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David Elliott—We Lost a Friend and Colleague

Last Friday brought this news from Jon Lehrich, Chairman of WHRB’s Board of Trustees:

Friends:

I am writing to share the sad news that David Elliott passed away last night, after a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). 

David was enormously important to WHRB and to many of us personally.  His leadership, his dedication, his enthusiasm, and his tireless insistence on excellence inspired generations of students.  His fans were legion, among alumni and listeners alike.

We are deeply saddened by this loss.  We are coordinating with his family to understand their wishes for his remembrance.  I also encourage you to share the news among the worldwide WHRB community.

Our hearts and sympathies go out to all who knew and admired David.  Please be well.

Jon

David Elliott at WHRB’s 75th Anniversary Celebration, October 2015 (Photo by Randy H. Goodman)

David Elliott was known to many listeners of Hillbilly at Harvard, especially those who looked forward to his comments on the Metropolitan operas that have followed HAH for some years now. Others will remember David dropping by to plug one of his special programs, especially his afternoon of American classical music for Independence Day, his Christmas specials (featuring a reading of A Christmas Carol by Lionel Barrymore), and his Orgies® of American musical comedy and song. Although David’s expertise in classical music and its recorded history was legendary, his musical interests ranged much wider, especially to older recordings and musical novelties. So he fit right in with the spirit of Hillbilly at Harvard.

Of course the Hillbilly show was special to him because of its long history at WHRB. David was the unofficial historian of the station, giving a semi-annual lecture to new members, and maintaining contact with many old ones. He took a special, we might say custodial, interest in HAH, especially after my broadcast partner Ol’ Sinc passed away at the end of 2002, and for this I remain grateful. David occasionally found songs (like ‘It’s Alright [sic] To Be Fat at Christmas’, by Stringhan Walters) and replaced missing ones, including the CD with our themes that mysteriously disappeared. He maintained the small library of my pre-recorded Generic Hours until his illness made it impossible. And several times over the years he actually co-hosted HAH as a ‘Fillbilly’ when I was out of town, once with John Lincoln Wright, other times with Gerry Katz and/or Larry Flint.

David was above all an exponent of radio, of the art of broadcasting, and his constant influence was one reason why WHRB has consistently maintained a high standard of professionalism, even while staffed by a constantly rotating cast of undergraduates. He certainly encouraged me to keep Hillbilly at Harvard going over the past couple of decades, in part I think because he valued the show as typical of the radio he remembered from years past. I don’t doubt that, behind the scenes, David was instrumental in keeping HAH a fixture of the Saturday morning schedule.

Beyond all this, David was a friend and colleague, and enormously helpful to me in other ways, especially as an advisor when, some years ago, I was trying to run a classical-music record label (Northeastern Records). His absence from WHRB has been a tremendous loss to all of us, ever since the inexplicable ALS disease confined him to a bed in 2018. Friday just made it worse. /CL

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PS Looking for something to play for David, I chanced upon this March 2017 email from him:

The Met opera this week is the famous William Tell (aka Guillaume Tell) by Rossini, from which comes the overture.

I don’t suppose you have any country versions of the famous part of the overture….

I responded: “Yes! Bob Wills! Swing, but I’ve played it before. And, of course, not even remotely country, there’s. . . Spike Jones! Now what in the world did I do with the Spike Jones CD. . .?”

I didn’t find Spike Jones, so I played the Bob Wills ‘William Tell’. Afterwards, David wrote,

I heard the Bob Wills — lovely! I brought in my Spike Jones LP version of the William Tell Overture just in case I got the courage to play it, but it was getting very late, and in fact I wanted to play (and did play) a Toscanini recording of the Overture which we doctored in about 1963 (hasn’t been heard since we aired it on Midnight Symphony back then). When it gets to the last section, we put in the opening of The Lone Ranger from an LP I had (and probably still have). The trumpet fanfare is played, and on the last section (the repeated notes) you hear horse’s hoofbeats. At the end of the last note of the fanfare you hear Brace Beemer (the Lone Ranger) say “Hi-yo, Silver!” and there are a few gunshots, and then the Toscanini recording resumes with the big tune. I chose the Toscanini recording because its sound (in NBC’s Studio 8H) was the closest to the sound of the studio orchestra playing for The Lone Ranger. It worked pretty well. So between you and me, we provided bookends of crocques. [‘Crocque’ is the WHRBic spelling of ‘crock’, in the sense of a novelty, or silly event.]

