Category Archives: Music on Mondays

Music On Mondays (10-27-14)—Breaking yourself of singing with your eyes closed

The Music Chronicles of Russel Ray

I have been collecting music since I was 11. My wise old grandmother gave me a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder for my birthday. She did not like it, though, when I was up at 3:00 in the morning recording songs off the radio. Forty-eight years later and I’m still up at 3:00 in the morning listening to music….

It should be no surprise, then, that music brings back memories. In fact, I define many events in my life by what music was playing at the time.

Even some friends are remembered whenever certain songs come on. For example, my first kiss was in the living room of my wise old grandmother’s house with “Hey Jude” by The Beatles playing on the radio.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

My first live rock ‘n’ roll concert occurred in Corpus Christi, Texas, when I went to see The Byrds and Dr. John. That also happens to be the first, last, and only time that I smoked a joint. Nasty stuff…. Because of that, every time I listen to “Eight Miles High” by The Byrds, I’m transported back in time to the Coliseum in Corpus Christi.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

My first college roommate, with whom I got along disastrously and moved out after one semester, will always be remembered when “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin is playing. He played that song endlessly, starting at 6:00 a.m. and ending at midnight. Never was I so happy as when either of us had to go to class. Such a sad time is remembered by such a great song.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

My first concert in Houston was at The Summit—Paul McCartney & Wings for their “Wings Over America” Tour. As usual with Paul McCartney—still—the concert was long and I had to get back to College Station for classes the next morning. I decided to leave during the clapping for an encore. However, the encore came as I was walking to the exit, and it was a song with which I was not familiar: “Soily.” “Soily” was the B side of the single “Maybe I’m Amazed” but I had quit collecting 45 singles by that time and did not know about the song. Here is the live version from the “Wings Over America” album:

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

My last concert before graduating from Texas A&M University was Chicago and Jackson Browne. Three friends and I drove 90 miles from College Station to Houston listening to Chicago and Jackson Browne. I was unfamiliar with Jackson Browne but I liked what I was hearing. I asked who it was, and Richard Scruggs said, “Jackson Browne.” To which I responded, “Jackson who?” Richard’s still a good friend courtesy of Facebook, and whenever I listen to Jackson Browne, all I have to do is post on Facebook “Jackson who?” and Richard understands that I’m thinking of him. Here is “The Pretender,” title track from his classic 1976 album of the same name.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

While Jim and I were dating, I regularly sent him postcards and letters with snippets of songs by The Beatles. The song that most reminds me of my husband of 20½ years (our wedding anniversary is October 30!) is The Beatles’ “In My Life.”

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

For the past six months, Julian Rey Saenz worked with me at Photographic Art by Russel Ray Photos. He plays the guitar and sings, although he sings with his eyes closed. He claims that he doesn’t, but I now have proof from a performance a few days ago:

Julian Rey Saenz

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

There is more where that came from, including a 6:47 video which has eyes open for only 0:13. Julian, you can do better!

I used to sing with my eyes closed, too, when I was with a Beatles cover band in College Station in the mid-1980s…. Until a Houston friend, Bill Bammel, came to one of my performances with his video camera. He pointed it out to me, and told me how to break myself: Practice singing in front of a mirror because it’s virtually impossible to be in front of a mirror with your eyes closed. Thus you’ll sing and subconsciously keep your eyes open to watch yourself. Do it enough, and it becomes a habit that carries over to performances.

Julian Rey SaenzThe whole purpose of singing with your eyes open, especially in small, intimate settings, is to make eye contact with your audience, some of whom often are sitting just feet away from you. The more eye contact you make, the better the tips, and the more performances you’ll find yourself doing because people like eye contact in those small settings.

Practice makes perfect. Yes, tips and invitations to perform increased when I started singing with my eyes open. It worked for me, and I think it can work for Julian. Nonetheless….

I’m pretty sure Julian knows the guitar chords and words to every Beatles song ever, including some of the alternate stuff that showed up on the three Anthology CDs of the late 1990s. It won’t be a Beatles song by which I remember Julian, though. Instead, it will be a song by The White Stripes, a group that Julian introduced me to. Here’s my favorite:

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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Music on Mondays (10-20-14)—All is now right with the world

The Music Chronicles of Russel Ray

Music has been an integral part of my life since I was two years old.

My maternal grandmother played the flute, my maternal grandfather played the violin, and my mom played the piano and organ.

Mom started her children on piano lessons when they reached age two, with her as the teacher. When we entered first grade, we had to choose a second instrument. I chose the violin. That was in Brigham City, Utah, in 1962.

I took a greater interest in the violin; my last piano recital was at our neighborhood Mormon church in Brigham City, but I have no idea what pieces I played. Here’s the church, though, which I tracked down using Google Maps, Google Street View, and Google Images:

Mormon church in Brigham City Utah stamp

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Although I don’t remember my first violin recital, I do remember the first medal I won for my violin playing. The medal still hangs on my office bulletin board. Looks like this:

UIL violin solo medal

That was in the eighth grade in the Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL) competition. Sadly, when I went off to college at Texas A&M University, my wise old grandmother sold all of my personal belongings that I left behind, including my other medals from grades 9-12. This first medal, then, is the only one I have left because it has always stayed with me.

