The Barnyard Tapes – The Basement Tapes and Bob Dylan’s Mandolin

November 1, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Posted in kids music, Musings, News and other stuff... | Leave a comment

As we were finishing our newly released CD, we were casting around for a title.   I happened to put Bob Dylan and the Band’s “The Basement Tapes” into the car CD player.  I hadn’t listened to it for a few years, but over the next few days, I listened again and again.

Everything about it, from the live recording (as opposed to polished studio tracking) to the sheer joy that these guys took in the music was  appealing.  I thought about the fact that we did the first recordings for our CD a couple of years ago and those tapes had sat our in the barn for a couple of years.  I thought about the fact that we were working to play the songs as live as possible, only creating tracks when one of us played more than one instrument on a song.  That requires a different studio set-up – lots of mics and lots of potential for background noise that you can’t get out of the mix – in other words, it might not end up as the type of clean (and sterile) recording that we’re so used to hearing, but it’s exactly what Bob did.   I thought about songs that appear on our CD, “Cluck Old Hen,” “Liza Jane” and others that feature barnyard animals.   Finally,  I thought about the fact that, like Bob and the Band, we love hanging out and recording – and our title was obvious.  The Barnyard Tapes was born.

Barnyard Tapes - Basement Tapes

The Barnyard Tapes – The Basement Tapes…Thanks Bob!

Now, about the Mandolin…I bought the mandolin on our back cover at a pawn shop in Virginia, Minnesota, a town about 10 miles from Bob’s home town, Hibbing, Minnesota.  (And no, the house where Bob grew up is not on the National Registry of Historic Places – it’s just a house where people live.)

Anyway, the mandolin is a cheap, homemade, heavily lacquered mandolin that just so happens to look an awfully lot like the one that Bob is holding on the Basement Tapes cover.  Look closely – it does!  So, the possibilities:

  1. It’s the same mandolin.   Bob pawned it on a trip home and it sat in that shop for 20 something years until I came along and bought it.
  2. It’s a mandolin made by the same person who made Bob’s.
  3. I just randomly found a mandolin that has nothing to do with Bob Dylan in the pawn shop close to where he grew up that looks exactly like one he is holding in a cover photo from early in his career.

Which sounds most likely?  I’ll tell you my vote, I have the mandolin stored in a secure, moisture and temperature monitored storage facility…Smithsonian, if you’re out there, drop me a line.


Cluck Old Hen, Buffalo Girls, Weaver John and much more – The Barnard Tapes!

October 28, 2009 at 5:53 am | Posted in Fun for Your Family, kids music, Reviews | 1 Comment

It has been a very long time since I have written…ooops, sorry.  Time does fly, and when I started this thing, I planned on a post a day – that lasted about 8 days.  Anyway, I have been in the studio and performing – and I am happy to say we have finished our latest CD – The Barnyard Tapes –

Front Cover web page

The Barnyard Tapes - Cover Art by Dave, our Drummer

If you read this blog before I dropped off the edge of the earth for a year, you know about my fascination with public domain music – that’s what we focused on.  So check it out at our website right here – listen to tracks at CD Baby – and enjoy.  I’ll try to write again soon.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame – A great free MP3 for summer!

June 27, 2008 at 5:08 am | Posted in Being a Dad, kids music, Music for You | Leave a comment

Sorry I haven’t written for so long – I was busy coaching t-ball for the past month and a half. For those of you who coach the sport, you know that there’s not supposed to be any competition involved – our goal is to instill the young ones with a love of the game. I think we managed to do that here in Francestown, but not many games went by when at least one member of the team came up and asked, “Coach Steve, who won?”

Here I am, looking very non-competitve…

I hope I wasn’t yelling something like, “COME ON!!!! A SIX YEAR OLD COULD HAVE CAUGHT THAT!!!”

Anyway, to make up for the absence, I thought I’d give you a CLASSIC mp3 to put onto your Ipod. This was recorded in 1915 by Bill Murray (long before his Caddyshack days, I’m guessing…). Enjoy!

Take Me Out to the Ballgame – An MP3 for You – Bill Murray 1915

The Virtual Campfire…or how about a little Chicken on a Raft?

April 11, 2008 at 6:54 pm | Posted in Fun for Your Family, kids music, Music for You | Leave a comment

Need a song, or two, or seventy? I was casting around for some tunes to sing and play, and I must have typed in” campfire tunes” and KABOOM (or KA-GOOGLE) I found The Virtual Campfire.

