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Podcast Episode #76 – Liberace & the Trinidad Tripoli Steelband

Podcast Episode #76 – Liberace & the Trinidad Tripoli Steelband

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In 1967 thirty men left Trinidad with 97 steel drums to represent their country at the World’s Fair in Montreal. None of them had ever been off their island before. They were members of the Esso Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band, all playing “pan,” the steel drums of Calypso, hammered from the leftover oil drums of World War II.

The band took Expo ’67 by storm. And their sound and performance caught the ear of one of the most popular entertainers of the day: Liberace. The glittery piano virtuoso hired the Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band to go on the road with him for the next two years — traveling to cities large and small around the world including towns in George Wallace’s segregated south. One flamboyant rhinestoned white piano player and 30 black steel drummers from Trinidad playing Flight of the Bumblebee.

We travel to Trinidad and trace the history of the steel drum and follow the Esso Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band from the streets of Port of Spain to the Ed Sullivan Show.

Steel pan was born on the island of Trinidad in the late 1930s. It began as an outlaw instrument, hammered from milk tins, biscuit boxes, brake drums, garbage cans — and later, the oil barrels that were scattered across the oil-rich island after World War II.

When the bands first started, anything metal that could be scavenged was “tuned” and played to make a sound, a note. Pan began as the music of the island’s poor, before Trinidad’s independence from Britain. For the native Trinidadians under British rule, the beating of drums and marching in Carnival was often forbidden.

As the oil drums evolved, dozens of pan bands — some more than 100 members strong — sprang up in neighborhoods across the island. Casablanca, Destination Tokyo, Desperadoes, Tripoli… they named themselves after the American war movies and Westerns of the day. Come Carnival, the steel bands would battle one another for the championship, marching across Port of Spain waging musical war — a tradition that continues today.

When the island gained its independence in the 1960s, the foreign companies that controlled the oil resources of Trinidad worried about nationalization of their businesses. The island’s prime minister declared steel pan music an important, vital expression of the Trinidadian people. British Petroleum, Esso and other oil companies looking to sway public opinion began sponsoring neighborhood oil drum orchestras, supplying instruments, uniforms and the money to tour outside Trinidad.

In 1967, the Esso Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band (named after the World War II movie Shores of Tripoli) was sent by the government and the Esso oil company to represent Trinidad and the nation’s musical heritage at the Montreal Expo World’s Fair.

The Kitchen Sisters Present Ep #68 – Tony Schwartz 30,000 Recordings Later

The Kitchen Sisters Present Ep #68 – Tony Schwartz 30,000 Recordings Later

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Cab drivers, children’s jump rope rhymes, folk songs, dialects, controversial TV ads, interviews with blacklisted artists and writers during the McCarthy Era — Tony Schwartz was one of the great sound recordists and collectors of the 20th Century. An audio portrait of a man who spent his life exploring and influencing the world through recorded sound.

It was 1947 when Tony first stepped out of his apartment in midtown Manhattan with his microphone to capture the sound of his neighborhood. He was a pioneer recordist, experimenting with microphones and jury-rigging tape recorders to make them portable (some of these recordings were first published by Folkways Records). His work creating advertising and political TV and radio commercials is legendary.

The Kitchen Sisters visited Tony in his midtown basement studio in 1999. He had just finished teaching a media class at Harvard by telephone — Tony was agoraphobic and hardly ever ventured beyond his postal zone. He was there in his studio surrounded by reel to reel tape recorders, mixing consoles, framed photographs and awards — and row upon row of audio tapes in carefully labeled boxes.

Tony passed away in 2008. His collection now resides in the Library of congress — 90.5 linear feet, 230 boxes, 76,345 items — some 30,000 folk songs, poems, conversations, stories and dialects from his surrounding neighborhood and 46 countries around the world.

Episode #65: Sam Phillips, Sun Records and the Acoustics of Life

Episode #65: Sam Phillips, Sun Records and the Acoustics of Life

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Recording sound pioneer Sam Phillips — the father of Sun Records, the man who discovered Howlin’ Wolf, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash…, the creator of WHER, The First All Girl Radio Station in the World — talks about his journey, his adventures and “the acoustics of life.” With stories from his son Knox Phillips, his wife Becky, his biographer Peter Guralnick, and one of his first artists, Ike Turner.

Hear recordings from the archive of interviews we did with Sam beginning in 1998—personal stories told by the man himself and his family and friends.

Interest in Sam Phillips is running high right now –not that it was ever running low. There’s a new TV series out and there’s Peter Guralnick’s epic biography “Sam Phillips The Man Who Invented Rock’n’Roll.” And there’s a film in the works based on the book — one of the producers is Mick Jagger and Leonardo DiCaprio is playing Sam. Sam has had a monumental impact on the world of music and sound. And he’s had a monumental impact on The Kitchen Sisters.

Giving Tuesday / So Many Untold Stories to Tell

Giving Tuesday / So Many Untold Stories to Tell

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Dear Friends,

On #GivingTuesday, we’d like to give you a story.

