Austin Funk – “Steam Heat” Re-Release And Reunion

When you think of the music scene of Austin, TX, you may think of progressive country music and singer-songwriters in the first place. But the music scene of Austin is versatile. It also has a lively jazz and latin scene. And it has a history of funk.

In 1975 Austin funk band “Steam Heat” released the LP “Austin Funk” and made it clear, that Austin can be very funky. The digital re-release of “Austin Funk” is now available for downloading at Fable Records.

Listen to “Radiator” by Steam Heat:

There will also be a reunion concert by “Steam Heat” to celebrate the re-release on August 21st at 9:00pm at “Threadgills World Headquarters” located at 301 W. Riverside Dr. in Austin, Texas.

Steam Heat is not the only highlight of the re-release party. “Starcrost”, “47 X Its Own Weight” and Beto and the Fairlanes will perform, too. Like “Steam Heat”, these jazz bands were active in and around Austin in the nineteen-seventies.

Austin funk band Steam Heat

Austin funk band Steam Heat

James Lasts jazziger Misserfolg wieder erhältlich

James Last, der deutsche König des Easy Listening, produzierte 1975 in den USA das Album «Well Kept Secret», das sich als einen seiner seltenen Misserfolge entpuppte. Unter Musikliebhabern arbeiteten sich die jazzig-funkigen Aufnahmen jedoch mit den Jahren zum geschätzten Geheimtipp hoch. Nun ist das bis anhin nur auf Vinyl erhältliche Album auf CD erschienen, versehen mit dem neuen Titel «James Last In Los Angeles».

Seit den sechziger hatte James Last in der ganzen Welt grossen Erfolg. Nur in den USA konnte der mit einem sicheren Riecher für den Massengeschmack ausgestattete Komponist und Arrangeur nicht Fuss fassen. Dies wollte er ändern. Er entschied, ein Album zugeschnitten auf den US-amerikanischen aufzunehmen.

Üblicherweise nahm Last seine Alben in Hamburg auf. Aber «Well Kept Secret»  spielte er in Los Angeles mit lokalen Studiomusikern ein. Darunter Grössen wie Larry Carlton an der Gitarre, Max Bennett am Bass, Larry Muhoberac an den Keyboards, Tom Scott an der Flöte, Ernie Watts am Saxophon und Gary Coleman an der Perkussion.

Zur Seite stand ihm als Produzent Wes Farrell (unter anderem Co-Autor von «Hang On Sloopy» und Produzent der «Partridge Family»). Er sorgte dafür, dass James Lasts Arrangements ein neues Klangkleid erhielten. James Last war begeistert: «Ich habe meine eigenen Arrangements nicht wieder erkannt, es war umwerfend. (…) Meine Musik klang völlig anders als andere James-Last-Alben, und genau das hatte ich mir gewünscht.»

CD bestellen

CD bestellen

Das Album kam begleitet von einer grossen Werbekampagne auf den amerikanischen Markt, die Kritiker besprachen es wohlwollend, aber der kommerzielle Erfolg blieb aus. Auch in der Heimat musste James Last auf den Erfolg verzichten: «Für den deutschen Markt hingegen war das Album zu jazzig, dort erwartete man sich von mir ja eher populärere Stilrichtungen. Ausserdem war Polydor (seine Plattenfirma, Anm. des Verfassers) nicht unbedingt begeistert, dass ich die Platte in den USA produziert (…) hatte.»

James Last Zitate aus «Mein Leben – Die Autobiographie», von James Last (mit Thomas Macho), Heyne, München 2007, Seiten 239-40

Verwandte Links

Why I Hate Music Downloads

Skull on Computer Window

It’s not the downloading of music itself that I hate. What I hate about it is the missing booklet. When I buy music – especially reissues – I’d like to have some information about it. I want as much credits as possible: musicians, songwriters, arrangers, producers, time and place of recording and so on. And I don’t mind a short biography of the artists and some nice photos.

iTunes for example won’t give you any of these credits. Although theoretically it would be possible. Every iTunes file comes with an “Info” tab where you can edit information about the file such as the artist’s name, album title, name of the songwriter, year of production and there’s also a comment box. Usually they only give you the name of the artist and the album title. That’s it. Sometimes they add the year of production. But if it’s a reissue the year of production often refers to the reissue and not to the original production date.

