PODCAST: The Last Voyage of Sinbad

Direct Download: Kerwin Mathews

Kerwin Mathews, who earned a niche in film history as the handsome hero who battled a Cyclops, a dragon and a sword-wielding skeleton in the 1958 fantasy classic “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” has taken his Final Taxi. Mathews was also in “The Devil at 4 O’clock” with Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra and in b-movies “Octoman” and “The Boy Who Cried Werewolf.” He was 81.


Nursery rhymes are dying off

 When I was child my mom would sing all kind of songs to me. Some were gospel or folk songs she grew up with and others were nursery rhymes. I can still hear her singing “Hush little baby don’t say a word, Daddy’s gonna buy you a mockingbird..”

I did my share of taking care of the babies when we had them.  I would let my wife sleep while I got up for the night time feeding. After the burping I would hum various Beatle songs, mostly the song “Flying” from the Magical Mystery Tour LP.

It seems I am not the only one because a new survey says nursery rhymes are in danger of dying out. It is because parents are singing pop songs to their children instead and I am guilty of that.

It suggests 40% of parents with young children cannot recite a single rhyme all the way through.

Of the rhymes people did know, most popular were Jack and Jill (19%), Humpty Dumpty (17%) and Ring Around the Roses (12%).

Three quarters of parents surveyed agreed singing to young children was a good way to help them to learn to read.

But 44% of parents said they were singing pop songs and TV theme tunes instead.

Ian Davidson, of the pollster MyVoice, which questioned 1,200 parents for the survey, said that the nursery rhyme was falling victim to market forces.

“It all seems to be to do with choice and relevance. Twenty years ago there were 100 different breakfast cereals to choose from, now there are 300. The old brands such as Kellogg’s Cornflakes remain, but there will also be many other options.

“It’s the same with nursery rhymes. They will never die out among a core of people, but they are facing more competition in popular culture and they no longer have a clear field any more.”

But Janine Spencer, a developmental psychologist at Brunel University, lamented the decline of the nursery rhyme, which she said was of enormous educational value.

“Not only are nursery rhymes an important historical part of our culture, but by singing them to young children you can help speed up the development of their communication, memory, language and reading skills,” she said.

So I guess we should go back to scaring the hell out of our kids by singing ‘ Rock – a – by Baby’ – the sadistic song about a baby falling out of a tree limb crib and plummeting to the ground.

Toymaker Jack Odell rolls out

One of my favorite toys as a child was a Matchbox car Batmobile. Our backyard had an old Elm Tree that had roots coming out of the ground. I would dig under the roots and make a little “bat-cave” for the small auto to barrel out of. I had little soldiers that Batman would run over or shoot thread I had borrowed from my mother’s sewing basket to make a net around the villains. All this while humming the Batman theme.batmobile

I loved that car. I carried it to church, grandma’s and to bed, as I dreamed of sitting next to Batman in my Robin costume as we fought the Joker or Riddler.

I don’t know what happened to that Matchbox car. I must have moved on as many kids do as you get the Captain Action doll with a Batman or Spiderman costume he could dress in.

I have photographs of me and that car with a towel around my neck as a cape.

I found out that I have to thank Jack Odell for inventing that Matchbox line of toys.

He help defined toys that were mainly used by boys but the truth is that the origin of the Matchbox cars lay with a little girl.

Jack Odell’s daughter Anne had a nasty habit of bringing beetles, bugs and spiders to school in a matchbox. The kids never knew what was inside the days she would bring one in. One day in 1952, Jack decided to give her something different, and less scary, to take in her box that normally stored matches. He fashioned a tiny model of a road-roller, crafted in brass and painted red and green. Anne’s schoolmates must have gasped in wonder as she slid it open. This was the humble beginnings of one of the greatest toymaker.

Jack Odell was gifted casting engineer who had honed his craft in factories on the outskirts of London. During 1947 Odell had joined a small die-casting company called Lesney Products.

Owner Leslie Smith and Odell churned out any small cast components their customers wanted. But one order for parts for a toy gun would determine their company’s destiny.

In Odell, the company had a skilled model-maker and, as it happened, vehicle enthusiast. He set to and designed a range of cast-metal playthings, from a horse-drawn milk cart to a pocket-sized press that could turn bread into fishing bait.  Realizing, thanks to Anne Odell, that they had yet another promising novelty, in 1953 Smith and Odell launched a range of finely detailed “Matchbox” toy vehicles, sold in tiny cardboard boxes that really were at matchbox-size.

By 1960, they were turning out a million toy vehicles a day, and the company was awarded the Queen’s Award for Export three times.

Odell retired in 1973 and then made his own company in 1983 which he called Lledo. With a range of die-cast models called “Days Gone” aimed at the collectors’ market rather than children.

Jack Odell took his Final Taxi this week.

I need to do a ebay search and find that Matchbox Batmobile. I wonder if I could get a little die-cast taxi in black as well?

The days the music died…. what a week!

