Brooks Tegler in the Studio

I recorded this interview with drummer and Gene Krupa authority Brooks Tegler on July 6, 2007, at Bias Recording Studios in Springfield, Va. I had recently been anointed as New Media Editor at Washington City Paper, mostly because I had a newfangled minDV camera and went around bothering people with it. I covered the first Capital Fringe Fest and first DC Shorts Festival. Those videos are on Youtube somewhere, but this one never got posted. Because shortly after, my father died, City Paper was sold and the new owners laid off two thirds of the staff, including me, then my mother died, then the economy died in 2008 and I had other things to worry about.

So, sorry, Brooks. But here it finally is. There is more, including an interview with vocalist Jim Stephanson and a lengthy talk about Gene Krupa’s cymbals and gear. Those will be posted soon.

Bill Holland takes the Blindfold Test

Around 2009, I went over to Bill Holland‘s house with the idea of recording him taking the famous Downbeat Magazine Blindfold Test, or my version of it. Originated by famed jazz critic Leonard Feather in the ’40s, the idea was to get prominent musician’s reactions to records of the day.

Like Feather, Bill Holland is one of the most knowledgeable musicians around. He was the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for Billboard, as well as the leader of one of D.C.’s finest bands, Rent’s Due.

I planned to do a series of blindfold tests, but with music from my collection, or songs that resemble music.

But…

After I got the tape home I discovered that the image had the time code visible. Annoyed at myself, I put the tape away and never did another blindfold test.

Of course, I could have just put an ID graphic covering the time code, as I have now done. Sigh.

Anyway, I finally transferred the tape and you can see Mr. Holland’s exquisite knowledge and wit on display. Enjoy.

Side note: This includes a track from Tina Louise, of Gilligan’s Island fame. I did another video about a reel-to-reel tape of her album, not remembering that I had featured her in this video. Crazy.

Dave Nuttycombe’s Almost Book Report

Because no one asked me, I offer this urgent update on my recent purchases from the beloved Politics and Prose book store.

Drumsville, by Robert Catalioti, examines how the beat that got everyone moving started in New Orleans. Dan Leroy‘s Dancing to the Drum Machine looks at what some thought to be the end of human percussion. The Foreword by Duran Duran‘s Nick Rhodes is worth the price of the book.

Enjoy.

I MADE A SONG!

The Exciting Backstory: So I decided to update my WAV editing software, Sound Forge, which I bought as discs from a computer software store when that was a thing you could do. Over the years, the original program was bought and sold, became Sony SoundForge, and finally is part of the Magix family of whatever. That’s where I found the upgrade.

I can haz musix

But with the upgrade came something I didn’t ask for, a music-making program called Music Maker. (Of course!)

Music Maker seems like Garage Band with pretensions to Logic Pro. When I opened it up there was a sample tune ready to go, which was stupid, but enticing enough that I clicked around and managed to create this sick little ditty. It took almost no time. That there was even a vocal track available is proof that nothing matters anymore.

The bad news is that now I’m one of those music-illiterate people who can use a computer to create sounds that put actual musicians out of work.

The good news is that I can’t figure out how to make another song with the program. Guess it was just magix!

Enjoy this greatest song ever produced.

The Lure of folklore

Yes, I’m on record as being a huge fan of Taylor Swift‘s new album, folklore. Not normally any kind of Swiftie, I discovered the music thanks to the kind algo-bots on Youtube (Hi!), who blessed my feed with the lyric videos when the album first “dropped,” as the kids and marketers say. Intrigued, then hooked, I quickly bought both the digital files and physical CD, and I’ve been listening nonstop since. It’s a good record to do the dishes by.

But then a new Youtube rabbit hole appeared: Insistent, ardent folklore cover versions. As with the 300-plus fan versions of Shallow that I found shortly after A Star Is Born was released, there is no shortage of reverential performances by happy Taylor fans. More intriguing are the many, many rewrites and answer songs. These are not attempts at Weird Al japery, these are deeply felt, sincere efforts to make Swift’s music even more resonant than it already is.

Most are based on the “teenage love triangle” of tunes on the album, cardigan, august, and betty, a mysterious triptych of angst, regret, and remembrance, which Ms. Swift is known for and excels at.

So here’s some of the more interesting videos I found. As usual, they come from people with thousands of subscribers and views to those who barely register double digits. But numbers belie talent; so many of these ladies could be the next Taylor Swift. All of their efforts are heartbreakingly wonderful.

Betty seemed to provoke the most response, with many gals leaping to provide Betty’s point of view:

And a ukulele version, but gender-swapped:

Speaking of gender-swapping, there’s a fair amount of reworking Swift’s songs to be explicitly LGBT-centric. Here’s betty, again, reworked to that effect:

And illicit affairs:

august from Jame’s POV:

This mashup combines the trilogy into one:

As does this:

This person seems to be rewriting the whole album!

cardigan

the 1

this is me trying:

Finally, here’s an amazingly deep analysis about the whole Betty/James relationship that is positively Sherlockian!

