Friday, April 20, 2018

Box of Pearls: The Janis Joplin Collection

It comes as no surprise that Janis Joplin, who passed away at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose, is legendary for her screaming voice -- who recorded only a total of four albums during her career. Her second album, Cheap Thrills, debuted on the Billboard charts in August of 1968 and reached the number one spot quickly. The proposed title of the album was "Dope, Sex and Cheap Thrills," which properly described her personal life off the stage. Her first two albums were a result of a record contract as part of Big Brother and The Holding Company, a San Francisco rock-and-roll off-the-wall band that entered the mainstream market a couple years too early. The Midwest had not adjusted to hippies in 1967, and the band played to an audience of five or six in clubs that could have held 200. But they got a record deal as a result of the tour and Janis Joplin was introduced to the American public.

At the Monterey International Pop Festival in June of 1967, Big Brother and the Holding Company performed on stage. Overnight Janis Joplin's name spread like wildfire. She overshadowed the band and after two albums with Big Brother, it was obvious that when the tour expired, she was going to venture off on her own. Her third and fourth/final albums are, in my opinion, some of the best music she ever created. No single style of music could do that -- not the country blues or bluegrass, not folk, rhythm and blues, or rock and roll. But there was clearly an element of rhythm and blues and she defined music her own way. 

By the end of 1969, Joplin disbanded the Kosmic Blues Band (the second band, her third album) and took some time off. She went to Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval. She backed off from alcohol and drug use that had sometimes affected her performances with Kosmic Blues. She cleaned up her act. And during those reflective months, her luck changed. In her first year as a leader of her own band, she had learned a lot. Now she was ready to put those lessons to use. Her fourth and final album was released after her death, leaving behind a legacy that most aficionados agree was only a rising point in her career. A darn shame as future albums would have launched her into stardom that few female performers would have accomplished at the time.

A few years ago there was talk that actress Amy Adams was going to play the lead in a biopic about Janis Joplin. Adams would have earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress -- the role is perfect for her. But something fell through and the movie is not going to be made. Big disappointment but we do have her albums to enjoy.

In 2009, a special five-CD box set was released titled, Box of Pearls. The commemorative booklet contains print so small that I have to criticize what the producers were thinking. My youthful eagle eyes were put to a test. But all four albums are on four CDs, along with bonus tracks (recorded alternate takes) and is a magnificent just-starting-out package for people wanting to explore Janis Joplin. The fifth CD contains a few rare unreleased tracks but her third and fourth albums are treasures. Amazon.com offers a bargain out-of-print price and the purchase of the album also contains free music downloads... a surprise I was not expecting.

For anyone wanting to own every track she ever recorded, there are other collections including "Best Of" releases, which contain different live versions of songs, the "Live at Winterland" with Big Brother and "Farewell Song," plus the three-disc set called "Janis" which has lots of her earlier material and a birthday message for John Lennon. Having purchased the Box of Pearls set for $22, I can state that I am fully satisfied having all four of her albums, including bonus tracks. Worthy for anyone looking to add music CDs to their library. And consider the fact that Best Buy just announced they will be discontinuing CDs in their stores this July, owning music CDs is more essential. Owning CDs is the true on-demand.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Lone Ranger on Radio, Film and Television Book Review

Following the adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all," negative book reviews are not my cup of tea. Ed Andreychuk's recent book, The Lone Ranger on Radio, Film and Television, released a couple months ago by McFarland Publishing, warrants an exception. Honestly, this is not a bad book. But the price McFarland charges, along with a major flaw of knowing there is more information about The Lone Ranger on the internet vs. what can be found in this book, left a bad taste in my mouth. Having researched the subject for more than a decade, including archival collections across the country, I may be one of the few who could be highly critical. There are nuggets of information I would rarely expect anyone to have and with this disclosed, the myths and errors that continue to be reprinted in multiple reference guides and fanzines, are expected. But those type of flaw will not be exposed here. 

Andreychuk's book is 182 pages thick, index and table of contents included, but information about The Lone Ranger is minimal. The entire first chapter is devoted to the history of the Texas Rangers. What that directly has to do with The Lone Ranger radio and television program, I do not know. Naturally, I skipped those seven pages and moved on to the second chapter. On page 11, the author cited James Jewell being responsible for creating the name of Tonto, a.k.a. "Wild One," which was, as everyone in the OTR hobby knows, created by Fran Striker and "Wild One" was never used on the program. Andreychuk also claimed Trendle hired a Native Indian to replace actor John Todd, but we all know that is also inaccurate. Two pages into the chapter devoted to the radio program and already observed two errors. 

Beginning with chapter three, focusing on the cliffhanger serial produced by Republic, I found myself skimming various paragraphs due to unnecessary padding. What I mean by "unnecessary padding" is information that steers away from the title and subtitle of a book. The flaw continues throughout the remainder of the book. There are pages loaded with brief biographies of supporting cast members, and their non-Lone Ranger-related screen credits, that made me wonder why background production on the television programs, cartoons, movies and serials were not covered extensively. Actress Lisa Montell, for example, receives coverage of her screen career for half of page 114. It would have been enjoyable to know what her involvement was with The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold, rather than acknowledge her screen credits on television's Cheyenne and The Gene Autry Show

From pages 50 to 80, there is an episode guide for the television program. Episode number, title, broadcast date, actors and a one or two sentence plot summary is all that can be found. No behind-the-scenes trivia, no on-screen bloopers, or quotes from cast and crew. This is going to come off as an insult but you can get more information about the television episodes on IMDB. And thirty pages of the book devoted to this guide.

In short, for someone who cannot afford Dave Holland's From Out of the Past, or Dick Osgood's WYXIE Wonderland (recently reprinted), this might fill a void on your bookshelf. Expressing disappointment is difficult for me so I guess this book review serves as a warning to consider other options.