California Sounds: A Lee Hazlewood-produced surf album by the Woodchucks is unearthed, and Mary Lattimore shares a song made for player piano
Mary Lattimore, “Glamorous Mom” (Bandcamp). Earlier this year the Getty Center sponsored a brilliantly imagined musical idea it dubbed “Piano-Graphs.” It asked a handful of area experimental musicians including John Wiese, William Tyler and Celia Hollander to create songs to be played on a player piano. For those too young to remember the 1890s, the self-playing instrument spun out its tunes on an upright piano via precisely placed punch holes on rolls of paper.
For her song, the harpist Lattimore composed a piece that, as she describes it, she transferred to the electronic music protocol MIDI “and then made into a player piano roll and then was played at the Getty without me being there.”
Adds Lattimore by way of introducing “Glamorous Mom,” “Here’s the original, dreaming of the player piano playing all of the arpeggios, transcending the human hand just like the loops do.”
What follows is a luxurious tapestry of harp, fed through a reverb pedal to create density. Now, imagine this piece performed on player piano via a paper roll so dotted with notation holes that it appears to be delicately crafted lace.
Bearing melody and arrangements so dynamic that only two 44-fingered hands could play them on a piano, “Glamorous Mom” exists as a kind of gust of sound.
The Woodchucks, “Cruisin’ for Surf Bunnies” (Light in the Attic). The late producer Lee Hazlewood is best known for his work with Nancy Sinatra on “These Boots Were Made for Walking.” Few realize, however, that his success dates back to his production for the great guitarist Duane Eddy, most notably on the hit song “Rebel Rouser.” Hazlewood sure did know how to record a guitar.
As part of its ongoing Hazlewood release series, the Seattle and L.A.-based label Light in the Attic has uncovered further tape of the Hazlewood sound. Just issued under the title “Cruisin’ for Surf Bunnies,” archivists happened upon the record while listening to reels of old tape.
According to the set’s liner notes, the reel bore the name “Woodchucks,” which was “one of Lee’s fake groups, a vehicle to release instrumentals.” Crucially, the real-life musicians on the record were members of the great L.A. session band the Wrecking Crew.
That’s another way of saying that the 12 songs on “Cruisin’ for Surf Bunnies” are well-oiled and built for speed. With titles that convey Hazlewood’s notable wit — “Johnny October,” “Torn Sarong” and “Bangkok Cock Fight” among them — the music sounds recorded in an echo chamber. “Angry Generation” walks with patient, Eddy-esque swagger. The spooky “The Nomads” is constructed, like most of them, on the back of an electric guitar-plucked melody.
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