Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More Bass!!!

Ok, here's a band I can really relate to:

Found at Boing Boing

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Five-octave thumb piano

The thumb piano, or mbira, is a musical instrument of African origin. It generally consists of a small wooden box which can be easily held in the hands to which metal tines of various lengths have been attached. A musician generally holds the mbira with both hands and plucks the tines with his or her thumbs.

There are many variants on the mbira, mostly produced by local craftsmen in the villages and townships. The instrument started being heard more outside of Africa in the 1970s (I think I still have one up in the attic somewhere).

Of course, anything can be taken to an extreme, and so I present, the five-octave thumb piano:

3D Ball Music Machine

I really like contraptions, and this one (even though it doesn't really exist) made me smile:

See all of Animusic's imaginative videos at

UPDATE:It appears that someone at Intel was inspired sufficiently to build a real-world version:

Friday, June 01, 2012

Story Time: Peggy DeCastro

How about a little change of pace? Here's a story from my own musical career.

In the mid-1970s, I was hired to play bass on a tour with Peggy DeCastro. Peggy was one of the famous DeCastro Sisters, who'd had a huge hit in 1954 with the song Teach Me Tonight. Peggy was very extroverted, so she took the role of the clown in the group. She eventually split from the group to go solo.

Peggy was a delight to work with, and was a real character. Her stage persona was a sort of Cuban version of Carmen Miranda (who was in fact, an early mentor of the DeCastro Sisters), full of cutely misunderstood or mis-pronounced words, often with a naughty double entendre. I have thought that the later-generation performer Charo must have copied at least some of Peggy's act, as well as a lot of Carmen's. To be fair, I do think Peggy sincerely had trouble with some English lyrics, particularly if they didn't make sense to her. For example, the song The Way We Were, includes the lines:

light the corners of my mind
misty watercolor memories...

With Peggy singing, this generally came out:

like the corners on my brain
missing colored watered memories...

Peggy was chronically late. For everything. It was just in her nature. Once, Bobby Darin had told her that the trick to being on time was to set her watch ahead fifteen minutes, so that when you think it's 8:00 and time to go onstage, and you're still putting on your makeup, it's really 7:45. Well, Peggy decided that if fifteen minutes worked for most people, she'd need to set her watch ahead by a full hour, because she was usually an hour or so late for things. And that's what she did. If it was 7:00, Peggy's watch said 8:00. The problem was, since she knew she'd set her watch ahead, she then mentally subtracted the hour. Many times, she'd look at her watch and say something like, “Ooh, looka the time! Eet's nine-fifteen already, which is really eight-fifteen. We gotta get movin'!” So, she was still always late.

We traveled the hotel/lounge circuit around the western U.S., and everywhere we went, people loved Peggy. She was open and loving with her band (her son played guitar in the group, too), and she regaled us with stories of the old days in Las Vegas (Peggy suggested to Bobby Darin that he record Mack the Knife, which at the time he considered to be just a novelty tune to fill out his nightclub act), being on Your Hit Parade with “Schnooky Lansing,” performing in the movie “Casablanca” with Carmen Miranda and Groucho Marx, and all about show-biz as it was back then. Apparently her sisters Cherie and Babette had eventually married fans and settled down to live the good life, while Peggy married her manager and worked every day for the rest of her life. She seemed to thrive on it, though.

It was with great sadness that I read of the death of Peggy in 2004 at age 82. I've worked with many singers and musicians in my career, but few that I remember with such fondness.

The Wikipedia entry for the  DeCastro Sisters is pretty accurate.

“Teach Me Tonight” on YouTube (audio only):

Here's a "soundie" of the tune Sun Sun Babae with Peggy doing some of her classic mugging and clowning: