No plans for further gigs, they said ..... but who knows?
I couldn't choose just one song of theirs, and so I chose two. One is an instrumental: their jazz background led to the choice of the jazzman Jack McDuff for his song Vas Dis - with Martin Turner scat-singing it at this BBC recording:
The other tune is from their third (and best-seller) album Argus, with The King Will Come my favorite tune of theirs ... since it incorporates all of the band's sounds together.
In the fire, the king will come
Thunder rolls, piper and drum
Evil sons overrun
Count their sins - judgment comes
The checkerboard of nights and days
Man will die, man be saved
The sky will fall, the earth will pray
When judgment comes to claim its day
See the word of the prophet
On a stone in his hand
Poison pen revelation
Or just a sign in the sand?