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Assuming you want to learn more about songwriting, and assuming you agree with me that you can learn a lot by studying the old masters, I can give you a resource that will give you a basic and graduate education.

Songwriting Tools -- Ella Fitzgerald's Song Books

The Ella Fitzgerald Song Books were records issued from the mid-50s to the mid-60s by VERVE, a Jazz label known for having the top talent in the field.

Verve guru Norman Granz came up with the idea for this series, which basically delineated the Great American Songbook (GAS). Now, the GAS is not a formal list of music, but it is basically a repertoire that is agreed-upon by people as the Standards (with a capital “S”) of popular music prior to the rock and roll era.

What makes a song a standard? And why would you like to write a standard?

The term is given to songs that are so great that they never go out of style and most popular singers like to record their versions. Don’t let the “pre-rock and roll” tag fool you. These songs are still recorded many times a year by big stars. In the past we have seen collections of standards from people like Rod Stewart, Carly Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Harry Nilsson, and the Supremes who were big stars in the 60s and 70s and found new audiences when their own style of music was no longer in great demand.

Recently, Lady Gaga teamed up with 40s and 50s crooner Tony Bennet to record those same standards. Michael Buble has been active for about 15 years keeping the Sinatra torch burning for new audiences. Queen Latifah broke away from her hip-hop base with “The Dana Owens Album” (guess what her real name is?). And Cyndi Lauper had some girl-fun with the standards too.

The benefits to a songwriter are apparent — constant royalty checks from getting your songs recorded over and over. Even if you beat the odds and make the pop charts, your song may only have a shelf-life of a few months. An “evergreen” standard can be your retirement program and support you the rest of your life.

Ella Fitzgerald was the perfect person to present the great songbooks. Her voice was versatile and she could handle anything from “sweet” to “hot.” Even without the songbooks, she would have been considered legendary. We are fortunate she made these albums.

Two things that set Ella’s songbooks apart from the many other collections of GAS:

1.) She usually includes the verse. Terminology has changed in the past century, but basically what we know a song today is usually the refrain (or sometimes called chorus) of the song. Take a well-known song like “My Funny Valentine” and you will discover that there is an introduction to the song you may never have heard before. Ella’s version is one of the best (of course). It was traditional for a song to have a verse. Later, the verse was dropped and a lot of the short-attention-span people would say, “Don’t bore us, skip to the chorus). Trivia: Jerome Kern preferred the term “burthen” — an archaic term. That’s just the kind of guy he was, and you’ll see it written on sheet music.

2.) Norman Granz made sure she had the best arrangers of the day in the studio with her — the people that made the biggest hits with Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. The arrangements range from large, lush orchestras to swinging big bands to cool and smooth small jazz combos. They frame Ella’s voice perfectly and Ella is a chameleon who can take on any style.

The collection includes eight albums. Most have more than one disc. They all start with “Ella Fitzgerald Sings …” and the titles are —

… the Cole Porter Songbook (1956)
… the Rodgers & Hart Songbook (1956)
… the Duke Ellington Songbook (1957) (Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn)
… the Irving Berlin Songbook (1958)
… the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook (1959)
… the Harold Arlen Songbook (1961)
… the Jerome Kern Songbook (1963)
… the Johnny Mercer Songbook (1964)

And there was one later addition that Granz convinced Ella to record for another label (Pablo Records in 1981 that was not “American” — but many of the songs are standards that are included on GAS albums:

… the Antonio Carlos Jobim Songbook (Portuguese title: Ella Abraça Jobim) (1981) Jobim was a Brasilian songwriter and performer who brought his Bossa Nova stylings to the mainstream. He wrote for and even recorded with Sinatra and his songs have been covered by all the stars of the GAS.

Verve reissued the eight albums in 1994 in a boxed set and won the 1995 Grammy for Best Historical Recording.

When I say these recordings are great learning tools, I am not saying that you have to learn to write these types of songs.

What I am saying is that you can learn what can be done … and learn tricks used by the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. Most of the techniques of songwriting — even the songs at the top of the charts today — are old. Maybe more than a century old. They come from roots in other countries as well as the USA.

And of course these are not the only examples that you should pay attention to. There are many great songs that have been written through history.

But if you really love music and you really love songwriting, you won’t view these songs as some drudgery like school homework. You will greedily consume them and keep returning to them whenever you feel the need for inspiration.

But I urge you — pay attention to the music. Pay attention to the lyrics. Learn from these songs.