It was only a few seconds, but deliciously funny. “I wonder how many people that went by before they realized it,” I wrote. To which David responded,

Tony Lauck (whom you don’t know) was the engineer of the overture, and he did a splendid job. When we first played it, on Midnight Symphony, there was a phone call right after the interpolation: “Cut that out!” the person said. Too late — it happened and was over quickly.

I’d insert it now, but it would take some editing, and you really need much of the surrounding Overture to appreciate it. So instead, belatedly, here is Spike Jones’s ‘Williiam Tell Overture’. It’s never too late:

Willie, John T, and Me

In which Willie sits around in his underwear, his friend John T sells sheets to the KLan, and I get suspended.

Back on September 26th, a listener to one of our prerecorded shows (I’ll call him ‘Mr S’), wrote to the Program Director at WHRB, who forwarded the email to me:

I’ve been a loyal listener of Hillbilly at Harvard for decades.  Am listening again this morning and strongly object to the song “Shotgun Willy” that just played.  It memorializes a member of the KKK, whose family made money selling sheets!  This song should NEVER be played on your station.

I am a white person, who grew up in a KKK area.  Even white folks were scared.  Please delete this song from your music library.

Thanks.

This threw me for a loop, as I remembered nothing about the Klan in any Willie Nelson songs, but then I couldn’t recite lyrics for most of them anyway. ‘Shotgun Willie’ was of course the title song of the 1973 Atlantic album that Willie mostly wrote and in which he joined the ‘Outlaw’ revolt against the then-reigning Nashville ‘countrypolitan’ style. The song was not a profound piece of work; my favorite from that album was ‘Sad Songs and Waltzes (Aren’t Selling This Year)’. I had to look up the lyrics to ‘Shotgun Willie’ on the ‘Net:

Shotgun Willie sits around in his underwear
Biting on a bullet and pulling out all of his hair
Shotgun Willie’s got all of his family there

Well, you can’t make a record if you ain’t got nothing to say
You can’t make a record if you ain’t got nothing to say
You can’t play music if you don’t know nothing to play

Shotgun Willie sits around in his underwear
Biting on a bullet and pulling out all of his hair
Shotgun Willie’s got all of his family there

Now, John T. Floores was a-working for the Ku Klux Klan
At six foot five, John T. was a hell of a man
Made a lot of money selling sheets on the family plan

Shotgun Willie sits around in his underwear
Biting on a bullet and pulling out all of his hair
Shotgun Willie’s got all of his family there

OK, so Willie does write about some guy selling sheets—maybe to the Klan? And who was John T. Floores? So I did a little more research, coming up with the response to a query on Reddit that linked to an interesting article in The Texas Monthly by John Spong. What I found led me to conclude that Willie was not ‘memorializing’ either John T or the Klan. So I wrote to Mr S:

You are mistaken about ‘Shotgun Willie’.  Willie is clearly making fun of John T. Floores, who (as I learned today, thanks to your comment) was a dance-hall owner (the John T. Floore Country Store in Helotes, TX) and good friend of Willie’s, who helped him when he couldn’t make it in Nashville.  Willie was making fun of himself, too (“Well, you can’t make a record if you ain’t got nothing to say”).

‘Shotgun Willie’ was the title song of the groundbreaking album Willie Nelson released in 1973.  We’ve been playing it on Hillbilly at Harvard ever since, and yours is the very first complaint we’ve ever had.

So was John T. Floores a member of the Klan?  An article on Texas dance halls in The Texas Monthly sheds a little light (but not much):

The outside world knows John T. from Nelson’s song “Shotgun Willie” and its line connecting him to the Ku Klux Klan. The second-most-asked question at Floore’s, right behind “Did Willie really used to play here every Saturday night?”—a reference to another of Floore’s jokey signs—is “Was John T. really a Klansman?” Some old-timers deny it, but others say that when he was growing up in East Texas, that was just part of doing business. And they say that he really did sell sheets to the Klan. They add that he was married two times, to a Native American and a Jew. “The Klan was just another vehicle to sell something,” says Willie’s bassist, Bee Spears, who grew up in Helotes.

