Thursday, October 22, 2009

Xavier Cugat, Tommy Dorsey, Joe Loco and Old Records

Originally posted on November 12, 2007

This day’s entry doesn’t have a lot to do with guitars, but it does look at a couple of issues that concern musicians and listeners in various ways. When I was a kid my father belonged to the Columbia Record Club. In those days if you bought a certain number of records, they would send you a bonus disk that had a generic cover with a hole in the middle to show the label and indicate what it was. You didn’t choose it, I believe. They chose it for you. Well, one of them he received was an album by Xavier Cugat. This was probably 1956. I didn’t know what it was, but I sure liked it. It was my first exposure to the world of rumbas, meringues and such. The rhythms got to me. Every self-respecting couple who could take the time learned how to dance the various Latin steps and my parents later started taking dance lessons. They bought a few records—Tito Puente killed me. By the late fifties, the cha cha had become the most popular of them all, probably because it was easy to do. So they ended up with a record of Tea for Two Cha Chas by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. By that time Dorsey himself was dead but another guy (Covington) took over. The record was a huge hit. Anyway the band followed up with, you guessed it, More Tea for Two Cha Chas.

Here is where we come into the present. I’ve always been a fan of vinyl—and even before it was replaced by CDs, I used to comb the junk shops and various places for hidden vinyl treasures. There was a point in the late ’80s where just about everybody was throwing out their record collections. Anyway the local Salvation Army Thrift Store was likely to end up with anything you could think, for a quarter each. I learned two things—1.) Most of them were dirty and scratched; 2.) If you ran them under warm water and circled around the grooves with a tissue soaked in regular dishwashing soap, then rinsed and dried and did the same again with rubbing alcohol, the records were at least playable. Nowadays the Thrift Store has been raided by would-be e-bayers and you never find anything much. Plus they raised the price to a dollar and that’s really too much to pay.

So two of those earlier finds I am at last getting around to hear. One is that Tommy Dorsey record sequel. It is weird. There is a combination of actual Latin music with big band jazz and schlock. There’s an electric guitarist and the drummer sometimes superimposes a rock (twist) beat over the Latin percussion. It’s not just for nostalgia that I listen. All music for me is fodder for my own musical cannon, and I look to arrangements from eras and other worlds to learn something. Like cigars, what has become totally passé can suddenly become relevant. Like with what John Zorn did with Noire movie music. So this is an interesting record to me.

Another one that goes with the Dorsey was a disk that came out around 1955, I guess from the awful cover art typical of the period and what’s on the liner notes. It’s called Locomotion by Joe Loco. He was pretty big, as I understand it, in Latin music circles in the late ‘40s-early ‘50s. This is his “recreation” in “hifi” of some of his hits for re-release on the Columbia label. It’s pretty nice really. There are a couple of big band cuts and the rest is small group stuff. But they get the groove going. Later on, of course, salsa and then Santana brought new dimensions to the music. The history of Latin music, which I continue to be a student of, is so important to all electric musics today in the US, Europe, Africa and of course Latin America!! Even a pop amalgam like the Dorsey record has something to teach one about what can happen and how things could go.

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