In an interview, John Lee Hooker described the genesis of his 1961 hit Boom boom:
“I used to play at this place called the Apex Bar in Detroit. There was a young lady there named Luilla, she was a bartender there. I would come in there at night and I’d never be on time. Every night the band would beat me there; sometimes they’d be on the bandstand playing by the time I got there. Whenever I’d come in she’d point at me and say ‘Boom boom, you’re late again.’ It dawned on me that that was a good name for a song. Then one night she said, “Boom boom, I’m gonna shoot you down.’ She gave me a song but she didn’t know it.”
“I took that thing and I hummed it all the way home from the bar. At night I went to bed and I was still thinking of it. I got up the next day and put one and one together, two and two together, trying to piece it out—taking things out, putting things in. I finally got it down right, got it together, got it down in my head. Then I went and sang it, and everybody went, Wow!”
“About two months later I recorded it, and the record shot straight to the top. That barmaid felt pretty good. She went around telling everybody ‘I got John Lee to write that song.’ I gave her some bread for it, too, so she was pretty happy.”
Quoted in Working musicians: Defining moments from the road, the studio, and the stage by Bruce Pollock (New York: HarperEntertainment, 2002, pp. 290–91).
According to most sources, today is Hooker’s 100th birthday! Above, recording in 1960, a year before Boom boom; below, a classic performance.
Donald Francis Tovey left thousands of marginal comments on the sheet music he owned, dating from different periods of his life.
Here and there one finds a score that is chock-full of pencil scribblings, critical, historical, personal—clearly remarks that Tovey meant for his own eyes alone, though it is impressive that he often wrote complete sentences with full punctuation. Most commonly he sang the praise of some compositional marvel in words of simple rapture: “Splendid!” “Magnificent climax!” “Wonderful!”
But Tovey was at his wittiest with composers he didn’t much like. Muzio Clementi came in for some particularly choice remarks, such as “Silly little beast in bad Mozartian style with one or two idiotically difficult bits of pianistics.” A passage in Clementi’s op. 50, no. 3, subtitled Didone abbandonata, elicited the comment “and here comes the Bishop, or the Pope with triple crown.” This whimsy is petulantly crossed out, and below, in a different but equally Toveyan hand, are the words “Pretentious NONSENSE” (see above). Where the theme is inverted he wrote “Here Dido stands on her head.”
This according to “Tovey’s marginalia” by Raymond Monelle (The musical times CXXXI/1769 [July 1990] pp. 351–53). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Today would have been Monelle’s 80th birthday! Below, the jovial finale of Tovey’s Sonata for two cellos.
In an interview, Maddy Prior recalled her early impressions of English traditional music.
“We did a bit at school and as a result I didn’t like it very much,” she says, “but it was cool in my adolescence to sing American folk songs and get into Bob Dylan. From that I started going to folk clubs.”
“I drove Reverend Gary Davis around for a month in 1966. That was a character forming experience! Then I met this American couple and drove them around for a year. They told me to stop singing American folk songs, because they said I was rubbish at it!”
“They had lots of tapes of English folk music and I started to listen to them, reluctantly at first, I might add. I found the songs old and boring. But I listened to the tapes again, and again, and eventually I found ‘Oh I like that song’, ‘Oh I like that one too’. You get your ear in, that’s what you have to do with any music.”
Quoted in “Please to see the folk-rock queen” by Kernan Andrews (Galway advertiser 8 May 2014).
Today is Prior’s 70th birthday! Above, at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in 2016; below, singing Steeleye Span’s 1975 hit All around my hat in 2004.
BONUS: The female drummer in 1971, when the Steeleye Span lineup included the legendary Martin Carthy and Ashley Hutchings.
While Cécile Chaminade’s works were much loved in her day, she has been largely written out of musical history due to her enduring nostalgia for the aesthetics of her youth. “I confess,” she wrote to a friend in the 1920s, “that I can adapt myself no more to modern music than to modern painting, architecture, poetry, literature, mentality, or morality.”
Most of Chaminade’s successes were melancholy, nostalgic works. Her piano piece Automne at one time sold over 6000 copies a year, and a statement about it in one of her articles for the American magazine The etude shows her allegiance to the Romantic idea of correspondences between nature and the imagination in an almost Symbolist way. “Automne was composed…at the time of the year when nature is at peace and where one looks back on the fine days that have passed and, looking back, realising with heartfelt regret that they are now things of the past.”
This according to “Sister of perpetual indulgence” by Richard Langham Smith (The musical times CXXXV/1822 [December 1994] pp. 740–44). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Today is Chaminade’s 160th birthday! Below, a performance of Automne by Valerie Tryon.
Starting in 1912, Marcel Duchamp incorporated musical concepts and structures into his work, thereby promoting the emancipation of noise and confirming composition and music-making as a cottage industry.
Duchamp’s Avoir l’apprenti dans le soleil (To have the apprentice in the sun, 1914) was created at a time when the artist was concerned with the challenges of combining elements of various arts. The cyclist is a symbol of the French avant-garde and the modern spirit; the viewer sees the cyclist’s effort to mount the staff lines as a contrast between silence and noisy corporeality. The battle between the arts is not to be ironed out by means of assimilation, but must be fought out or brought to a détente in the artwork itself.
This according to “Marcel Duchamp, John Cage und eine Kunstgeschichte des Geräusches/Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and an art history of noise” by Michael C. Glasmeier, an essay included in Resonanzen: Aspekte der Klangkunst/Resonances: Aspects of sound art (Heidelberg: Kehrer, 2002, pp. 49–70).
