Nipper – The First Dog of Music

Ever wondered about the dog that graced RCA Victor records?

His name was Nipper and he was born in Bristol in 1884. He died 11 years later but his image is indelibly imprinted on our minds.

There have been suggestions that he was a fox terrier or an American Pit Bull (even a dalmatian) however, take it from me that he was a Jack Russell. Remember, in those days Jack’s had not been messed about with by the Kennel Club. He was called Nipper because he had a habit of biting people on the leg.

After his original owner died in 1887 Nipper went to live with his owner’s brothers in Kingston upon Thames which is where he was buried. 3 years after his death one of the brothers, Francis Barraud, painted a picture of Nipper listening to the horn of a Edison-Bell cylinder phonograph. He tried to sell it to the Edison- Bell company but they rejected it saying that dog’s do not listen to phonographs. 250px-OriginalNipper

250px-His_Master's_VoiceOn 31st May 1899 Francis went to the Maiden lane offices of The Gramophone Company, he wanted to rework the picture replacing the black horn with the brass one in the picture. William Owen, who was the manager of the office said that if he replaced the cylinder machine with a Berliner disc gramophone the company would buy the picture.

The painting was reworked and the deal done. Francis sold the picture and the “his master’s voice” slogan for the magnificent price of £100 (That is equivalent to more than £15,000 today).

180px-VictorTalkingLogoThe rest, as they say is history. Through various interpretations Nipper’s image and memory lives on.

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On This Day – Love Me Tender (again and again 856,327 times)

elvisOn this day in 1956 RCA Victor announced a huge number of advance orders for “Love Me Tender” by Elvis Presley.

180px-VictorTalkingLogoOnly a couple of days ago it was the anniversary of Emile Berliner inventing the gramophone. In 1956 the record company that he co-founded with Eldridge Johnson was going from strength to strength.

These days, of course, RCA is part of Sony BMG. The history is somewhat contorted but, briefly;

In the ’80s RCA bought 50% of Arista. General Electric bought RCA in ’86 (selling its interest in the RCA/Ariola International back to Bertelsmann the owner of Ariola). The RCA/Ariola International entity was renamed Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG). GE meanwhile closed all RCA entities ‘cept for a NBC. So, BMG was the only RCA game in town. They also resurrected RCA Victor for Rock music.

While RCA had acts like The Eurythmics on its books it also produced a number of successful albums of shows on Broadway.

in 2004 BMG merged with Sony to produce ‘Sony BMG’. Interestingly, RCA once owned NBC now RCA was in a group once owned by NBC’s rival CBS, Columbia Records.

2008 saw BMG being bought out by Sony and Sony BMG became Sony Music Entertainment.

There, told you it was simple!

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Arrival on This Day – Helen Shapiro

helen shapiroHelen Shapiro was born on this day in 1946.

Helen was a very popular young singer in the early 60s (she was only 14 when she had her first number one in the UK). The Beatles’ first UK tour was as a support act for her. When she was 14 she had her first number one single in 1961. In fact her first 4 singles (’61 & ’62) all made the UK’s top 3.

By the time she was 18 her popularity was on the wane (may have been something to do with her beehive hairstyle being seen as old fashioned). Her last single was ‘Fever’ released in 1964. After quitting pop music she returned to jazz and began a career as a stage performer. In 1987 she became a born again Christian and has devoted her talents to spreading the word since that time.


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On This Day – Daltrey Sacked, Burrell Hired.

On this day in 1965 Roger Daltrey thumped Keith Moon (an ambition for many who knew the ‘lovable’ Moon) and he was sacked from the Who!

The band was ending an european tour playing 2 final concerts in Denmark. There was a band wide arguement and Daltrey popped Moon. Instead of thinking that Daltrey was the face of the band, and a really fine singer the band sacked him. Did any of the remaining members not understand that without Daltrey the Who would not have been the Who? Just like it wasn’t after Moon died.

In any event Boz Burrell was recruited to replace Daltrey. It must have happened very quickly as Daltrey was reinstated within 24 hours. So it makes you wonder whether there were thoughts about Daltrey’s position before the dust up.

Burrell, who he? Good question, Burrell was bass player with a band called The Tea Time Four (well, it was the 60s). In that band (of which I have no recollection) Ian McLagen (later of the Faces) played the organ. Before leaving to join The Sidewinders the band changed their name to The Boz People. Burrell went on to play in King Crimson and co-found Bad Company with Paul Rogers (ex-Free).

Burrell died aged 60 on 21st September 2006 of a heart attack in his home in Marbella.

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On This Day – Bessie Dies After Being Turned Away from Hospital.

On this day in 1937 Bessie Smith, the great blues singer was in a car that was involved in an accident. She had her left arm almost torn off in the accident. After a delay of 25 minutes (and another accident during which a car plowed in to the attending doctor’s car) Bessie was taken to hospital in an ambulance.

She was then turned away by a ‘whites only’ hospital and then died.

John Hammond the noted producer and jazz writer confidently put this version of the story forward in later in the year in a magazine article and it has always enjoyed a lot of currency. It is the story that I heard and have always repeated. However, it seems as if this version is wrong.

The accident happened, the second accident happened, her severe injuries happened. An ambulance was called and did take her to a hospital in Clarkesdale. However, in 1970 the attending doctor Dr Hugh Smith (no relation) gave a detailed account of the accident to Smith’s biographer. Bessie was taken to the ‘black’ hospital where her arm was amputated but she died without regaining conciousness.

Deadful that it would be if she had been turned away by a ‘whites only’ hospital the truth is even more chilling.

