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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Things Are Tough All Over

Read this little item and you'll realize how things like this could happen right here in America and how they are probably already happening anyway.
In England, the pork industry is currently facing a crisis. This is due to massive increases in feed prices caused by rocketing world wheat prices. The majority of farmers are now selling every pig they rear at a loss of up to £26. Anyone knows that you can't take such a loss as that and stay in business for very long. The industry as a whole faces potential losses of £200 million in the next year. A recent National Pig Association survey showed that 95% of pig farmers in England are considering stopping production if the price they receive does not improve. This will lead, ultimately, to a shortage of pig meat in the long term and potentially steep rises in the retail price of pork, sausages, bacon and ham.
Consumers there also benefit from the most stringent food safety requirements of any in the world. If their homegrown pork supply was to disappear, it would have to be supplanted by imports from the European Union, where a whopping 70% of their goods would fail the British standards. Does this sound familiar? We here in America are seeing more and more food import items supplanting the familiar brands we've grown to know and trust on our own supermarket shelves. And how many news stories have there been in the last year about recalled food items, which are shipped predominantly from China? Ask yourself this: Why are the standards for food quality and safety going down the drain in places all over the world? That is the $64,000 question.
To read more about the plight of the English pig farmer and hear a song that 30 members of their farming community got together and recorded to bring attention to this problem by clicking here. The group that did the recording of this song are pictured above. It is a delightful takeoff on the old Tammy Wynette song, Stand By Your Man. They have rewritten it with pig-influenced lyrics and titled it, Stand By Your Ham. You can also sign a petition there to register your support of their cause. Or you can download the song from this handy link right here. Either way, this is an important issue for any citizen of Planet Earth. Make a difference by becoming informed.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Farewell To Beulah Kershaw

A little over a year ago, I lost a good friend and fellow musician. Beulah Kershaw - poet, musician, songwriter, author and performer - well-known in the music field as Disco Beulah, was born on January 14th, 1914, in Florida, Missouri - also the birthplace of another famous American writer, Mark Twain. On February 22nd, 2007, she passed away at age 93. In that span of time, she accomplished many things. While it seems like her whole life was devoted to musical endeavors, that wasn't always the case in her younger years. She was a staunch Republican and helped in several campaigns. In fact, due to her local efforts in Southern Illinois, she was even invited to President Eisenhower's inauguration ball in Washington D.C., in the 1950's. In later years, however, her music began to take precedence.
I first became aware of her about 1980, which by this time, she was already almost 70 years old. She had recorded a song called A Woman In Love and it began to get lots of airplay on Chicago radio station WLS. The deejay who premiered it was Larry Lujac and thanks to him, Beulah's audience widened considerably. Now, she was no longer just a hit in her immediate area around Crossville, Illinois, her voice was beaming out all over the nation. From there, it was only natural that television executives would hear of her and she was offered a chance to be on the NBC television program Real People, in 1981. This appearance brought her even more attention and worldwide fame. I have personally seen a sheet that detailed countries located all over the world from which she received royalties, and it numbered in the dozens! Such was her widespread appeal.
I first met her in person in 1988. I had heard several of her records, from my personal collection no less, and had written a song that I thought would be perfect for her to record. I got up the nerve and drove to her house, (it wasn't far from where I lived) and knocked on her door. Gracious person that she was and always had been, she asked me to come in and sit down. On that first meeting, she played several of her songs for me, my own personal concert you might say, and I was enthralled. I think I had to come back a few other times before I got up enough nerve to ask her about my song. But, when I did, she agreed to work on it. I went back a little while later and she debuted it on her piano for me. I am proud to say that I have a recording of her doing my song! During this time, a friendship developed and we got together several times to jam - her on piano and myself on guitar. She even made a few recordings on a cassette that was just for me. Another way in which her kindness was readily apparent.
We wrote back and forth throughout the remainder of her life and I stopped in to see her whenever I was in her neck of the woods. I recall an article in our local paper that told about a show she did at a local nursing home toward the end of 2006. She was performing until almost the very end of her life. That's why it came as such a shock when I heard she had passed away. I thought she would be singing and playing a piano somewhere forever. Sadly, that wasn't the case.

Beulah in her political period of the 1950's.