Of course, we got comments on our performance:

UIL violion solo comments

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

“Stand up straight hold your violin up!
Leggiero means off the string (bounce)
You pay no attention to dots
d# in meas 68 also 92
This is just barely a I performance
make an effort to solve all the problems next year
You are on the right track”

The piece I played was “Tambourin” by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), one of the most important French composers and music theorists from the Baroque era. The comment sheet adds “Kreisler” to Rameau’s name, probably meaning that I played a variation by Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962).

Here is a performance of the piece that I found on YouTube:

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I searched for decades to find that piece, but all I could remember was Fritz Kreisler. I looked at hundreds of sheet music and listened to YouTube videos but could never find it, obviously because the composer was Rameau rather than Kreisler. Not until recently when I was exploring some of my old treasure chests did I find the comment sheet with the title and composer names. All is now right with the world….

I continued to play violin until April 1993 when I moved to San Diego unexpectedly. My orchestra career including playing with the Texas A&I University Symphony while still in high school, the Corpus Christi Symphony in 12th grade, the Houston Symphony for six months in 1973-1974, and the Brazos Valley Symphony in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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Music on Mondays (10-13-14): The only thing you done was yesterday

The Music Chronicles of Russel Ray

If you’ve been around rock ‘n’ roll music as long as I have, you’re probably familiar with The Beatles, and if you’re familiar with The Beatles, you probably know that their breakup in 1970 was rather nasty, especially between John Lennon and Paul McCartney. That nastiness continued until Lennon took a break from music when Sean was born on October 9, 1975.

Lennon believed that McCartney’s song “Too Many People,” from 1971’s “Ram” album, reeled off a laundry list of complaints directed at him, including most specifically the line, “too many people preaching practices.” Lennon hit back, and he hit back hard with “How Do You Sleep?” from Lennon’s 1971 masterpiece album, “Imagine.”

Here are the lyrics to “How Do You Sleep?”

So Sgt. pepper took you by surprise
You better see right through that mother’s eyes
Those freaks was right when they said you was dead
The one mistake you made was  in your head
How do you sleep?
Ah how do you sleep at night?
You live with straights who tell you, you was king
Jump when your mamma tell you anything
The only thing you done was yesterday
and since you’ve gone it’s just another day
How do you sleep?
Ah how do you sleep at night?
A pretty face may last a year or two
but pretty soon they’ll see what you can do
The sound you make is Muzak to my ears
You must have learned something all those years
How do you sleep?
Ah how do you sleep at night?

The whole song is one big dig at McCartney.

“Those freaks was right when they said you dead” is a reference to the “Paul is dead” hoax of 1967 (and onward).

“The only thing you done was yesterday [a reference to The Beatles' 1965 classic "Yesterday," written and sung by McCartney] and since you’ve gone it’s just another day [a reference to McCartney's 1971 classic "Another Day"]. Since McCartney’s “sound … is Muzak to my ears,” at least we know he liked “Another Day.”

Here are “Yesterday,” “Another Day,” “Too Many People,” and “How Do You Sleep?”.

“Yesterday” by The Beatles, 1965
One of the most covered songs in history
with over 2,200 cover versions so far.

“Another Day” by Paul McCartney, 1971

“Too Many People” by Paul & Linda McCartney, 1971

“How Do You Sleep?” by John Lennon, 1971

There is much more, with each artist getting in digs at the other up until Lennon’s sabbatical beginning in October 1975.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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Music on Mondays (10-5-14)—Once upon a time there was light in my life

The Music Chronicles of Russel Ray

When I was a freshman at Texas A&M University in 1973, I discovered Joel Whitburn. He has been publishing books since 1970 which detail the various Billboard music and video charts.

Through his research, I discovered that the rock ‘n’ roll generation was considered to have begun in 1955 with “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley & The Comets.

Forty years later and there is some disagreement about when rock ‘n’ roll started, and which song started it, but I still like 1955 since that’s the same year I was born!

Up until around 2007, I had a vinyl, cassette, CD, or digital copy of every #1 single and #1 album since 1955. I gave up that enterprise when too many rap and hip hop songs and albums became #1. I dislike intensely so-called music that uses vulgarity and other crudity to (try to) entertain or (try to) get a message across. Just don’t like it.

This evening I was wondering what song was #1 on October 6 in 1955. That led me to a really cool web site where you can look up any #1 song on any date for the United States and Great Britain. How I love the Internet and Google, but I bet the sale of Joel Whitburn’s books has suffered. Anyways….

I plugged in October 6, 1955, and it gave me the #1 song on October 6 for every year.