Good article, by the way.  Floores was reportedly quite a character.

Willie wasn’t ‘memorializing’ the Klan, any more than Hillary Clinton was when she called the late Senator Robert Byrd, the Grand Kleagle of the Klan in West Virginia, her ‘mentor’ in the Senate.

Cheers, Lynn

Willie reported that he dashed off ’Shotgun Willie’ while on a trip to the bathroom. It sounds completely tongue-in-cheek to me, and the lines about John T. Floores were just throw-away filler. I must say it always struck me as ludicrous that a vicious, terrorist organization like the KKK would be wearing bedsheets and pointy hats as uniforms; it made them look silly. I expect it struck Willie the same way. John T. Floores, before he was a club owner and Willie’s friend, was in various businesses, which apparently included retailing sheets.

I’d be interested to hear from other listeners. Do you agree with me or with Mr S, who says that the song ‘memorializes’ ol’ John T. and/or the Klan, and should be deleted from our music library?

Now I didn’t hear back from Mr S, so I assumed the matter was settled. But to my surprise it wasn’t: the management of WHRB (the undergraduates, not the Trustees) were concerned that I failed to assure the listener that I wouldn’t play the song again. They viewed this as an act of insubordination, and decreed that I should be ‘suspended’ for four weeks. Of course, ever since my Exile on August 23rd, when Harvard banned non-students and non-employees from the premises, all of the HAH shows have been pre-recorded, so it was those that got suspended.

Now you know why the show has disappeared for the past four weeks.

Of course there was more. The station managers brought up other listener complaints over the past year or two. I won’t reiterate them now (maybe later if some of you want to discuss). A couple you’ve seen debated here. None are quite so obscure as ‘Shotgun Willie’; some have to do with cultural stereotypes with language now considered ‘slurs’. As you know if you’ve been listening and reading the blog, I take the position that when we’re playing a hundred years or so of country music, we have to appreciate the historical and traditional context of songs, and we have to avoid allowing excesses of political correctness to become the cancellation of history. It depends on where you draw the line, and folks do differ, especially outside the academy. However, WHRB considers itself a voice of Harvard, and is hyper-sensitive to complaints. I program on the fly, and beyond watching new songs for ‘FCC clean’ I can’t pre-emptively screen lyrics. So we agreed to consult if the station gets a complaint and to keep a list of songs problematic for Harvard air. Obviously, if you have a complaint, I’d prefer that you contact me first.

What about the immediate future? We’ll be playing pre-recorded shows for the next month or two, maybe longer. Harvard has indicated that they will continue with on-campus restrictions for the Spring term. That likely means I’ll still be exiled from the building (only students and employees allowed), so no live shows, unless a few volunteers like me are granted exceptions during December and January, when no students will be on campus. We’ll see. If not, then I might be able to cobble some archived material here, and maybe produce some new segments live from my office. But my broadcast style relies on ‘physical media’ (records and CDs), not Internet downloads, so it would be hard without professional equipment. But again, we’ll see.

Let me say also that I greatly appreciate all the expressions of support here and by email. Patience is the highest virtue: stay tuned! /CL

HAH History: Sinc and Dave Interview Patty Loveless in 1994

Cousin Dave Schmalz hosted Hillbilly at Harvard with Ol’ Sinc from c. 1966 (see The Committee Saves the Show) into 1975, when Dave moved to Holland, and I came back from hither and yon.  Sadly, as I mentioned on the air, Cousin Dave passed away last October.  I’ve been meaning to post some memories of him here, with on-air clips, but it’s still on The List.

However, going through some ‘To Be Filed’ boxes, I did come across a cassette copy of the interview he and Sinc did of Patty Loveless in 1994 at the South Shore Music Circus.  Dave occasionally came back to the States and on this occasion teamed up with Ol’ Sinc to reprise, in spirit, some of their joint visits to Nashville for the DJ Conventions in the early ’70s, by going to see Patty.

Their plan was to edit the interview together with a selection of songs for the radio show, and that actually did happen 18 months later, when Dave was back in town.  He sent me a cassette of that segment, but the tape has some problems, so it’ll have to wait until I find time to do some editing.