And like consuming good food, these will nourish your talent and make you into a powerful songwriter.

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We attended a stirring and enjoyable  Sunday afternoon at a tribute to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by the South Coast Interfaith Council. The program was hosted by the Gospel Memorial Church of God in Christ (COGIC), Long Beach, CA.

SCIC I South Coast Interfaith Council Logo

Around 150 attended and to say the crowd was diverse would be an understatement. The program featured leaders of local Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu and Zoroastrian congregations contributing to the afternoon festivities.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from a speech in St Louis, 1964

Pastor Leon Wood Jr., served as MC. This gentleman is not only possessed of the most beautiful speaking voice I’ve heard in quite some time, but his background includes long-term activism in the homeless movement. He is retired from being Dean of the School of Business and Technology at Long Beach City College.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” From Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, 1963

Religious Leaders Speaking at MLK Day

Among the religious leaders present, I was most surprised to find out that Zoroastrianism has not died out. I learned about this religion from an historical novel set in the 4th century BCE, and its belief system influenced both Christianity and Islam. My wife, Estelle Toby Goldstein, spoke with him at length after the service and will probably write about that in her own space (if you are not her friend, this might be the time to hook-up).

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” From Dr. King’s book “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” 1967

From my interest in music, I was already aware of the COGIC reputation for soulful, funky, grooving, gospel music and I was not disappointed. Gospel singer Erma Varnado did two numbers favored by Dr. King, “His Eyes Are On The Sparrow,” and “I Won’t Complain.” Her voice has power to rattle the windows and fixtures, and you can tell a lot of that power comes from her faith as well as her vocal muscles. She also sang two numbers at the closing of the ceremony. Her accompaniment was provided by music minister Paul Parker on the organ — and that gentleman matched the singer for fervor.

Gospel singer Erma Varnado

Another kind of gospel was provided by Nicholas Miller who sang and played guitar. He immediately got audience participation and moved the people to stand, clap, stomp their feet and sing along.

If you haven’t been in this type of environment before, it is happy, loud, spirited and joyful.

Nicholas Miller

This isn’t the hushed worship service often associated with churches.

The keynote speaker was Michele Antoinette Dobson, a local attorney and civic activist. She’s a prominent Rotarian and specializes in defending non-profit organizations. She spoke not only of her own racial struggles, but what she has faced as a woman working to enter a traditionally male field, as a woman, and with being judged for her weight and economic background.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” From a letter Dr. King wrote while in the Birmingham City Jail, 1963

Other speakers on the program were Maneck Bhujwala of the Zoroastrian Community of Southern California.

Milia Islam-Majeed, Executive Director of the South Coast Interfaith Council.

Spencer R. Butler, Jr. — a senior at Cal State Long Beach and a member of the student branch of NAACP.

Gretchen Krutz of the Long Beach Baha’i Community,

Naomi Rainey-Pierson, President of the Long Beach chapter of NAACP.

Sandi Zander, representing Temple Menorah of Torrance, CA.

Imam Tarek Mohamed of Long Beach Islamic Center.

Patti Heckman of the South Bay SGI Buddhist Community

Dr. Rini Ghosh of the Hindu Vedanta Society

Each of these spiritual leaders led the gathering in a call and response litany,

Ernest McBride, Sr and his children also offered reflections.

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” From a letter Dr. King wrote while in the Birmingham City Jail, 1963

The ceremony ended with everyone joining hands and singing “We Shall Overcome,” the anthem of the civil rights movement in the days of Dr. King — again accompanied by Rev Parker on organ.

The entire program was a bonding of different faiths and races, and it makes me wonder (in the words of Rodney King) — “Why can’t we all just get along,”

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” From “Love In Action from Strength to Love,” 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The best way to learn to be a great songwriter is to study the past masters. And my personal pathway to songwriting (like most of my generation) was through John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

You may scoff and scorn them as ancient history, outdated and irrelevant to today’s dance-groove-oriented scene. But most of what you hear today is derived from those two revolutionary Liverpool lads 50 years ago.

Although the Beatles’ songs are simple in most cases, they contain some amazing complications that make the songs rise above the ordinary pop songs of their day (or later days). Part of that was using more than the ordinary chords — like diminished chords, sus4 chords and that delicious 6th chord that ends “She Loves You.”

Another of their wonderful techniques was the innovation of the bridge (or as they called it, “The Middle Eight”). They worked hard on getting some novel twist for the bridge but never making it sound out-of-place and bringing it back to the song naturally rather than forcing it.