In looking at the list, I have all the October 6 #1 songs from 1955 to 1985. After 1985, I only have two songs: “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake (1987) and “Candle in the Wind 1997/Something About the Way You Look Tonight” by Elton John (1997). The Beatles (my favorite group) have two songs on the list: “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude.”

The song that jumps out at me, though, is “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler (1983). That song was always playing on the radio in 1983 but none of the announcers would tell me the title of the song or the artist.

By the time it had faded into radio play history, I had forgotten about it, and I didn’t rediscover it until 1995. I had been in San Diego for two years but was visiting a friend in Huntsville, Texas, 45 miles north of Houston. The song came on the radio and I commented that I sure wish I knew the song title or artist. My friend—we’ll call him Eric Swanson since that’s his name—said, That’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. Fifteen minutes later and we stopped at Huntsville largest record store where I found, and bought, the CD, “Faster Than The Speed Of Light.”

There are several versions of the song, ranging from short for radio air play to the longer album version. Here’s the album version:

Bonnie Tyler is from Wales, and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is her biggest hit. It reached#1 in several countries, making her the first and only Welsh singer to reach the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. With sales in excess of nine million copies, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is one of the best-selling singles of all time.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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Music on Mondays (9-29-14)—Tie me kangaroo down sport

The Music Chronicles of Russel Ray

My mother died in 2012 at the age of 81. I had only seen her twice since my wise old grandmother adopted me in 1965.

The last time was in the late 1990s at a Mardi Gras party at my sister’s house in Slidell, Louisiana.

We got into a discussion of music, and that’s when she told me that I was a singer at a very young age.

Apparently I liked to lay on the floorboard in the back of the car and sing along with whatever was playing on the radio, or beg mom and dad to play certain records at home so I could sing along.

She could remember the names of only four songs that I loved singing along to, and here they are:

“I Walk The Line” by Johnny Cash, 1956

“The Wayward Wind” by Gogi Grant, 1956

“Tom Dooley” by The Kingston Trio, 1958

“Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” by Rolf Harris, 1963

I was only one in 1956, and three in 1958, so those probably are records that mom and dad had at home.

Those last two are pretty gruesome songs for a young boy to be singing….

By 1963, age 8, yeah, I probably was singing everywhere since I was in the school chorus at that time.

I sang in school choruses through twelfth grade, and then joined the Century Singers at Texas A&M University. After college I sang in the Chancel Choirs at whatever church I was attending, as well as community choruses.

When I came to San Diego in 1993, I joined the Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego. Since then I also have sang with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (at the time it was the largest Gay Men’s Chorus in the world with over 350 men) and then back with the Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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Music on Mondays (9-22-14) — A B C D E F G H….

The Music Chronicles of Russel Ray

I have almost a million digital music files, separated into two distinct groups: classical and everything else. I listen to everything else in chronological order. Sunday I finished 2014 and started at the beginning again, way back in 1903.

Every time I finish everything else, I make an attempt to sort through the classical collection. Invariably I don’t get too far because I get frustrated with Jim’s part of everything else where he has every piece of piano music recorded by every pianist ever throughout history.

Piano and violinYesterday I did get to H, though, and re-discovered Joseph Haydn. I say re-discovered because I grew up playing the violin, so I’m familiar with all the orchestra and violin music.

However, I discovered Haydn’s symphonies, 106 in total, and while I was listening to them, I discovered the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra conducted by Adam Fischer. Fischer and the orchestra specialize in Joseph Haydn’s compositions, and they recorded the complete cycle of 106 Haydn symphonies. I now have all of them in my collection.

I haven’t decided yet which one I like the best, so for today’s Music on Mondays, I’ll just leave you with Symphony #1 in D major:

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Should anyone want to listen to any of Haydn’s other symphonies, they are in a YouTube playlist here: 106 Haydn Symphonies.

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The Music Chronicles of Russel Ray

Music on Mondays (9-15-14)—Life is a rock, but we didn’t start the fire

The Music Chronicles of Russel Ray

Billy Joel hit the top of the pop charts in 1989 with “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” There are 119 places and events listed in the song, starting in 1949, when Joel was born, and ending in 1989. You can find all of them listed and explained at Wikipedia.

Blender magazine (and I don’t read Blender magazine; sourcing Wikipedia here) ranked “We Didn’t Start the Fire” No. 41 on its list of the “50 Worst Songs Ever,” stating that production was “bombastic” and that the song resembled “a term paper scribbled the night before it’s due.”

Personally, I love the song because it mixes my love of history with my love of music, and I’m a huge fan of Billy Joel.

Here’s the song, with lyrics:

At the time, I had to tell many of my younger friends that Billy Joel’s idea for a song like that was not original. An ad hoc group of musicians got together as Reunion in 1974 and recorded “Life Is A Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me).”

Joey Levine was lead singer on the song, written by Paul DiFranco (music) and Norman Dolph (lyrics).

All of the places, things, people, and events are listed and linked in Wikipedia.

Here’s the song, with lyrics:

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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