I ignored the fact that somehow the idea of a virtual campfire is a little pitiful and clicked onward…to find…lot’s of songs! Not only lots of songs, but lots of songs sung by British people around a real campfire…crazy, but just so crazy that it works.

To give you a sample, here’s that well-known favorite, Chicken on a Raft.  OK, so maybe it’s not your favorite song, but it’s a darn good song, worth singing, and it’s some indication of the depth of Virtual Campfire’s library…it’s big, and fun, and goofy at times, but definitely worth perusing and singing along.

p.s. If you do sing along, try to light a real fire so you’re not so pitiful…or if you’re entirely comfortable with the virtual world, play this video of a virtual fire and then sing-a-long – with your virtual friends.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – the 2nd variation (and another free MP3…the deals never stop!)

February 28, 2008 at 6:33 am | Posted in Being a Dad, kids music, Music for You | 5 Comments
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Here’s variation #2 – Twinkle Twinkle.mp3

(Go here to get variation #3!)

After writing about this song (here), I set to work recording it – you may have been one of the few lucky ones to have downloaded the now rare (and deleted) version that I posted earlier today – I tried to clean it up, and offer this version now – Mozart did 12 variations on this tune – I’m on my second, and may try a few more before it’s all said and done. It’s an interesting song – weird that I could do a bass line that isn’t too far from Pachabel Canon in D – Anyway, enjoy this variation – I’m going to shoot for at least 10 more. Look for them to pop up every now and again.

(…MORE than a few months later, I finally got to number three…check it out here!)

Oh yeah, here’s the entire poem…if you wanted to keep singing –

The Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky!
When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.
Then the traveler in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.
In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.
As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveller in the dark,—
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
– Jane Taylor, 1806

“Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Ah vous dirai-je maman,” “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” “ABC,” Jane Taylor and Mozart

February 24, 2008 at 8:54 am | Posted in kids music, Music for You | 5 Comments

OK, let’s talk, for a moment about Twinkle, Twinkle…every kid loves it (and, because it’s such an easy hit, so does every kids’ singer). It is a song with some serious kid song mojo.

Rumor has it that Mozart wrote the tune, but Mozart himself debunked that myth by titling his piece, “12 Variations on “Ah vous dirai-je mama” – the source was a French folk song – here’s a great page with Mozart’s version – Mozart’s 12 Variations on Ah vous dirai-je maman – it is fittingly manic (as Mozart seems to have been) but I’d like to suggest that it’s not as successful as the eventual variation that Mozart never heard – “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”

The text for the now famous version of this song was written in 1806 (15 years after Mozart died) by Jane Taylor in England. We’re not really sure how the melody and the poem got together – but generation upon generation of children are happy that they did. It truly is a melody and poem that were star-crossed – the Romeo and Juliet of the Music world…

Twinkle, Twinkle, little song…

And yes, I am aware of the implications of that metaphor – just like Romeo and Juliet, there were forces trying to pull these two apart. This brilliant (and anonymous) melody has been courted by a whole lot of other lovers – “ABCD” and “Baa, Baa Black Sheep” use it, as well as the the German song “Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann“and the Hungarian Christmas carol “Hull a pelyhes fehér hó“, and the Dutch “Altijd is Kortjakje ziek“. In addition to Mozart, Franz Liszt, wrote “Album Leaf: ‘Ah vous dirai-je, maman’

Suffice to say, this song rocks…I guess it’s time for me to set my star with the greats and record my own variation. Stay tuned, I’m dusting off the 4-track as I finish this…a few days later…finished it – Check out the results – my Twinkle Twinkle Free MP3 here!

To hear the third variation, go here!

Side by Side – an MP3 for you – Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 15, 2008 at 6:32 am | Posted in Fun for Your Family, kids music, Music for You | 1 Comment
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Here’s a great old tune – “Side by Side” performed by Paul Whiteman and the Rhythm Boys recorded in 1927 and featuring a 24 year old Bing Crosby on vocals.

Side by Side.mp3

Bing loves ya, baby – Side by Side!

Here are the lyrics – seemed appropriate for V-day to me…

Oh, we ain’t got a barrel of money
Maybe we’re ragged and funny
But well travel along
Singing a song
Side by side

I don’t know whats a-comin’ tomorrow
Maybe its trouble and sorrow
But well travel the road
Sharing our load
Side by side

Thru all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall
Just as long as were together
It doesn’t matter at all

When they’ve all had their quarrels and parted
Well be the same as we started
Just traveling along
Singing a song
Side by side


Reggae, Anyone?