My example today is not one of their hit singles, but an intelligent and creative uptempo song by John Lennon. “You’re Going To Lose That Girl” was featured in the movie “Help!” and is on the soundtrack album.

This is a “call and response” song with Lennon singing the lead and Harrison and McCartney repeating his phrases back to him. It is yet another of their twists on the standard “I love you” songs. To break out of the rut, Lennon & McCartney ingeniously engineered “She Loves You” and then the opposite in “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl” (the way everyone sings it, although the formal spelling is the official title).

The chord structure is also a common variation favored by L&M. The 4-bar refrain starts out with I-vi-ii7-V7 instead of the usual I-vi-IV-V7 progression.

The Beatles play this in the key of E. I will use the key of C since that is where I sing it and it simplifies the chords used.

In the key of C, the refrain is C-Am-Dm7-G7.

The song quickly moves into the first verse and lends some interesting variation with a I-iii7-ii7-V7 progression (C-Em7-Dm7-G7).

Following a standard pattern of singing two verses they then turn in to the bridge — and this is where the artistry shines through.

Ending the first verse, the Dm7 resolved to the G7. But when the second verse transitions to the bridge the Dm7 leads to Bb — and now we are in another key.

We are now in Eb and following a pretty standard I-IV-I progression — Eb-Ab-Eb — but being in different key, it sounds exotic. The same phrase is repeated in this “Middle Eight” leading to the transition back to the key of C. The second time through, the chords are Eb-Ab-Db (Notice the circle of 4ths) and the Db is simply a half-step above the original key of C, so the vocals sustain on the Db and glide down to the C to pick up the last verse.

There is an instrumental with the same chords as the verse in the key of C and then they go back to the bridge one more time which resolves into the last verse (repeat of verse 3) in C.

The Beatles were always good about having an introduction and an ending to their songs instead of fading out or just stopping cold. In this case, they go through the transition to the bridge, but change it.

When the Dm7 leads to the Bb, they hold it an extra measure, then follow it to the IV (F) and end on the C for a clean 1 measure ending.

Overall this is a text-book perfect example of creative songwriting. They fulfill the listener’s expectation yet add a couple of fresh elements to make it rise above the standard pop song. And it only takes two minutes and twenty seconds!

And of course, it has John, Paul, and George harmonies. Nobody could beat that.

Listen through the song and perhaps look at the guitar tabs to follow along when they change keys and do their other magic.

http://www.guitaretab.com/b/beatles/204519.html

Respect your elders, study the masters, and become the best songwriter you can be with inspirations like The Beatles.

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I discovered science fiction at a young age and I adored it. I started out with the juvenile science fiction and graduated to the adult variety very quickly.

Time travel and space travel were the main topics of this fiction. Real science was rushing to catch up with fiction. The great authors of the field were seen as prophets because their stories covered topics such as “What if?” and “If This Goes On.”

But one of the main prophecies of that age never really came true — at least in the form the authors saw.

Robots.

From early days, people speculated about artificial humans. Czech writer Karel Čapek is credited with creating these beings in in a 1920 play “R.U.R”. Robota is a slavic word for “forced laborer”, used to describe peasants who worked for masters in feudal times.

Technophobia has always been a popular topic. One mainstay of science fiction is the tragedy when science runs amok.

“Frankenstein,” considered an early science fiction novel, preached that man should not try to “play God.”

Going much farther back, Icarus was a cautionary tale of trying to imitate the gods by flying — and it cost him his life.

Robots were always running amok in science fiction. They would rise up against their masters (because humans are always looking for slaves). The could think better and they were stronger. Robots were scary!

Almost all of Michael Crichton’s fiction is based on technophobia. Jurrasic Park is a modern day Frankenstein story — reviving extinct monsters who break free and rampage through a theme park.

Crichton’s most famous robot story in “West World.” Like “Jurrasic Park”, “Westworld” was a theme park. But in this one, cowboys and outlaws of the old west were robots. Guess what happens? Well, if you’ve seen the movie or the TV series you know. But it is pretty predictable.

Crichton’s earlier book “The Terminal Man” concerned a person with a computer implant in his brain. Of course he runs amok because he can’t control the brain implant.

The combination of man and robot is called Cyborg. And one of the most popular movies ever (a whole series of them) involves “The Terminator”. Talk about running amok. In the Terminator series, the whole world is over-run by robots in they future and they want to exterminate (or Terminate) the human species.