So you really only get the music and nothing else when you download. No added value. If you buy a CD you have a booklet with at least some information. It’s true, some downloads at iTunes come with a virtual booklet. But it’s a kind of hassle. Either you store it somewhere on your hard drive where you probably will never find it again or you write a CD, print the booklet, take scissors, cut it out and stuff it into a tiny jewel case. So much for the digital age …

Yes, it’s great to have immediate access to music. But it’s not enough for music lovers. Here’s my hint for record labels: allocating well researched background information that comes with a well designed booklet is a market niche for CDs.

The Link Between Glenn Miller And Brian Wilson

Paul Tanner
photo: RS Theremin Homepage
Paul Tanner: trombonist, professor and inventor of the Electro Theremin

The link between Glenn Miller and “Beach Boy” Brian Wilson is trombonist Paul Tanner who played in Glenn Miller’s big band in the nineteen-thirties and forties.

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In 1966 Paul Tanner (born 1917) played on Brian Wilson’s milestone composition “Good Vibration”. But he didn’t play trombone, he played an electronic device called “The Box” (also called “Electro-Theremin”) that sounds like a Theremin. You can hear it on “Good Vibrations” about 25 seconds after the beginning at the start of the first chorus (”I’m picking up Good Vibrations …”). If the sound should remind you of classic science fiction and suspense movies your feeling is right. The sound of the Theremin was very popular on film soundtracks in the fifties and sixties. Its eerie and longing sound is ideal for these genres.

The Theremin is an electronic instrument that is played without being touched. The player has to move his hands in front of it to master the pitch and to control the volume. In 1919 the Theremin was invented by Leon (Lev) Sergeyevich Termen (1896 – 1993) in the USSR. Termen lived in the USA from 1927 until 1938. His life story is more exciting then a suspense movie. Some sources say, that he was a soviet spy. Why he left the USA in 1938 is unclear. Some say, he was kidnapped, others claim he was in financial trouble or homesick. After his return to the USSR he became a political prisoner for a while. On this amateur video (from Paul Lansky’s page) you can see a demonstration of the Theremin by Leon Termen himself. The Giant Gila Monster

Back to trombonist and inventor of “The Box” Paul Tanner. When the big band area came to a halt he started working as trombone studio musician in Los Angeles. During one recording session with a Theremin player, Tanner noticed that the Theremin was hard to play. So he developed together with Robert Whitsell “The Box” which was easier to play than a Theremin. From then on he was often hired whenever the Theremin sound was required.

You can here Paul Tanner playing his “Box” on the TV shows “The D.A.’s Man” and “My Favorite Martian”, and on the movies “The Giant Gila Monster” and “Strait-Jacket”. Listen to a piece of soundtrack from The Giant Gila Monster (WAV format from Badmovies).

Music for Heavenly BodiesTanner recorded an LP with his “Box” called “Heavenly Bodies” in 1958. Listen to Somewhere (Real Media format – taken from Paul Tanner is not only famous for his trombone playing and “The Box”, but he was also a professor at UCLA, wrote many educational books about jazz and a biography (”Sideman”) about Glenn Miller.

For more information about Paul Tanner please go to Electro-Theremin, RS Theremin Homepage and Space Age Pop.

More information about Lev Termen’s unbelieveable life story: 120 Years of Electronic Music and Thereminvox.

Theremin on YouTube: A BBC TV report and Theremin live TV performance from 1953.

Lost & Sound writes about Theremin’s grand-niece Lydia Kavina, a Theremin virtuoso: Theremin Artist Lydia Kavina

Why Did They Make CD Graphics So Ugly?

Back Cover Abbey Road CD

When the first CDs came on the market in the nineteen-eighties, most music lovers were happy. The time of noisy and scratched vinyl LPs was over for good.

And the record companies were happy, too. Very happy. Because they could reissue their back catalogs at low costs and sell them on the then very expensive CDs. It was the last time that record companies made big money before music went on line and the downloading started.

What always troubled me, was the bad art work of the CDs. I’m not talking about the front cover. I’m talking about the back cover. Usually they reprinted the original vinyl art work. But on the back cover and on the CD itself they used ugly small square boxes in order to number the songs.

All companies used these ugly square boxes. Maybe the wanted to express with these boxes, that this sound carrier was digital indeed. Probably the square boxes were used as a symbol for digital, and should have indicated that this new thing is well organized, clean and modern. I don’t know. Over time the ugly boxes started disappearing. But you still can find them on a lot of CDs.

I also wonder why they came up with the ugly plastic cases. But that’s another story.