Friday, July 25, 2014

Reg Kehoe, the Marimba Queens... and that bass

Source: ... tapewrekcs ...
Although posterity is, generally, a just filter, it's still a filter. Like the scale of a map reproduces geography, it simplifies and narrows reality. Therefore, whatever reaches us music fans from the past is just a modicum of material with almost undeniable artistic value but subject to legal and corporate considerations: who has the material, and whether they have the rights to publish it. Or the resources. Or the will to do it.

Let this solemn introduction give way to what will be the most absurd video ever in these pages. In 1944 (according to IMDB), percussionist Reg Kehoe and his Marimba Queens, recorded the fourth and last segment of a soundie (the grandfather of video clips) entitled A Study in Brown, directed by Ben K. Blake for the Soundies Distributing Corporation of America. The orchestra was formed by Kehoe, seven percussionist ladies, plus the exuberant double bassist Frank Di Nunzio, Sr. There's not much left to say regarding the music. As for their popularity, they are mentioned in several issues of Billboard, mostly in the 1940s.

That decade is a fascinating period in the music of the USA. The first half is dominated by the largest war in history, with male personnel mobilized, the rationing of certain goods and services, a musicians' strike, and the explosion of the two first atomic bombs, all of which may explain the sense of freedom when it came to make music, from Spike Jones to Alec Wilder to John Cage to Boyd Raeburn... to Frank Di Nunzio predating rockabilly. What is surprising in Kehoe's case, is that, according to his Wiki page (where the complete personnel for the band is given), his orchestra lasted from the 1930s up to 1962. They came from Pennsylvania, land of polkas among other things, and, as removed as the images may seem from us today, apparently Di Nunzio was still slapping that bass ten years ago (he passed away in 2005).

This sound has been quite popular in social networks, where it has been almost always shown in reverse (and such is the nerdish nature of this writer that he cannot stand the sight of another "inverted" marimba or vibraphone). Fittingly for such an absurd enterprise, the minute I finished editing the video below (taken from this copy), I found several versions almost identical (although the image in mine seems to be more stable). That said, and going back to the first paragraph, let this be a reminder that not all oldies are goldies.

Enjoy! (Or maybe not.)

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