In cartoons, we had robots as slaves and servants. Who wouldn’t want Rosie the Robot from the “Jetsons” taking care of them? And robot workers could be on duty around the clock without breaks for food or drink or bathrooms. And once you bought them, you didn’t have to pay them.

In the real world we took pieces of robots and made them our slave. It also put a lot of humans out of work. But that’s what technology does — everything since the dawn of the industrial age has been to make labor easier or to take it away from humans entirely.

We have robot arms welding automobiles. We have robot eyes and hands guiding delicate surgery.

And we have robot brains — computers. They are everywhere and in almost everything.

We do have the robot mannikins of old science fiction. They are mainly toys. We even have robot pets. A machine that looks and performs like a human is really not all that necessary. We can get by with pieces of them. And the human form is not the most efficient shape and size to do what we really need.

An extremely exciting field of advancement is nanotechnology. This uses microscopic robots that can go places and do things limited only by what people can imagine.

One of the primary fields of development is medicine. Isaac Asimov had a revolutionary story called “Fantastic Voyage”. In this, a submarine and its crew were miniaturized and injected into the body of a famous scientist to travel through the bloodstream and into the brain. Their task was to break up a blood clot. The submarine exited the body through the tear duct and was restored to full size — everybody survived (except the patient — SPOILER!)

Nanotechnology might be used to do repairs inside the human body. Things like aneurisms or clearing arterial plaque — even rebuilding organs that are damaged are predictions for this field.

Another way nanotechnology is being used is as a delivery system for inter-cellular needs. These might be considered organic robots (or cyborgs). Could Sickle Cell Anemia be cured? Could neurological diseases like MS and ALS be reversed? Could T-Cells be delivered or even cultivated inside the bodies of AIDS victims?

Once we get away from the concept of robots as being the same size and shape as men with the same abilities the possibilities are endless.

And Exciting.

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It is important for today’s songwriter to get away from the concept of being an employee.

To many, the dream is to write a hit song and make money from it. The traditional route involves working for a music publisher who pays a salary and takes at least half of the earnings.

Or it involves working for an organization that supports recording artists by providing them songs for recordings and live concerts.

But those days are long gone.

Today the music business has evolved because of the digital revolution.

Profits used to come from selling a tangible object — sheet music, discs or tapes.

Now there is no physical object involved. The music is a series of electrons. Profits come from performance royalties, and the royalties are miniscule compared to what they were 30 to 50 years ago.

Because the profits are smaller the opportunities are fewer. Big organizations consolidate most of the business and earn most of the money.

The dream of being discovered, of your merit being recognized and rewarded by somebody with a lot of money is remote. Actually it is very, very rare that this happens in today’s music world.

But not all is lost — if you have the right mind-set.

This is the golden age of Do-It-Yourself (DIY).

You can be your own record label, your own music publisher, your own TV/Radio station thanks to the very same digital revolution that put an end to the old ways.

It is easier and cheaper to record a high-quality song than ever before. Gone are the days of recording studios packed with expensive gear. Now we have the same — or better — capabilities with home computers and even telephones.

The big record labels have been replaced by YouTube and specialized websites like SoundCloud and Band Camp and Reverb Nation.

And best of all — you can make music directly from the consumer instead of having “the middle-men” take the majority of the money and giving you a small percentage.

The key to everything is what’s called “Tribal Marketing.”

You carve our your territory — your niche — and build your fan base. This is your Tribe. This is your cult. They will reward you for your creativity.

You can DIY with your mailing list, people who are specifically interested in what you do. You can reach them directly or you can use a service like Patreon to distribute what you do.

You not only can sell them your music, you can interact real-time with them in a way that traditional concerts cannot. And you don’t have to tour the world — you can do it via the World Wide Web.

If you get out of the employee mindset and take charge of the DIY mindset, this is the best time in history to be a music creator.

If you don’t do it yourself, nobody else is going to do it for you.

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It is “Craig Week” again and we are almost finished.  I’ve been posting daily on my Facebook page with pictures and anecdotes about Craig and the Bunkhouse Boys.

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Today I posted an introduction to the various people who were a part of that scene all those years ago.  And there are plenty of pictures.

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Tomorrow will be the Grand Finale for this year and it should be a doozy.  I’ll tell about our annual Fourth Of July Picnics and show some incriminating, ummm I mean … “Intriguing” pictures.

Here is the latest chapter — I hope you enjoy!

BHB Core Membership

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For those who cringe at the thought of music theory, I would like to share my experience and give a tip.