No matter what type of music you like there have been several deaths in the last few days that will affect you. All of these people have created music that touched our lives:

~ I used to have to travel a bit and was in Washington DC a lot of the time. One place I went ot on my off hours was a place called the 9:30 Club. One night I was there hearing a band called the Ratchet Boys. The lead singer would throw doughnuts in the audience while playing their style of Ska music. Ska is the bouncy, horn-driven music that originated in Jamaica in the early 1960s and became an element of British punk and New Wave music of the ’70s and ’80s. The lead singer was Dan Hess who took his Final Taxi this week at age 30.
In the past 10 years, he had been the lead singer and irrepressible frontman of three bands: the Skanker Sores, the Ratchet Boys and the Ready Steady Go! His vocal style mixed ska with the energy of punk and the raspy resonance of the ’60s soul singers he especially loved. On stage or off, Hess was an unforgettable presence, with his shaved head, red sideburns, black-framed glasses and agile, 300-pound frame.

His music was great and I remember being made to do jumping jacks on the dance floor by Hess the night I saw them.
~ The last surviving member of the legendary music group “The Drifters” Bill Pinkney, 81, has died. Pinkney was born in the small town of Dalzell in 1925. The Drifters were an influential beach music group that used components of soul, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll music. Pinkney left the band in 1958 in a dispute over money. The Drifters produced several memorable tunes “Under the Boardwalk” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.”

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In his lifetime, Pinkney was recognized by leaders such as Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.
~ The guitarist George McCorkle wrote “Fire on the Mountain”, the gold-prospector-gone-wrong song which put the Marshall Tucker Band on the map in 1975. The band’s distinctive sound mixed country, blues, jazz and rock in about equal measures – “just American music, I always have refused to put a label on it,” said McCorkle, who also wrote two of their subsequent classics, “Last of the Singing Cowboys” (1979) and “Silverado” (1981).
McCorkle originally wrote “Fire on the Mountain” for his friend Charlie Daniels because the fiddle player was working on an album bearing that title. The evocative song remained unused and was recorded by the Marshall Tucker Band as the opening track for Searchin’ for a Rainbow (1975), their fourth album.

~ During the 1960s, the saxophonist Boots Randolph was one of the leading musicians in the Nashville studios and played on scores of hit records by such artists as Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers. He had his own success with the upbeat and spluttering tenor sax sound of “Yakety Sax” (1963), which became the theme music for The Benny Hill Show. He subsequently remarked that “Every saxophone player in the world has tried to play it.”
Randolph’s first successes came with the teenage singer Brenda Lee. She loved the interplay between her voice and his saxophone, which is especially apparent on “Sweet Nuthin’s”, “Let’s Jump the Broomstick”, “That’s All You Gotta Do” and “Dum Dum”. Many artists have covered Lee’s seasonal hit “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (1962) and they invariably copy Randolph’s contribution note for note.
He can also be heard on “Poetry in Motion” (1960) by Johnny Tillotson and “Vacation” (1962) by Connie Francis.

~ Will H. Schaefer, 78, a Kenosha-born composer who wrote background music for “I Dream of Jeannie “The Flintstones,” “The Flying Nun,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” “The Jetsons” and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” He also composed and recorded music for more than 700 commercials, including for Ford, Chevrolet and Pillsbury.

~ I think I saw Beverly Sills the first time on a Merv Griffin when I was very young. My mother watched his show and I thought she had a beautiful voice back then. I had seen her on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and she appeared on several Muppet Shows .
The soprano singer reigned as leading diva of the New York City Opera for nearly 25 years, and headed the company as general director for another decade after that.

~ Song composer Hy Zaret has also taken the Final Taxi.
In 1955, the composer Alex North was writing the music for a prison drama, Unchained, which starred Elroy Hirsch and Barbara Hale. At the last minute, the film’s producers decided they wanted a title song and so North visited his friend, Hy Zaret, and asked him to write lyrics for his melody. Zaret, who was painting his house, said that he was too busy. North persisted and Zaret finally agreed, but found that he could not incorporate the word “unchained” into the song as requested, although he did manage a story of devotion from somebody parted from his love – in this case, by a jail sentence.

Zaret wrote “Unchained Melody” on the top of his lyric sheet and it was sung by Todd Duncan for the film’s soundtrack. Although the film was quickly forgotten, the song was ominated for an Oscar and went on to become one of the most recorded songs of all time. It has topped the UK charts on four occasions – for Jimmy Young (1955), the Righteous Brothers (1990), Robson and Jerome (1995) and Gareth Gates 2002). It also made the charts for Al Hibbler, Les Baxter and his Orchestra, Liberace and Leo Sayer.

The Righteous Brothers version was revived for the pottery-in-motion scene in the movie Ghost in 1990. In one of the most erotic moments to be found in a mainstream film, Demi Moore’s pottery wheel collapses as she is distracted by Patrick Swayze, and many people rushed out to buy the music that accompanied it.
In the late 1950s, Zaret had collaborated on a series of educational “Singing Science” albums. One of them, “Why Does the Sun Shine”, was covered in 1994 by the band They Might Be Giants.

PODCAST: Disney’s Art Stevens & Marshall Tucker’s George McCorkle

Direct Download MP3: Stevens & McCorkle

Disney's Art Stevens and his work
On this weeks Final Taxi podcast Ron talks about Art Stevens, who was a Disney animator who worked on the 1940 classic “Fantasia” and later co-directed “The Fox and the Hound” and “The Rescuers.” Among Stevens’ credits as an animator are “Peter Pan,” “101 Dalmatians,” “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day,” “Robin Hood,” “Mary Poppins” and the underwater sequence in “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.”

George McCorkle was a founding member of the Marshall Tucker Band and author of Southern rock anthem “Fire on the Mountain.”