Going Deep With “Shallow”

star_is_born

Would you like 300 cover versions of the song Shallow from the film A Star Is Born? Of course you would. After exhaustive and exhausting research, I’m proud to present this list of some — repeat, some — of the too many cover versions of this Oscar-worthy tune, performed in the film by the Oscar-worthy Bradley Cooper and the Oscar-worthy Lady Gaga. Many of these renditions rival the quality and emotional resonance of the film version. Many do not. Some have thousands of views; others low single digits. Some are just inexplicable. Enjoy this time-suck. You’re welcome.

  1. Alyssa Shouse
  2. Allie Sherlock
  3. Moniqu

Soul Man: Larry Kidwell, 1947-2017

lawrence and the arabians

Larry Kidwell has passed. Larry was the singer/piano player for the legendary D.C. band Lawrence & the Arabians. (That’s him in Jesus pose behind his bandmates, circa 1967.) Before the term blue-eyed soul, he was its embodiment. As Michael Dolan wrote about the band in Washingtonian in 1988, “They were the original soul rebels, white kids who grew up on black music and in turn played black music for other white kids to grow up on.” One of those kids was me.

Larry and the band get their own section in Mark Opsasnick‘s essential book, Capitol Rock, deservedly so. In the era of teen clubs and dances at the fire hall, before there was such a thing as a concert industry and professional music venues outside of classical halls, the band routinely drew 1,500 or more kids every weekend.

Lawrence and the arabians card

Of course, there were no Arabians in the band. As with many band names of the time, it was a play on something current, in this case the film. Yes, it was a more innocent time; please put your comments about “appropriation” aside, especially if you never heard the man sing. The few recordings that Larry and the band made don’t really do him justice. As with so much about music, you really have to hear it live.

Larry generously gifted me with the original photo of the band after I interviewed him for City Paper. He wrote on the back:

“If this picture means anything good to you, please keep it that it would give me pleasure, too.”

Larry, this picture means the world to me. And I hope I thanked you enough.

Condolences to his family. This town lost a bit of its soul.

R.I.P., Mickey Toperzer

(NOTE: Reposting this by request. The original post, itself a repost from a Washington City Paper piece I wrote in 1994, got lost in the Great WordPress Upgrade Disaster of ’13)

Frank “Mickey” Toperzer passed away on Oct. 12. He was the owner of Drums Unlimited on St. Elmo Avenue in Bethesda, when Bethesda was a place where you could open a small shop selling only drums.

Below is the article I wrote about him for Washington City Paper, almost 20 years ago. I was still fairly new at the journalism game and I started the interview with some question that did not meet Mickey’s approval. “Stop. Turn of the recorder,” he said sternly. Startled, I did as he ordered. He then informed me that my question was so foolishly broad and uninformed that it was impossible to answer and that it would only make me seem foolish. Then he told me the question I was really trying to ask and we started again.

mickey toperzer

I’ve been told that Mickey kept a copy of the article in his shop, framed a bit sideways–because he felt it would catch people’s eyes better if it was off-kilter and then they’d stop and read it. A perfect example of how how Mickey’s mind worked.

The reason I wrote the article is that I worked at Drums Unlimited right after high school and knew Mickey to be an entertaining raconteur, among other things. It was a great experience and Mickey taught me many lessons that I didn’t know I was learning until years later.

Drums Unlimited made much of its money renting equipment, any and everything for a band, school, and orchestra. For a symphony gig at the Kennedy Center, the store came up short for seats. So Mickey gave me the keys to his house and told me to grab the bar stools from the basement. And I was also to pack up his son’s drum set. He’d rented that, too.

When Burt Bacharach was playing the Kennedy Center, his drummer complained that the cymbal stand he’d rented from Drums Unlimited wasn’t tall enough. Highly annoyed by this affront to common sense, Mickey cobbled together a frankenstand that was probably 12 feet tall. I got in the van and drove it down to the KenCen. Because I was a clueless teen with no perspective, I just burst into the rehearsal room, interrupting the musicians, and walked the ridiculous piece of hardware right to the drummer. There were some laughs and a confused, then stern look from Burt. I don’t know who the drummer was–he could have been one of the Wrecking Crew who played on many of the original Bacharach-David songs. I hope I didn’t get him fired.

Much of my time was spent delivering equipment to and picking it up from the newly-opened Kennedy Center. In fact, Drums Unlimited rented several tympani and a large bass drum to the National Symphony for Leonard Bernstein‘s “Mass,” which officially opened the Center. Even though Jackie Kennedy was just one floor above me, I remember being annoyed that the ovation went on and on and on, making me wait so long to pick up the gear.

That was the real treat of the job — wandering around the still half-completed building, underneath the public spaces. One day I poked through a door and found myself standing on the stage in the empty Opera House. I took in the grandeur, took a bow, and snuck out quickly.

