My Trombones

Let me show you them.

Month: January 2016

Louis Prima

Louis Prima is the best.


Not the fastest, not the highest, not the most technical, maybe the loudest, but definitely the best. A big ol’ bowl of the best spaghetti you ever ate.


Who else would write “Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing)” (1936), let alone make it an instant hit?

I mean, what is he doing with this? Who cares! It’s great!

The Benny Goodman band quickly arranged their own version, inserting some other popular tunes where Prima was quoting earlier stuff. Their 1937 studio recording and famous 1938 live recording in Carnegie Hall practically launched the swing era.

These were rare extended recordings from that era, with an arrangement that gave the soloists some space. The result was 20-something year old musicians widely disseminating some game changing stuff. Who wouldn’t want to be Gene Krupa after hearing that?


We’ve digressed.

Louis’ personal life and business dealings were as out of control as his stage persona. He pressed forward through the war years with a string of goofy Italian pasta-face caricatures that payed for bands, boats, horses, and divorces.

When I confess my love for Louis Prima, I imagine many think I’m talking about these Italiano songs, which is fine, they are fun songs and Louis always sells it, but I’m mostly talking about the magic that resulted from the introduction of young Keely Smith into his act in the early 50’s.

Now Louis’ stage antics had the perfect deadpan romantic counterpoint.

At this point he’s in danger of becoming a relic, allegedly contemplating retirement, but suddenly the old standards he never stopped playing had a fresh setting and new life: Louis and the boys make a strong push, but Keely has heard it all before and knows the score.

They married – his fourth – and had a steady gig in Vegas through the 50’s. Saxophonist Sam Butera and his band The Witnesses gave the music youthful energy.

They wrote that together. It’s swing, but it’s also early rock and roll. Old meets new.

His New Orleans origins were in there throughout. All hail the Louis Prima tag ending!

The David Lee Roth and Brian Setzer revivals of his songs are perhaps better known today, but I suggest future Prima revivalists take his charts somewhere else, like Goodman did. You are not going to top Louis Prima at the Louis Prima thing.

Louis and Keely got divorced, because of course they did, and his life and career went on from there.

New wife Gia was much more straightforward and adoring on stage.

There was another revival of sorts with the Disney movie.

And now life goes on without him.


Louis Prima is the best.

Squeeze Box

Wooden boat gatherings would typically end up as a folk jam session below deck on one of the larger vessels. Music, singing, laughing, eating, drinking, smoking.

My dad would add his guitar to the assembled concertinas, fiddles, spoons, strums, and whistles . My mom was always a proud audience member, “Somebody has to listen!”

With adults overflowing the main cabin, the kids would gather in the forward berths with books and dominoes. An older kid Jesse described a “drunken brawl” once … “braaaaawl” … still funny. He showed us a gallon Ziploc bag packed with weed; we had no idea what that was either.

concertina 2

One morning after in Cass’ Marina found Tom and me with my parent’s friend Rick in the cockpit of Paddy West. Rick had a sleek little boat Adelaide in the same class that he often raced solo.

Waiting for whatever, Rick picked up his concertina and played The Chivalrous Shark for the two of us.

Most chivalrous fish of the ocean,
To ladies forbearing and mild,
Though his record be dark,
The man-eating shark
Will eat neither woman nor child.

He dines upon seamen and skippers,
And tourists his hunger assuage,
And a fresh cabin boy
Will inspire him with joy
If he’s past the maturity age.

A doctor, a lawyer, a preacher,
He’ll gobble one any fine day,
But the ladies, God bless ’em
He’ll only address ’em
Politely and go on his way.

Every sad Irish allegory should be followed by a song like The Chivalrous Shark. It remains a favorite.

Skip is a family friend. He leads a weekly session at Quinn’s Lighthouse. Skip’s recordings nicely capture the concertina. The buttons clack, the bellows wheeze, she takes on air before each phrase then fades until she can breath again. 

The sailor’s concertinas I’ve seen operate similar to a diatonic harmonicas: mash all the buttons in one row and push in, you’ve got the major I chord. Same buttons and pull out and you’ve got the associated dominant V9.



Most, but not all, added another row with the V chord on the push and the associated V9 (so the II9 of the instrument) on the pull. This allows a full scale to be played over either chord.

From, of course


There are many musical limitations with this. When my dad picks up his to play along with me on the piano, we are going to be playing folk music in his key for the rest of the night. He insists anything is possible, but even a Beatles song is going to go sour fast.

Yet, like the drone of a bagpipe, the limitations define the essence of the instrument. The accompaniment comes and goes at the mercy of the bellow movement required for the lead. There’s not enough air in the bellows for more than a few simultaneous notes. Characteristic pauses are inserted as the bellows are reset out or in.

Address these limitations and you have a huge “concert” concertina, or an even larger accordion. You’re going to need a bigger ditty bag. You’ll be asked to play waltzes and polkas. Who needs it!

Confounding gadgets for analytical types, but they’re proven perfect as the clever little foil for a storyteller. Everything needed to play a folk melody, and sit on the root indefinitely as the next verse is recalled, or the previous one is explained.

My mom likes to share how she was spoken to after I tried to lead my suburban Presbyterian preschool class in Bottle O’ Rum.

Or maybe it was Whiskey In The Jar?

Whatever it was, I knew a song and I wanted to teach the class.

Origin Story

My parents are from Oakland.

They met and fell in love and so on and so forth. If there’s a cute boy-meets-girl story there, I’ve never heard it.

I did hear how my dad would sneak my mom onto his Sea Scout boat in high school.

From there they became part of the wooden boat community on San Francisco Bay. Men with flat caps, women with flowers in their hair, drinking wine on the waterfront, singing sea shanties and Irish folk music, cruising, racing, salt spray, sea gulls, woodworking, sailmaking, boat yards, varnish, caulk, lead paint. This continues to be their lifestyle.

Their first boat appeared to be an old lifeboat with a mast stuck in it. I’ve only seen a woodcutting.

Something like this.

Their second boat was a 26′ gaff-rigged Sea Bird yawl.

You can build your own.

They named their boat “Paddy West” after a favorite song sung with friends. The lyrics describe a series of farcical exercises in a Liverpool boarding house run by Paddy that alleged to turn greenhorns into experienced seamen. Read more here. My dad sang it often.

Put on yer dungaree jacket,
And walk up looking your best,
And tell ’em that you’re a poor sailor lad,
That came from Paddy West.

They got a German Shepherd, my brother was born, I was born.

We spent a lot of time on Paddy West.

Hello Self

OK you judgmental jerks, I’m going to start a blog despite you. Why?

  1. Happy New Year! This is the kind of thing you do in the weeks after Christmas waiting for some sign of Spring to come around.
  2. I’ve been trying to integrate semicolons into my writing; this will be a safe space to practice.
  3. I think a LOT about music and the logical next step is to spew out some notation and YouTube links and try to cohere them into an intelligent argument against gun control.
  4. I’m enjoying Dale McGowan’s music blog, and there should be more of that in the world, so I’m going to do something about it dammit, even though he’s way more musically educated and accomplished than me. Than myself? No, I think it’s than I am. Even though he’s way more musically educated and accomplished than I am, I can write stuff too.
  5. Sloth? I should join a band but I’m feeling super lazy right now. This might fit nicely into my work/home/repeat lifestyle.

So, without further ado, here we go:

Please check back for updates.

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