Wednesday, December 01, 2010

List of 'Escanaba' songs grows

The new CD by English act Jimmy Lee and
the Edge of Chaos Orchestra contains a song
titled "Escanaba."


Place names sometimes become song titles as "New Orleans" by Gary (U. S.) Bonds, "Memphis" by Johnny Rivers and "Theme from New York," by Frank Sinatra illustrate.

Believe it or not, at least five songs use "Escanaba" in their titles, including a number released in England earlier this year.

Britisher Jimmy Lee composed the words and music to his "Escanaba" song after an extended stay here.

The song closes a nine-track compact disc called "The Ragamuffin" recorded by Lee and the Edge of Chaos Orchestra.

"I toured the USA with my band back in the 80s and played in Escanaba," Lee told me.

"We got snowed in and stayed for four weeks," Lee said about his inspiration behind the song, adding he had a great time.

In one verse Lee sings: "Winter wind you sure blow cold. And living here a man could grow old. Or free. Escanaba you'll do for me."

Lee sings and plays guitar on the selection which is augmented by his seven-piece band, combining musicians from folk and classical backgrounds.

The group comprises John Wigg (fiddle, mandolin and banjo), Iris Bishop (duet concertina and accordion), Melanie Row (cello), Gary Holder (double bass), Steve Cass (timpani and drums), Clare Juliet (piano accordion) and Steve Ball (electric and acoustic guitar).

The song's final verse compliments the city: "Escanaba you treated us good. Escanaba they said you would. Escanaba you'll do for me."

"Escanaba" is a folky guitar-based ballad, almost a love song to the city. You can listen to Lee's song on My Space

Lee produced the album which was recorded "live" at the Blue Coconut Club, Pulborough, West Sussex, England.

The singer/guitarist still plays dates in the United Kingdom, years after his 80s Escanaba visit.

Another "Escanaba" tune can also be traced to the 80s.

This one was committed to tape by a quartet named the Clyng-Onz, a reference to the Star Trek television series.

The Clyng-Onz hailed from Anchorage, Alaska and were part of the northern underground scene which also included the Psychedelic Skeletons.

In fact, the two bands shared sides on a long-playing album issued by independent Bullhead Records.

The Clyng-Onz' side of the record is titled "Lighten Up!" and contains 11 brief songs in the punk tradition.

"Escanaba" is the sixth entry on the disc and clocks in at one minute and 32 seconds.

The Clyng-Onz recorded their material at Alaska's Surreal Studios on Sept. 6, 1985.

Singer Frank Harlan served as producer for the project.

Their record includes an "official song book" complete with lyrics and a caricature of the band.

The song tells of story of the vocalist living a rural lifestyle and partying in the Upper Peninsula.

"Farm living is the life for me; Riding my tractor in the U. P.," Harlan sings. The opening phrase was taken from the theme song to the "Green Acres" television series.

Any similarity between the two songs ends there, however.

Harlan also designed the cover art which features a picture of the band in front of a U. S. flag along with a photo of the Anchorage skyline.

Besides the LP, the Clyng-Onz offered two custom-designed t-shirts for sale.

In their heyday the band also appeared in a number of primitive videos.

You can catch the Clyng-Onz perfoming "Escanaba" on YouTube, the video-sharing website.

A third song titled "Escanaba" was copyrighted in 1978.

The tune appeared on a 7-inch 45 rpm record attributed to the Dopes and later with credit going to Zoom. The song on both 45s is the identical recording.

This "Escanaba" was engineered by Ron Lagerlof who now lives in Los Angeles, Cal.

The number was recorded at Pepperland Ranch, near Madison, Wis.

Lagerlof remembers little of the sessions which produced the song, however.

I recall buying a copy of the record during a business trip to Wisconsin's capital where the band played in the early 80s.

The singer relates his experience in the lyrics: "Escanaba, where are you; how did we wind up here? Escanaba, let me go; I'll forget you in another year."

Meanwhile, the song "Escanaba Beat" was included on a jazz album by famed alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt.

Musician Eddie Russ composed the number and is featured on electric piano.

Found on Stitt's "Tornado" LP, the song was recorded at Cinema Sound for Grand Rapids' Jazz Masters label.

Like the Clyng-Onz LP, "Tornado" also shows a city skyline, this time a generic one.

Russ named his instrumental number for Escanaba because he was "fascinated by the city," according to producer Bob Crawford.

Finally, Jeff Daniels' comedy "Escanaba in da Moonlight" contains a selection titled "Escanaba Mama."

The rock number was written and performed by the impressive line-up of Alto Reed, Jimmy McCarthy, Jimmie Bones and Martin L. Gross.

Reed is Bob Seger's sax player, McCarthy was a guitarist in Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels and Bones (born James Trombly) plays keyboards for Kid Rock.

The composers registered their work at Pure Harmonie Publishing.

Lyrics for "Escanaba Mama" include the line: "On a scale of one to ten in my book she's Miss Michigan."

The movie tells the story of Reuben Soady (Daniels) who must bag his first buck soon or risk being branded a jinx.

Soady's "Escanaba Mama" is his Native American wife Wolf Moon Dance, played by actress Kimberly Norris Guerrero.

When the song was released on the motion picture's original soundtrack compact disc, the folks at Purple Rose Music were horrified to discover that Escanaba was misspelled on the cover.

But, Daniels quickly remedied the problem.

He autographed each one, instantly turning the CD's and "Escanaba Mama" into collectors' items.

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