In exchange for the keys to the van, I had to wear overalls with a Drums Unlimited logo. One day after a delivery I was heading to the vending machines by the dressing rooms when I spotted a tall man with long but well-coiffed hair who was wearing platform shoes and carrying a purse. Well, it looked like a purse. It was probably a standard messenger bag, but in the early 1970s guys did not carry bags, nor wear platform shoes. At least none of my high school pals did.

But, because I watched The Tonight Show religiously, I recognized Robert Klein, who was appearing in a play. As he passed, I smartly called out, “Robert Klein.” He gave me and my overalls a snooty once-over and replied, “Drums Unlimited,” and continued on his way. I never much cared for him after that.

Also, when I tried to score points by bragging to my friends that I had seen Robert Klein, nobody knew who he was. Rubes.

Then there was the time I was hauling a couple of tympani drums back to the van, I got snagged trying to lug one down the stairs, tripped, and fell head-over-tympani. Bang, crash, boom, indeed.

Another time, I peeled out from the light at Wisconsin and Bradley on my way to the KenCen. At the next light, a driver frantically caught my attention — the 28-inch bass drum had fallen out the unlocked back door and rolled down the road.

I believe I was making $1.35 an hour — minimum wage at the time. After a while, tired of Mickey calling me at home at night to give me instructions on where I had to be the next morning, I asked for a raise — to $1.65 an hour. I was promptly told that my services were no longer required.

Bang the Drum Profitably

It’s been 32 years since Frank “Mickey” Topics hung the small sign over the door of his shop on St. Elmo Avenue in Bethesda. For any business to last three decades is a feat; it’s especially remarkable for one with as narrow a product line as Toperzer’s. The blue-on-white letters on his modest marquee read “Drums Unlimited.”

Perhaps the “Unlimited” part of the sign explains it best. The wee retail store is but the tip of the drumstick in an almost sprawling empire that includes a rehearsal space, a mail order and instrument manufacturing business, and a musical-equipment rental service.

All of which arose from the typical drummer’s complaint; having to lug carloads of equipment for the same paycheck as a less-burdened flute or guitar player. “I’m a musician, not a truck driver,” Toperzer scoffs.

In the ’50s, Toperzer was one of the busiest drummers in town, working hotel one-nighters with dance bands and orchestras nearly every evening

The Sound of Our Town

Red Fox Inn Bethesda Md Nuttycombe Archives

C&O Canal
Eric Brace & Peter Cooper
Red Beet Records

Hometown tunes from the 1970s and ’80s are the unifying theme of Eric Brace and Peter Cooper‘s heartfelt and nostalgic new album, C&O Canal. A love letter to the musicians who inspired the D.C.-raised duo, C&O Canal is a set of cover tunes penned the likes of the Seldom Scene‘s John Starling, Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Joe Triplett, Karl Straub, and more; it’s an ode to a particularly fecund era for the local music scene.

C&O Canal Eric Brace Peter Cooper

The liner notes connect the many dots tying these D.C.-area musicians together, and hearing the songs filtered through the mesmerizing harmonies of Brace’s mournful baritone and Cooper’s high-lonesome tenor reveals the depth of craftsmanship and artistry this area has produced. “Washington history is as rich with genius-level roots music as it is tricky politics,” Brace writes, correctly. The album is dedicated to, among lots of inspirations, many of the D.C. clubs that hosted live music every week: The Birchmere where the Scene had its residency for so many years, Bethesda’s Red Fox Inn, where Emmylou started (pictured; I played there, too!), Gallagher‘s on Connecticut Ave., where Carpenter hosted an open mic (pretty sure I played there in the late ’60s when it was called Sam’s Place), the fabled Cellar Door (so many nights there; so much magic).

Almost every week in the ’70s, you could hear the Rossyln Mountain Boys‘ Joe Triplett sing his lament, “Been Awhile.” B&C bring it back with just enough reverence, while putting their own stamp on the song.

Likewise, if Cooper’s plaintive version of “Boulder to Birmingham” won’t make you forget either Emmylou’s definitive original or the nearly-definitive version by co-writer Bill Danoff‘s Starland Vocal Band, he acquits himself well.

I’d somehow missed Carpenter’s “John Wilkes Booth,” and so thought at first that the song was taken from some 1870s tract. But this recitation of historical perfidy manages to be both haunting and jaunty. Jauntily haunting? Is that a thing? On this album, yes.

From the opening title track, John Starling’s “C&O Canal,” B&C establish a consistent tone and mood, a celebration not only of this particular town, but of honest music made by and about real people. In this age of individual downloads, C&O Canal is one of those too-rare releases that work as a unified whole. The result is a listening experience to be savored at length, even on shuffle-repeat.

Brace and Cooper bring their Americana goodness to Jammin Java on Friday, June 3, for the official record release party.