My Photo

the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

Follow 1michaelgray1 on Twitter

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Hoagy Carmichael would have been 110 today if he'd had the longevity of Henry Allingham. Hoagy's relevance to Bob Dylan's work is argued here in the entry on him in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Carmichael, Hoagy [1899 - 1981]
Hoagy Carmichael was born Hoagland Howard Carmichael on November 22, 1899 and raised in Bloomington Indiana. He grew up to be a singer and actor but primarily a popular songwriter. His very first composition was called ‘Freewheeling’, and he also wrote a song titled ‘Things Have Changed’. More famously he wrote or co-wrote, among many, many others, ‘Stardust’ and ‘Georgia On My Mind’.

Carmichael is one of the many improbable people whose work and persona Dylan admires, possibly just to be perverse. Hoagy’s photo is pinned up on the wall of the shack behind him on the photo by DANIEL KRAMER planned for the US hardback of Dylan’s Tarantula but rejected (it’s reproduced in Kramer’s book Bob Dylan) and in the Empire Burlesque song ‘Tight Connection To My Heart’ Dylan names a Hoagy Carmichael composition. Dylan sings: ‘Well, they’re not showing any lights tonight / And there’s no moon. / There’s just a hot-blooded singer / Singing “Memphis in June”’.

‘Memphis In June’ was composed by Carmichael with lyrics by Johnny Mercer (who also wrote the lyric to ‘Moon River’, which Dylan sang one night on the Never-Ending Tour in tribute to the late STEVIE RAY VAUGHN). Dylan’s ‘hot-blooded singer’ is a neat small joke about Hoagy, whose many assets include a calculatedly lizard-like presence. It was a joke Dylan had retained from an earlier version of the song, then called ‘Someone’s Got A Hold Of My Heart’, which he’d recorded at the sessions for Infidels, the album before Empire Burlesque. Various performances of this have floated around, but the one eventually released officially, on The Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3 in 1991, offered these alternative lines: ‘I hear the hot-blooded singer / On the bandstand croon / “September Song”, “Memphis in June”’. Clearly Dylan was determined to retain Hoagy, whatever other changes he made. (‘September Song’ was written by Maxwell Anderson and composed by Kurt Weill for the 1938 Broadway play Knickerbocker Holiday.)

‘Memphis’ was written for the 1945 George Raft film Johnny Angel, in which Carmichael played a philosophical singing cab driver. (‘After that I was mentioned for every picture in which a world-weary character in bad repair sat around and sang or leaned on a piano’). Subsequent film roles included being the pianist who sings ‘Hong Kong Blues’ in the Bogart-Bacall film To Have And Have Not, one of Dylan’s favourite hunting-grounds for lyrics in the Empire Burlesque period.

The least hot-blooded cover version of ‘Memphis In June’ may be by Matt Monro, from 1962; the best (and ‘on a bandstand croonin’’) may be by Lucy Ann Polk, cut in July 1957 in Hollywood.

Hoagy himself recorded the song in 1947 with Billy May & His Orchestra and again in 1956 with a jazz ensemble that included Art Pepper. Carmichael and Mercer also wrote that great song ‘Lazy Bones’ - in twenty minutes, in 1933 - which was revisited magnificently in the 1960s by soul singer James Ray (who made the original US hits of ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’ and ‘Itty Bitty Pieces’; in the UK he was unlucky enough to find these savaged in unusually distressing ways, even by the standards of British cover versions of the time, by Freddie & The Dreamers and Brian Poole in the first case and by The Rockin’ Berries and Chris Farlowe in the second).

Carmichael played ranch-hand Jonesey in the 1959-60 season of the TV series Laramie. In 1972 he was given an Honorary Doctorate by Indiana University back in Bloomington (which is where BETSY BOWDEN got her doctorate for a study of Bob Dylan’s performance art that became her book Performed Literature).

Hoagy Carmichael died two days after Christmas, 1981. When a retrospective 4-LP box set of his work, The Classic Hoagy Carmichael, was issued in 1988, with copious notes by John Edward Hasse, Curator of American Music at the Smithsonian Institution, it was released and published jointly by the Smithsonian and the Indiana Historical Society. (American hobbyists are so lucky: there’s always plenty of places to go for funding. Imagine trying to get funds to research, compile and write an accompanying book about Billy Fury from the British Museum and the Birkenhead Historical Society.) The Carmichael box-set notes say this, among much else, and might just remind you of someone else (not Billy Fury):

‘At first listeners may be distracted by the flatness in much of Carmichael’s singing, and turned off especially by his uncertain intonation. The singer himself said, “my native wood-note and often off-key voice is what I call ‘Flatsy through the nose’”. But... one becomes accustomed to these traits and grows to appreciate and admire other qualities of his vocal performances, specifically his phrasing... intimacy, inventiveness and sometimes even sheer audacity. Also, many... evidence spontaneous and extemporaneous qualities, two important ingredients in jazz.’