I had collected all my recordings of hers, the ones she had made for me and ones I had recorded myself and burned them on a cd to give to her. Unfortunately, I never got the chance. The funeral was to be held in the town next to mine, so I placed the cd in my jacket and went to pay my respects. Once I got there, it was a little early still, I sat down in the back of the chapel and bided my time. After getting several stares from the family members seated up front, her niece came back and spoke to me. I mentioned that I had been a fellow musician friend of hers and she invited me to sit up front with the family. Apparently, Beulah passed on her cordial qualities to other generations as well. As people came through to pay their respects for her, somebody mentioned something about her music. Knowing I had a bunch of it in my pocket, I spoke up and said as much. The family was intrigued, especially when I told them about the song she had recorded of mine and in tribute to her, they requested the funeral home personnel to play the cd over their sound system. There was hardly a dry eye in the house, mine included, as song after song from her wonderful career played throughout the building. I was glad that I had thought to bring it because it turned out to be one last great tribute to an artist that many had loved and adored, and it gave her family members a chance to hear some things they hadn't heard before. Before it was all over, one of them asked me if they could get a copy of the disc. I ended up giving it to her, as I had another copy, and she made duplicates for the other family members later that evening. From the funeral home, we drove to the town she had lived in and there the funeral was held out in the open countryside. The rain was coming down in buckets and the wind was blowing quite briskly, so it was a bittersweet sendoff for her. Below, you can see what the countryside looks like where Beulah Kershaw was laid to rest.

So, in my own way, I would like to say farewell to a dear friend and a fellow musician. She was a wiz on the piano, of that there was no doubt. To prove it, please download this short collection of hers that I have compiled to share here. It is these following tracks:
1. All I Do Is Cry - the song I wrote especially for her
2. A Woman In Love - her big hit, recorded on a tape just for me
3. It Hurts To Be Hurt - another of her popular songs she recorded for me
4. Real People - her appearance on the NBC television show
5. A commercial for her songs and books, from a local radio station.
Be sure to download and listen to this collection of Beulah Kershaw songs. Click on this link here to get them.
One final thing I want share is that to prove she had a broad influence, here is a track from a rock and roll band I was in where we covered one of her songs. I regret that she never got to hear it herself, but I'm sure she would have been pleased to know that her music transcended genres. Click here to get A Woman In Love, by Terror In Tucson.
I hope this little remembrance of her will give her a smile if she's looking down in this direction. Farewell, Beulah.

April 13th, 2010 Update:
Beulah Kershaw's niece Dorothy has kindly telephoned me to let me know that, as she was going through some of Beulah's belongings, she came across some unopened boxes of her records, tapes and books. They were all in new condition and still in the shrink wrap, (tapes), and that if any of her fans would be interested in acquiring what will probably turn out to be the final copies of Beulah's music or writing, to just give her a call. I told her there might be a 45 or two that I might not have in my collection that I'd like to have, so I'm going to call her up once she gets it all just a little more organized. But, don't wait! If you're interested, call her as soon as possible, for these won't last forever. For those of us who remember Beulah fondly, these recordings and writings will be something with which to remember her by and a interesting piece of history as well. Dorothy resides in Crossville, Illinois, the town where Beulah lived for many years, and can be reached by calling this number: 1-618-966-3638.

Big Guns

Did I ever mention I used to play trumpet in a jazz band? If not, I did so for a period in 2001. I wish that band had never broken up, but it was only comprised of parents that had gotten together to perform at their children's school. I really loved that group. In memory of my belated jazz career, I'm rolling out the big guns on this track. (Notice the witty tie-in with the picture above.) Here is yours truly performing the classic jazz road song Route 66. It features me playing the piano and guitar, and I'm even the entire horn section! Plus, I get to play all the solos, which is always fun. Please enjoy this interpretation of Route 66, by Kenneth Dwain Harrelson.

So Let It Be Watched

I just had to post this quick update. As you are probably aware, Easter was yesterday and it was the time of the annual viewing of my all-time favorite movie - The Ten Commandments.
I have to relate two of my favorite lines from it. One is when the Pharaoh Sethi, played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke is playing hounds and jackals with Nefretiri, portrayed by Anne Baxter, and his Priest Jannes, the great character actor Douglass Dummbrille, is petitioning him about Moses. Jannes comments that Moses is stealing the grain from the temple granaries and Sethi pats him on the stomach and says "You don't look any leaner." This is too funny!

The next great line happens right after this in the motion picture. Rameses, played by Yul Brynner, comes in and tells Sethi that Moses is trying to raise an army against him, using the Hebrew slaves and the Ethiopians. Sethi goes to see why Moses didn't obey his command to come to court and finds Moses, who is perfectly characterized by Charlton Heston, hard at work raising an obelisk. After it's safely in place, Rameses does the whole weight thing on the scales as an analogy for all the things Moses has done wrong. Moses picks up one brick and says "The strong make many.... the starving make few.... the dead make none. So much for accusations." And then he places the brick on the scales and it outweighs the other side completely. This particular line is one that has stayed with me ever since I saw it in the theaters on it's intial rerelease in 1966.
This is just a perfect example of the brilliance of everyone involved with the movie - the director, Cecil B. DeMille, the writers and Charlton Heston's acting abilities, along with the rest of the cast. Is there any wonder why this wouldn't be my favorite movie? Now, if only they would release an authentic soundtrack album for it.

And one final picture before I go. Here's me dressed as Moses one year for Hallowe'en which I photoshopped and added in the desert background. I really like this movie!