As doctor Smith said in 1970; “The Bessie Smith ambulance would not have gone to a white hospital, you can forget that. Down in the Deep South cotton country, no ambulance driver, or white driver, would even have thought of putting a colored person off in a hospital for white folks”.

So, it is not that one person turned a dieing black person away. It is that the whole culture would have prevented anyone from taking a her to a white hospital in the first place. No one would have ever dreamt of taking her to a white hospital ever taking her even if it was within yards of the accident.

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On This Day 26th September 1887- Thanks Emile

250px-Emile_Berliner_with_disc_record_gramophone_-_between_1910_and_1929This day in 1887 was one of the great days of popular music.

Emile Berliner who emigrated from Germany to the USA when he was 26 applied for a patent for his invention, the gramophone. This was the first machine to play discs and not the wax cylinders. He solved the problem of getting the turntable to revolve at a steady and measurable rate after teaming up with Eldridge Johnson.

Although he also designed a very (very) early helicopter and a loom suitable for mass weaving his contribution to popular music is what he will be remembered for.

My thanks to Emile, you saved my young life.

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On This Day – John Bonham Found Dead

On this day in 1980 John Bonham was found dead at Jimmy Page’s house.

Led Zep were practicing and preparing for another tour of the USA and JB had relaxed for the previous day. The relaxation took the form of 40 shots of vodka, inb 4 hours. Not surprisingly he lost conciousness. The drummer then inhaled his own vomit and aphyxiated. His death was the end of the band until nearly 40 years later (2007) when Bonham’s son, Jason, sat at the drum kit for a special concert in London’s O2 Arena in aid of Ahmet Ertegun educational fund.

The support for the gig wasn’t tooo shabby; Bill Wyman, 71, the former Rolling Stones member, and his group the Rhythm Kings warmed up, along with Paul Rodgers, Foreigner, Maggie Bell and 20-year-old Scottish singer Paolo Nutini, the last act signed by Ertegun to Atlantic Records, the record label he started in 1947.

Bonham had a well deserved reputation as a wild man and a hard core party person. He was, also, undeniably, one of the best rock drummers ever to pick up the sticks. Time and again he is voted the best rock drummer ever by the readers of various music magazines. Bonham is also lorded by loads of drummers from Dave Grohl, to Tommy Lee and beyond. Nice to know we fans get right once in a while.

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Sweet Jane

No reason for this post other than it is the best version of a classic rock song. Lou encapsulates what rock meant to so many of us. It was not just Jane’s life that was saved…………

The classic Hunter/Wagner band that graced this world in ’74. Not until he had the wonderful Robert Quine on guitar did he have a band that did him justice.

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The best Band You Never Heard – The Singing Postman

I began to thinking the other day about someone who was quite big in 1966, infact he outsold the Beatles and the Stones, well, for one week anyway.

That man was the singing postman AKA Alan Smethurst. He really was a postman. He lived in and loved Norfolk, its people, its dialect and its ‘not quite of this world’ quality.

He was born in 1927 and moved with his mother to Norfolk when he was a young lad. Later when she moved away he could not bring himself to leave. After trying several jobs he became a postman. On his round he hummed his hums, sang his songs and was happy (as far as we know). In 1959 he sent a tape of his songs to a local BBC radio station and then began performing on a Wednesday morning show hosted by Ralph Tuck.

His songs were written and sung in a broad Norfolk accent using dialect that was disappearing even then. He celebrated a time that was also disappearing as the all the country became bland and the same. As they were written in dialect many people (including me at the time) wrote them off as novelty songs of no value. Like many others I missed their true worth.

Several years later he recorded some songs on a small (very small) local record label and there began to be interest in his work outside of Norfolk. Eventually he was signed by Parlaphone (who also had The Beatles on their books). Fame beckoned as ‘Hev Yew Got a Loight Boy’ became a hit. The future was bright (perhaps even bright enough to wear shades – a reference to another one hit wonder, get it?).

However, Alan hated performing live, a chronic case of stage fright stopped him performing in the pop tours that were so popular, and well paid. He could play and sing in front of 20 people, but 200, 2,000? No way.

Gradually, not that gradually actually, he fell from view. A drink habit began to grow, he had tried to use alcohol to help with stage fright but thatb had not worked. Without gigs that needed dutch courage all he had left was the dutch courage. Various run ins with the law followed. I seem to remember reading about an incident that had Alan attacking his stepfather with a cooking pot, perhaps a frying pan. In any event the decline was well advanmced.

Eventually, he moved into the Salvation Army hostel in Grimsby. He stayed there foe 20 years dieing in December 2000 aged 73.

The world moves on. He is hardly remembered now, a part of the past, as is the Norfolk dialect he loved and the long gone old ways of a very distinctive English county.

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On This Day – The Byrds Play on Their Own Record!

On this day in 1965 The Byrds began recording “Turn! Turn! Turn!”.

The main differenece between this recording and their first hit “Mr Tambourine Man” is that they all p[layed on the abysmal “Turn! Turn! Turn!”.  On their first single only Jim Guinn had played all the other instruments being played by session men.  At about this time I femember saying to my best friend that if we paid someone else to play and sing on it we too could have a hit single and solive the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.  For some reason he thought that would be cheating.

Later in their career The Byrds would record the reasonable “Eight MIles High” and the satyrical “So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star” released on the “Younger Than Today” album.  “So you Want to be….” was an attack on manufactured bands, principally, the Monkees. (Not just on bands that don’t play on their own records, then?)

At Least The Byrds gave Patti Smith material for one the best covers ever recorded.  Actually Patti did not so much cover “So You Want to be…” at grab it, devour it and make totally her own.



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