August 13, 2011

Old growler

Walt said that he didn't "like to make sequels to my pictures. I like to take a new thing and develop something." "Disney," however, now turns out sequels on top of sequels, so I'll go ahead and follow up my last post with another look at one of the original artists behind the songs in Disneyland's Country Bear Jamboree.

Terrance had a short solo in Bear Country's flagship attraction, crooning about a night on the town that didn't turn out as expected:

One night I left the wife at home
and went out with the boys.
I was actin' like a Don Juan
and makin' a lotta noise.
A go-go girl called my hand,
I said, "I can't, I'm a married man."
She said, "If you ain't gonna steal,
ya better not prowl."
"Don't do-si-do with a go go,
if ya can't bite, don't growl."

His twangy vocals carried a tune recorded originally by Tommy Collins, who you can see in an old live performance here. Tommy, who was born Leonard Raymond Sipes and died in 2000, recorded "If You Can't Bite, Don't Growl" in 1965. According to his page on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website, by the early '70s, his "professional and personal lives were on the verge of collapse, due to his increasing dependency on drugs and alcohol." In 1971, his wife filed for a divorce, sending Tommy into a deep depression.

Tommy's hall of fame entry goes on to note that he "began to recover by continuing to write songs, many of which were recorded by Merle Haggard, including the 1972 number one hit single, 'Carolyn.' In 1976, Tommy moved to Nashville, where he was able to secure a contract with Starday Records. Later that year, he released 'Tommy Collins Callin,'' a collection of his own versions of songs he had provided for other artists. Following the album's release, Tommy turned almost entirely to professional songwriting. In 1981, Merle Haggard had a hit single with 'Leonard,' his tribute to Collins. After the release of 'Leonard,' the spotlight again turned to Collins, who was now sober. Tommy signed a songwriting contract with Sawgrass Music, where his most notable success was Mel Tillis' Top 10 1984 hit, 'New Patches.'

Throughout the '80s, Collins kept a low profile, though his songs continued to be recorded. George Strait recorded no less than two of Tommy's compositions during the decade, taking his new version of 'If You Ain't Lovin'' to number one on the country charts. European record companies like Bear Family began reissuing his recordings, which led to an appearance at the 1988 Wembley Country Music Festival in England. In 1993, Collins signed a new publishing contract with Ricky Skaggs Music and continued to write songs professionally throughout the mid-'90s."

I'm glad to learn that Tommy made something of a comeback, and I'm glad to put a little spotlight on him here. As Melvin the moose used to say as guests headed out after the show, "the welcome mat is always out. Seein' you is fine."

August 7, 2011

Ain't got that swing

A summer shift working the popcorn wagon in Bear Country used to be a delightful way to spend a late afternoon. The little land was a shady, relatively quiet spot in an otherwise bustling Disneyland. On a scorching August day, it offered cool shelter.

Bear Country's singular attraction, the Country Bear Jamboree, though, could be quite a boisterous affair. Inside its two cavernous theaters, guests stomped their feet and clapped their hands as some of the greatest audio-animatronics ever performed some of the greatest country and folk music. It was a far cry from another outlet for plush and a splashier version of Knott's Timber Mountain Log Ride, an innovative flume that pre-dated Disney's by thirty years.

I think that characters like swingin' Teddi Barra are unequaled by anything added to the modern Magic Kingdom, including the unfortunate "resort." One reason is that Teddi and her peers presented an authentic show, a hoedown rooted in America's musical history. The bears were obviously cartoon characters like the cast of America Sings. Thanks to the inspiration of a genius like Marc Davis, however, they had an innate appeal. Their show drew from the past to create something both immediately entertaining and timeless.

Songs like Teddi's—and the great singers behind them—deserve to be heard again in Walt's own Park:

Well there he goes, he hardly knows
the heart he's breakin.'
I talked to him, but I don't think he understood.
We'll just forget about the plans
that we were makin.'
Heart, we did all that we could.

According to her entry on Wikipedia, "Ollie Imogene Shepard (born November 21, 1933), better known as Jean Shepard, is an American honky tonk singer-songwriter who was a pioneer for women in country music. Shepard released a total of 73 singles to the Hot Country Songs chart, one of which reached the #1 spot. She recorded a total of 24 studio albums between 1956 and 1981, and has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for more than 50 years. In 1967, Shepard had two top 20 hits with the title track of "Heart, We Did All That We Could" and the single "Your Forevers Don't Last Very Long." Jean is 78 this year and still active in music.

But enough of this chit chat, yak yak, and flim flam. Just refrain from hibernatin.' And we'll all enjoy the show.