More traditional music today. This time, the tradition is songs from before the advent of rock’n’roll, sometimes called The Great American Songbook. As if Bob Dylan’s five albums between 2015 and 2017 weren’t enough. Or Rod Stewart’s album. The inspiration behind recording these songs seems to have come from his father (Loudon Wainwright II), who had all the recordings on record. Recently, Loudon Wainwright III has given some shows where he intersperses writings from his father (who was a columnist for Life magazine for many years) with some of his own songs. He called the show “Surviving Twin” which was a song he had written when he compared himself with his father, reaching the conclusion that since they looked very similar, he was the surviving twin of his father. A few years ago, he wrote a song called “Older Than My Old Man” in which he celebrated reaching an age beyond that at which his father died. He even named a whole album after the song. I know a lot of people have a complicated relationship with their fathers, but this seems to be going to extremes. In an interview with “Rolling Stone”, Loudon Wainwright III said “I have memories of being a little kid in my pajamas, watching my parents get ready to go out to dinner, and they would have had a couple of drinks already and they’d dance close to each other to Sinatra or Benny Goodman records. If you’re six or seven and you’re watching your parents all dressed up, it’s sexy. It was beautiful and powerful. It was the music they loved and their parents loved. So I think that’s one of the reasons I’m attracted to it.”
This album is actually credited to “Loudon Wainwright III with Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks.” Vince Giordano is a saxophonist and leader of The Nighthawks who have earned a reputation for recreating jazz and dance music from the 1920s. Every song on the album is in this style and although I don’t normally like this sort of thing, I really love this album. I love every Loudon Wainwright III album because every album contains at least three brilliantly funny songs that he has written. The interesting aspect of this album is that he hasn’t written any of the songs and so I have paid more attention to his singing. As with Bob Dylan (with whom he was once compared – he was one of the many “New Bob Dylans”), he doesn’t have a pitch perfect voice but he does sing really really well.
“A Perfect Day” was written by Carrie Jacobs-Bond in 1910 and the sheet music for the song sold twenty five million copies. Loudon Wainwright III’s attention was drawn to the song when he was watching “Remember The Night”, a sentimental Christmas film starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. In the sleevenotes to the album, Loudon Wainwright III writes “after hearing this high, tremulous rendition from the man who gave us the voice of Winnie The Pooh, I was sold.” Loudon Wainwright III can never resist an opportunity to make us all laugh.
“I’m Going To Give It To Mary With Love” is from 1936 and is quite smutty. “I’ll let her take it right in her hand, ‘Cause I know that she’ll stroke it so grand.” The song was first recorded by Cliff Edwards and was banned by the BBC. Cliff Edwards was known as Ukulele Ike and he was a good friend of Buster Keaton. He went on to be the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio. He died in 1971, a penniless patient. No one claimed his body which was about to be donated to the University of California medical school before the Actors’ Fund of America intervened to give him a suitable burial.
My favourite song on the album is “You Rascal You (I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead)”. It’s a very Loudon Wainwright III type of song. The singer has offered hospitality to a guy who has run off with his wife. It was written in 1929 by Sam Theard, who was an actor, songwriter and comedian. This song has been covered by many acts including Louis Jordan, Sidney Bichet, Fats Waller, Champion Jack Dupree, Fats Domino, John Fogerty and Dr. John. The version that Loudon Wainwright III first heard was by Louis Prima who had a fascinating life. He Played “Old Black Magic” with Frank Sinatra at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy; he voiced King Louie in “Jungle Book”; he was married five times. What is it about Disney films and these singers?
Is this traditional music in the same way that Lankum, The Chieftans or Alan Stivell made traditional music? How old does something have to be before it is traditional? I’m not sure but this is a hugely enjoyable and entertaining album.
3 thoughts on “I’d Rather Lead A Band by Loudon Wainwright III”
Just a detail. ‘Nighthawks’ is an iconic painting by the great American artist Edward Hopper.
Night hawking has lots of meanings. It can mean illegal theft of metal but in this case it probably has a sexual connotation. It can refer to an act between gay men or a relationship between people of different races.