Today is Duchamp’s 130th birthday! Above, the drawing in question; below, the artist describes his readymade À bruit secret (With hidden noise, 1916): “Before I finished it Arensberg put something inside the ball of twine, and never told me what it was, and I didn’t want to know.”
Enrique Granados’s Duo-Art piano-roll performance of his Danza española no. 5 (Andaluza), made some 20 years after the piece was published, illuminates much about late-Romantic piano performance practices.
Transcription and analysis of this piano roll illustrate the disparity between score and performance. Granados added and changed notes, ornaments, articulations, and chords. He also altered many rhythmic values, desynchronized melody and accompaniment, rolled chords at will, and introduced drastic tempo changes not indicated in the score. His performing style thus reflects a personal approach to the piano that lies well within the broader context of the Romantic performance tradition.
This according to “Piano-roll recordings of Enrique Granados: A study of a transcription of the composer’s performance” by Anatole Leikin (Journal of musicological research XXI/1–2 [January–June 2002] pp. 3–19).
Today is Granados’s 150th birthday! Below, the recording in question.
In 1971 Carlos Santana’s Black magic woman hit number 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It would take him nearly three decades to make the top 10 again, but it was a comeback worth waiting for. In 1999 Santana’s Smooth, featuring Rob Thomas on vocals, topped the chart for a stunning 12 weeks and stayed 58 total weeks on the list, making it the No. 2 Hot 100 song of all time. The recording also won three Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
Recalling the recording session in a 2014 interview, Santana said “I didn’t want [the guitar part] to have brain or mind or energy. I wanted it to be with innocence. Innocence to me is very sacred and very sensual. People should never lose their innocence. So I didn’t practice, purposefully. As soon as I found out where my fingers go on the neck, you close your eyes and you complement Rob. Kind of like a minister: He says Hallelujah, and you say your name.”
“When you make it memorable, you hang around with eternity.”
This according to “Smooth at 15: Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas reflect on their Billboard Hot 100 smash” by Leila Cobo (Billboard 27 June 2014).
Today is Santana’s 70th birthday! Above, performing Smooth in 1999; below, the official music video.
Henry David Thoreau was the only nineteenth-century American writer of the very first rank who paid prolonged and intense attention to sound-worlds, particularly non-human ones. As a naturalist, his fieldwork involved not only botany but also sound-collecting.
Thoreau’s writings illuminate how he understood music as sound. He discussed ambient sound and animal sound communication in acoustic ecological niches; he understood that sound announces presence and enables co-presence; and he developed a relational epistemology and alternative economy based in sound. His responses to the vibrations of the environment through prolonged and deep listening make him valuable for sound studies today.
This according to “Thoreau’s ear” by Jeff Todd Titon (Sound studies I/1  pp. 144–54).
Today is Thoreau’s 200th birthday! Below, one of Charles Ives’s meditations on the man and his work.
Arlo Guthrie’s classic story-song Alice’s restaurant massacree hinges on an episode in which the teenaged Guthrie and a friend help Alice and Ray Brock clean their Stockbridge, Massachusetts, home—a deconsecrated 17th-century church—for Thanksgiving dinner, by hauling away a half-ton of garbage.
When Arthur Penn made his film Alice’s restaurant, he used the Brocks’ church/home as a metaphor, including a scene in which a man stands up and says “We’re going to reconsecrate this church.”
And so it came to pass: “Alice’s church” is now the Guthrie Center, an interfaith church celebrating religious and cultural diversity, and a not-for-profit educational foundation (inset; click to enlarge).
The church provides weekly community free lunches and support for families living with HIV/AIDS as well as other life-threatening illnesses. It also hosts a summer concert series; Arlo does several fundraising shows there every year. There are also annual events, including a Thanksgiving dinner for families, friends, doctors, and scientists who live and work with Huntington’s disease (a condition that afflicted Arlo’s father, Woody Guthrie).
This according to “Arlo Guthrie’s storied career” by Richard Harrington (The Washington post 12 August 2005).
Today is Arlo Guthrie’s 70th birthday! Above, a scene in the church from the film; below, the film’s ending, outside the church.
During 1957 and 1958 Frank Lloyd Wright was working on what might have become his magnum opus: beginning with a commission for an opera house in Baġdād, he developed a far-reaching Plan for Greater Baghdad.
Wright arrived in Iraq in May 1957, just one month short of his 90th birthday, and after two audiences with King Faisal II he left with permission to build an opera house and incorporate it into development of a vast site in the middle of the Tigris River—an uninhabited area that Wright believed was the site of the Garden of Eden.
In July 1957, in a speech back in the U.S., he said “I happen to be doing a cultural center for the place where civilization was invented—that is, Iraq. Before Iraq was destroyed it was a beautiful circular city built by Harun al-Rashid, but the Mongols came from the north and practically destroyed it. Now what is left of the city has struck oil and they have immense sums of money. They can bring back the city of Harun al-Rashid today.”
Unfortunately, following the military coup of July 1958 the project was rejected; it was too extravagant for the military leadership, and too closely identified with the old monarchy.
This according to “Arabian opera nights” by John Allison (Opera LIX/1 [January 2008] pp. 26–30).
Today is Wright’s 150th birthday! Above, his plan for the Crescent Opera House; inset, a drawing of the full cultural center (click images to enlarge); below, a computerized 3-D rendition of the opera house.