[Hoagy Carmichael: The Classic Hoagy Carmichael, 4-LP set compiled & annotated by John Edward Hasse; issued as 4 LPs or 3 CDs, BBC BBC 4000 and BBC CD3007, UK, 1988; Johnny Angel, , dir. Edwin L. Marin, written Steve Fisher, RKO, US, 1945. Daniel Kramer: Bob Dylan, New York: Citadel Press edn, 1991, p.127. Betsy Bowden: Performed Literature, Bloomington: Indiana University Pres, 1982.]


Blogger ptervin said...

Don't forget the comments Dylan made as a DJ on Theme Time Radio Hour concerning Carmichael:

One of the most famous songs Hoagy every wrote was “Stardust” and like many song writers he wasn’t sure where it really came from. This is what he had to say the first time he ever heard a recording of “Stardust”: “And then it happened. That queer sensation that this melody was bigger than me. Maybe I hadn’t written it at all. The recollection of how, when, and where, it all happened became vague as the lingering strains hung in the rafters in the studio. I wanted to shout back at it. Maybe I didn’t write you, but I found you.” Hoagy Carmichael on “Stardust”. I know just what he meant.

I believe Dylan means what he says in that last line.

6:58 am  
Anonymous Jake said...

Thought you may want to know that there's a thread about you on Expecting Rain. You've been taking a bit of a kicking so far though:

4:56 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Thanks, Jake, but I wish I hadn't read it. What a lot of steaming hatred my name and work seems to provoke.

Does anyone think I should respond?

9:40 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, don't respond to people hiding behind nicks.

ad Hoagy:
here's a nice one sung by Keith


9:47 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd rise above it if I was you - you have to to remember the internet seems to bring out a hateful side in people. No point adding to it and they've already made their minds up anyway.

10:48 am  
Anonymous Bill said...

You could respond or not respond, but remember: "You can't please all of the people all the time." TS Eliot said that.

2:39 pm  
Blogger joe butler said...

Hi Michael just read the Expecting rain thread.
Nobody quoted you as Michael "Grey" so the old maxim about any publicity as long as they spell your name right holds.
But seriously a lot of people dont understand the difference between hero worship and criticism.
CITH is tripe ,charity or not, and it needs to be said.

10:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have not been able to locate the thread.

I had a quick look at the other discussion threads.Sorry...I am not a snob but the content is nauseating.

Please don't encourage or validate this by responding.


11:50 pm  
Anonymous Carl Finlay said...

Hi there Michael
i just looked at the discussion about you on expecting rain. I wanted to re-iterate something i posted here before, and that is that i am a singer songwriter and i picked up a copy of "song and dance man" a number of years ago. I read it from cover to cover and continuously dip into it ever since. I found it an invaluable study of lyricism..not only bob's,but of lyrics in general. I particularly liked the chapters about the poetry of the blues,nursery rhymes and Jokerman.
Dont take anything to heart what is said by those bloggers on the expecting rain site. keep up the good work with your head high.
I asked before and i got no reply but i was wondering if you could recommend any other books that give a similarly academic study of blues lyrics?
Anyway i hope you're well and have a December free of bobs nightmare before christmas...theres so much good and worthwhile music being released every day...
take care..peace

7:03 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Thanks to those who've answered my question. I've also been told by several others who know me that the whole tone of the Expecting Rain Discussion threads is nearly always puerile nastiness. So you're right: best not to respond. Thank you again.

10:49 am  
Anonymous Carl Finlay said...

so no recommendations michael?...if not,there is no harm in saying so.cheers.carl

5:32 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Carl - to answer your question (belatedly, as you'll agree) there really is no book I know of that offers an "academic study of blues lyrics", though Samuel B. Charters' books and those of Michael Taft do tend to pay attention to the lyrics in ways that many blues experts and academics find unacceptable but I find interesting - but there are several blues books I certainly do recommend. The main ones for me are:
THE LAND WHERE THE BLUES BEGAN by Alan Lomax [a poetic, grand sweep]; ESCAPE FROM THE DELTA by Elijah Wald [new, very intelligent example of one way of thinking within contemporary blues scholarship]; and RYTHM [sic] OIL by Stanley Booth [idiosyncratic but passionate essays by a real writer, or at least a brilliant pamphleteer, young in the 1960s]. For a very nicely written basic introduction from a genuine authority, try to find FROM ROBERT JOHNSON TO ROBERT CRAY [not the title he'd have liked] by Tony Russell. It's out of print but can be found secondhand.

9:53 pm  
Anonymous Carl Finlay said...

Thanks a million Michael! Ill be on a mission to source those books you mentioned. Lovely jubbly :)

1:59 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Actually Carl, there's another one: I forgot about it earlier, and haven't read it, but I've put it on my own list of Books Wanted, so something drew me in. It's The Language of the Blues by Debra DeSalvo, Billboard Books, January 2006. And the title seems to suggest an attention to lyrics, so it may come close to the sort of thing you were looking for in the first place. No substitute, though, for any of those others.

6:36 pm  
Anonymous Carl Finlay said...

Brilliant michael...once againg proving a great help :) keep up the good work :)

2:25 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home