Some fifty years ago, Guy Tyler, an amateur ethnographer from Los Angeles drove out to the Colorado River Indian Reservation in Parker, Arizona with his portable reel-to-reel tape recorder and began recording Emmett Van Fleet, the last of the Mojave Creation Song Singers. Over the course of several years, Tyler spent his weekends and holidays meticulously recording the 525 song cycle that recounts the legend of the creation and origin of the Mojave people. Lost for decades, these recordings became the key for the Mojave to be able to map the boundaries of their tribal lands and fight the building of a nuclear waste site on their sacred sites.

With Standing Rock in our hearts and the events of 2016 on our minds, we are committed now more than ever to telling stories from the margins, stories from voices that might otherwise not be heard.

Listen to “House of Night: The Lost Creation Songs of the Mojave People”

Your support keeps the stories turning. Thank you so much for giving.

Our best,

Davia & Nikki
The Kitchen Sisters

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Fugitive Waves: New Orleans—Cowboys, Indians, Broncos & Boudin

Fugitive Waves: New Orleans—Cowboys, Indians, Broncos & Boudin

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New Orleans stories from The Kitchen Sisters—including the world of unexpected, down home convict cooking at The Angola Prison Rodeo, an event that draws some seventy thousand people annually to this agricultural prison in a remote corner of the state. Tootie Montana, the legendary chief of chiefs of the Mardi Gras Indians tells of the African American Indian tradition of masking and parading. And stories of Tennessee Williams, the classic soul food Two Sisters cafe, the Court of Two Sisters in the French Quarter, and an eloquent ode to the Mint Julep.

Walkin’ Talkin’ Bill Hawkins

Walkin’ Talkin’ Bill Hawkins

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In 1948, Bill Hawkins became Cleveland’s first black disc jockey. He had a jiving, rhyming style. People gathered on the street to watch him broadcast from a glass booth at the front of his record store. His popularity grew rapidly. Over the next decade Hawkins was heard on up to four different stations on the same day. He had plenty of imitators and influenced a whole generation of DJs. Hawkins also had something else – a son he never knew.

William Allen Taylor didn’t find out Hawkins was his father until he graduated from college. The two met once when Taylor was a teenager. At the time, Hawkins never hinted at who he was. And Taylor had no idea that he had met his father. Hawkins died before his son every got to know him.

There are no known tapes of Hawkins. Taylor became an actor and playwright. He lives in San Francisco. But he’s always wished he had a recording of his father’s radio program or even just a snippet of his voice.

Fugitive Waves Episode 34 – The Vietnam Tapes of Michael A. Baronowski

Fugitive Waves Episode 34 – The Vietnam Tapes of Michael A. Baronowski

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Michael Baronowski was a 19-year-old Marine when he landed in Vietnam in 1966. He brought with him a reel-to-reel tape recorder and used it to record audio letters for his family back in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He was killed in action in 1967. Produced by Jay Allison and Christina Egloff as part of Lost & Found Sound.

Twentieth Century Wars on Tape

Twentieth Century Wars on Tape

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The Sullivan Brothers at the U.S. Navy yard, 1942.

In this week’s episode of Fugitive Waves we hear the story The Vietnam Tapes of Michael A. Baronowski from Lost & Found Sound produced by Jay Allison and Christina Egloff.

Here’s another story from Lost & Found Sound, Twentieth Century Wars on Tape, also produced by Jay Allison along with Art Silverman.

Jay was the curator of the Lost & Found Sound “Quest for Sound” phone line. He and his team went through more than 1,500 calls. People called in with snippets of sound or stories – often in recordings that had been kept for decades. Many of the voices on the recordings came from American servicemen. Some recorded messages when far from home. Others told stories long after they returned.

Twentieth Century Wars on Tape features highlights of some of those recordings. One is the only known recording of the five Sullivan brothers of Waterloo, Iowa. All of them were posted to the same navy ship – the USS Juneau – and died when the ship was sunk by a torpedo in 1942. (The tragedy led the armed forces to change policies about posting family members to the same ship.) There is a helicopter pilot in Vietnam corresponding with his family by cassette; testimony from a former prisoner during the Korean War; a Gulf War conversation between two brothers that was interrupted by a missile attack; and a veteran of World War I telling how he survived five days spent trapped in “no man’s land” between the German and Allied lines.

Listen:

Twentieth Century Wars on Tape

Fugitive Waves – WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts, Part 2

Fugitive Waves – WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts, Part 2

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LISTEN: WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts, Part 2

An all-girl radio station in Memphis—set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, Vietnam, and the death of Martin Luther King—the story of WHER continues following the women who pioneered in broadcasting as they head into one of the most dramatic and volatile times in the nation’s history.

Listen to Part 1 here.

Fugitive Waves – WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts, Part 1

Fugitive Waves – WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts, Part 1

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When Sam Phillips sold Elvis’ contract in 1955 he used the money to start an all girl radio station in Memphis, TN. Set in a pink, plush studio in the nationss third Holiday Inn, it was a novelty—but not for long. He hired models, beauty queens, actresses, telephone operators. Some were young mothers who just needed a job. WHER was the first radio station to feature women as more than novelties and sidekicks. The WHER girls were broadcasting pioneers. From 1955 into the mid-1970s they ruled the airwaves with style, wit and imagination. “WHER was the embryo of the egg,” said Sam Phillips. “We broke a barrier. There was nothing like it in the world.”