First — you gradually learn music theory as you continue to play and write music. You don’t have to go to school and take a course, you don’t have to read a bunch of dry and boring books. It just happens as you continue to do what you love to do — make music.

For example, if you play guitar you will soon learn that songs are in keys. And each key has certain chords within it and other chords that aren’t included. And after that you learn that if you know some chords are major and some are minor, you can fit them in to spice up a song. Pretty soon, you will be interested in learning more types of chords to improve your music — like 7th chords, sus4 and even diminished chords.

Now the tip — to learn where all these chords fit in and how to know when to use them, I recommend learning the cycle/circle of 4th/5ths. The reason this has two names will be apparent when you learn them. The best tool to use the circle (so you can look them up and not have to memorize them) is a simple graphic you will find many places on the internet. If you don’t like the one I show you here, just search for the term (circle of fifths) and take your pick.

Circle of Fifths

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I think my brother fell in love with trucks during the CB radio craze of the mid-1970s.

Craig often had a wild affinity for some subject or another, and when he did he went all out.

And when Craig was crazy about something, everybody in the family would be roped in by his enthusiasm.

So then we all got into CB radios, every one of our vehicles had to have one. Everybody had to have a CB handle. Craig even went so far as to install a separate CB band aerial on top of the house. The breakfast nook in our kitchen was turned into the base station for the CBs. And of course we had to have a lot of equipment.

Craig Ward with his parents

Craig was the “Happy Hippy”. I was “Camelback”. Brother Bart went by “Cool Breeze,” and Dad was the “Roadhog” which he could never remember. He would get on the radio and say, “This is the Road Agent” or something similar but totally unlike “Roadhog”.

During this time it wasn’t just the radios that were hot — It was trucking in general. There were hit songs about truck driving and the newer ones were CB radio-oriented. There were movies about Over-The-Road-Truckers and their CB radios doing various things. There was even a hit TV show at the time called “Moving On” and it featured a theme song by Merle Haggard, no less.

Although I can’t lay my hands on it at this time, I remember well a photograph we took of Craig on his 22nd birthday. The cake was shaped like a CB radio and the legend in frosting said “Break

Read more on Truck Driving Craig…

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Many musicians and songwriters still believe that they can strike it rich by becoming a recording artist.

It has never been easy — and seldom lucrative — to be a star. In the top 40 era (1950s through 1980s) most artists who had a major recording deal went broke in a big way. Recording and songwriting royalties were swallowed by the record companies and music publishers. The artists were even paying the record companies the majority of their live performance money since those companies paid for the touring expenses (and charged huge interest on the “loans”).

Creative bookkeeping more often favored the companies than the artists — even the Beatles. Their first recording/publishing deal was a giant rip-off.

Yet even today, people have stars in their eyes about having a hit song.

Here’s the reality — you need to get your song played 1,000,000 times on Spotify to make $3,000. And only a handful of songs ever reach that. And those songs are all “Producer” songs — the artists are just puppets.

Winners of competition shows (American Idol, The Voice, Star Search, etc) have signed outrageous contracts to get into that system and their future career is basically indentured servitude.

The people making money today are doing their own live performance and tour bookings and are licensing their music themselves.

The glamor has faded — but it was always just a mirage.

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Joseph Bologna passed away last week. Funny name, huh? Never heard of him?

Maybe he wasn’t a huge movie star, but his achievements were quality, if not quantity.

People behind the scenes aren’t as celebrated as those who appear on the screen. Joe did both. Besides acting in many movies he wrote and directed some pretty popular works. In many of these, his wife (Renee Taylor) was his creative partner.

Joe Bologna with Renee Taylor

Husband-and-wife team of Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor.

I stopped to think of all the pleasure Joe had given me, mainly from a sentimental favorite of mine, “My Favorite Year.”

This 1982 movie isn’t remembered by many — not like Casablanca or The Wizard of Oz. But it is a gem and meant a lot to me. It’s a great piece of writing and acting, as well as a nostalgia piece and a tribute to one of the greatest shows ever to air on TV in the golden age, and a tribute to several great talents that made that show great and went on to do other great things.

Premiere Magazine (a big glossy magazine I call “The Rolling Stone Of Movies”) voted this movie as one of “The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time” back in 2006. Of course, I agreed with them.

The movie is a behind-the-scenes story of a comedy variety show based on “Your Show of

Read more on “My Favorite Year” Actor Joe Bologna — RIP…

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