In the meantime, I’m going to embed a SoundCloud file of the original interview, which I’m sure many of you will find as fascinating, and enjoyable, as I did, listening today.  It runs about half an hour:

Patty Loveless Interview

Helen Clougherty, who was then married to Sinc, writes:

The three of us . . . saw Patty Loveless perform at the South Shore Music Circus and [Sinc and Dave] managed to finagle a DJ interview with her after the show.

We spent about an hour with her (me, just in the background).  They were both pretty much openly in love with her . . . she was smart, gorgeous and talented.  Sinc and Dave traded off asking questions. Sinc was more serious and working on impressing her with his country music knowledge (you know that routine and he knew his stuff).  Dave was like a kid who got a puppy.

One of the songs they discuss in the conversation was written by Karen Staley and included on Patty’s debut album on MCA Records, ‘Half Over You’. Dave was effusive in his praise of it, and deservedly so. Listen:

NOTE TO EMAIL FOLLOWERS: If you get an email from ‘Hillbilly at Harvard’ with this post, you may not see the embedded interview. In that case, scroll down to the bottom of the email and click on the link to the post itself. When that comes up, you’ll see the interview. /CL

Exiled!

Napoleon_sainthelene

Napoleon’s Exile on Saint Helena by Franz Josef Sandman [de] (1820) (PD)

No, I haven’t met my Waterloo, but Saturday the 22nd of August was the last live Hillbilly at Harvard—for a while. How long? A few weeks? Months? The rest of the year? I don’t know.

Apparently spooked by the hysteria surrounding the Wuhan Bat Bug (an epidemic no worse than many in the past that never resulted in lockdowns and other restrictions), the administrators at Harvard have decreed that only 40% of enrolled students will be allowed back on campus for the new term, and only those students, plus some employees, will be allowed into campus buildings. Since WHRB is in the basement of Pennypacker Hall, a freshman dorm, I am excluded. I cannot even get into the HAH record library.

Fortunately, over the past few years I have recorded a number of what I call ‘Generic Hours’ to run when I’m out of town, or otherwise unavailable (as now). These will be mixed and matched to create four-hour HAH shows, and there are enough that there shouldn’t be too much repetition. Some listeners have told me they like the GHs (more favorites and less talk).

If The Exile continues for more than a couple of months, I’ll have to think about creating new GHs, maybe using live performances and other segments from the past that I have recorded over the air here at home. I don’t have a home studio, but it might be possible to create one, or even rent studio space somewhere.

In any case, the plan is to resume live broadcast of HAH as soon as the Powers That Be at Harvard say it’s OK for me to enter the building. The student management at WHRB supports this plan. You should be aware that they are under enormous pressure to maintain a 24-hour broadcast schedule with only a small fraction of station members on campus, and that HAH is only a tiny part of their responsibilities, so don’t blame them. Harvard makes the rules.

PS The Internet stream going silent Saturday was unrelated; just Murphy’s law: whatever can go wrong, durn sure will.  /CL

PPS Might as well have some fun. Here’s Stonewall Jackson’s ‘Waterloo’ (1959), written by John D. Loudermilk and Marijohn Wilkin:

And here’s a beautiful, rather sad, version of ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’ that I just chanced upon, played by Aly Bain, with some significant associates: Jerry Douglas (dobro), Danny Thompson (bass), Tommy Hayes (Percussion), Michael Doucet (second fiddle), Russ Barenberg (guitar), Donald Shaw (piano):

For Met Fans—More Operas!

The Metropolitan Opera is making up for the sudden dearth of live broadcast performances this season by adding archival productions every Saturday from May 23rd through June 13th.

You can find the new list of broadcast Met operas on the WHRB website, HERE.

There will be Met Prelude programs before the operas at 1:00 PM, so HAH will end 10-15 minutes early each Saturday.  /CL

UPDATE 15Jun20: Edited to correct ending-date error.  The last Met archived opera was this past Saturday.  However, Sunday Night at the Opera will continue through July, at 8 PM on (you guess it!) Sundays.

UPDATE 1Jul20: Scratch that! Actually, the Met archived operas are continuing!  At 1:00 PM for the next three Saturdays: 11, 18, 25 July: Strauss, Rossini, Saint-Saëns.  I think I’ve got it right, now.  /CL

UPDATE 24Jul20: The archival productions from the Met are continuing into September!  I won’t be there live to tease them, so just tune in at 1:00 PM, following HAH, and you’ll find out what they are.  /CL