Saturday, February 01, 2014

Scratchin' That Itch...

It started last night....this riff kept repeating itself in my head. I remembered so much of it, but I could not remember where it came from. Then something clicked...It was part of the old sea shanties that Frank Zappa was obsessed with and had been arranging  and rearranging for a few years. It was the medley of Handsome Cabin Boy and The Wedding Dress song. I have a recording of it from the late 60's on The Lost Episodes Compilation, but I knew I had heard it before...Thank you, YouTube! I suddenly was transported back to The Grande Ballroom in Detroit, a few days after my 18th birthday when I saw the Mothers in one of those strange performances that can alter the direction of your life. The classic line up of the early Mothers of Invention...I love hearing the live version of America Drinks. This is it, I was in the audience and the 6th cut is a version of Handsome Cabin Boy/Wedding Dress. These pieces were adapted and arranged by Frank because he was obsessed with the form and melodies of the music. There are some good recordings of Cabin Boy in it's traditional form. The subject matter is the sailors fantasy of discovering that the Cabin Boy is really a girl. In the original song, the Cabin Boy becomes pregnant but none of the sailors will admit responsibility. It is the Captains Wife who comes to her rescue.  So here is the set list for the April 28, 1968 Detroit live recording:
01 Green Genes
02 Hungry Freaks Daddy
03 America Drinks
04 King Kong
05 Improv
06 Medley (Handsome Cabin Boy - Wedding Dress Song - Dog Breath - Little House)
07 Status Back Baby
08 The Orange County Lumber Truck Medley

Here is the version that was stuck in my little brainz for a few days....I couldn't get the opening riff out of my head!  Supposedly, this was recorded in a studio in NYC in 1967!
But I think after all this, I should post the original sea shanties, The Handsome Cabin Boy by the classic folk group, Sweeney's Men: 
and here is John Renbourn and Jackie McShee with a traditional version of The Wedding Dress the opening riff in this medley that I could not get out of my head: 

One more detail, if you listen to the work of Captain Beefheart, you also hear a few threads of melody that hearken back to these songs. According to Frank Zappa, when they were teenage buddies in Lancaster, California, they were both influenced by a record Frank obtained called"Blow, Boys, Blow" of traditional sea shanties. Frank claims that Don (Beefheart) walked off with it and probably had it till the end of his days. Here's Electricity by The Magic Band from 1966. It opens with the same riff:

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