February 9, 2008 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Being a Dad, kids music, Music for You | Leave a comment
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Will someone tell me what it is about Reggae that enchants children so? Something tells me it’s not the choice of colors. (although they are appealing):


No, it is the music that captures kids – and I will admit, for me as well, reggae is enchanting…I’ve spent more time in my life than I probably should have at Jimmy Cliff concerts, reggae fests, Wailers shows (Bob had died by then, alas), UB40 shows, Toots and the Maytal shows, English Beat/General Public shows, etc., etc…I get it – and so do kids, from the womb, it would seem (maybe the reggae beat mimics the mothers’ heartbeat…Mom’s Heart – Bob Marley?) .

I’m not kidding here – try it. A friend of mine told me about a reggae album he had for kids – it’s titled “Reggae for Kids” (wow, the originality is overwhelming, there). My response is, why bother? Just put on Peter Tosh (OK, skip “Legalize It” if you want to avoid a strange conversation with your six year old), Bob Marley, Steel Pulse…it doesn’t matter, kids hear that characteristic ‘chunk-kunk, chunk-kunk” (here it is from Peter T. – Pick Myself Up.mp3), or that rhythmic lead in on the high timbale (here it is from Steel Pulse – Steppin Out.mp3), and they’re dancin’…

I have experimented with this a bunch, in my own music…here’re a couple of clips of our attempts at reggae:

…and with my own kids – here, as evidence that Reggae works, are some photos of Gus, who had been sitting at the table painting, but couldn’t helped being moved to dance right in his seat…irie!

“Don’t worry….

…about a thing…

“…cause every little thing…”

“…is gonna be alright!”


Easy Reader, that’s my name, uh, uh, uh…

February 7, 2008 at 6:08 am | Posted in kids music, Musings, Reviews | 2 Comments
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For some reason the other day, I thought of Easy Reader…come on now, you remember him that super cool, funky, far-out guy on “The Electric Company.” I just had to pay Youtube a visit and take a walk, or should I say a ‘trip,’ down memory lane. Just to get you in the groove, here’s a little Easy Reader to help you remember…

Yes, my friends, that is Morgan Freeman, otherwise known in Hollywood these days as ‘God’ (“Bruce Almighty,” “Evan Almighty” and of course the ominous voice from above in “March of the Penguins…”). So before he was God, he was Easy Reader…”Top to bottom left to right reading stuff is out of sight…”

Like my parents and millions of other parents did in the ’70’s I’m going to ignore the obvious and somewhat problematic fact that Morgan Freeman, as much as portraying a reader in these skits, was portraying a reading junkie – he needs his reading ‘fix’ – then his man (or etch-a-sketch) on the street, Stanley, always cuts him off, ‘just as he’s getting into the groove.’ Then he starts looking around desparately for his reading fix – a match-book, a dollar bill, you name it. I’ll ignore all that, and focus instead on the message…See, I agree with Easy’s message, ‘reading IS out of sight…’ OH, and then there’s the music…

In addition to Easy Reader, I got a few other Electric Company Skits for the kids, and, like everything else in the show, the music is a constant of stream of either funkadelic 70’s or “Free To Be You and Me.” One particularly psychedelic musical moment prompted Isabel to ask, “Why is the music so weird…?” You would have thought we were listening to Pink Floyd – “The Wall.” Here’s one example…

How about that soundtrack? 

Then there’s the opening credits…”Moving out in a new way, moving out in a new way…we’re gonna turn it on, we’re gonna give you the power…” You get the idea.

OK, so I have to say, in spite of the fact that the Electric Company overdid it on the psychedelia at times, I love this stuff. It has it all, great music, and unbelievable cast (Gene Wilder, Joan Rivers, Mr. Freeman, etc.) and it’s hilarious. I’m pretty certain Saturday Night Live owes a lot to The Electric Company…at the very least Lorne Michaels and the early SNL cast were big fans, I just know it…so, I’ll leave you with the lyrics to the first “Sign Song” from the Electric Company…out of sight!

I like fish food. You do, too.
Don’t look now; your hair is blue.
Walk right in and see the zoo.
Up is down, and I love you.Stop and go and dance a dance,
All the way from here to France.
Day and night, all bright and new.
Left is right, and I love you.

Froggie Went a’ Courtin’

February 3, 2008 at 9:51 pm | Posted in Being a Dad, kids music, Music for You, Reviews | Leave a comment
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Bruce Springsteen’s 2006 release, The Seeger Sessions is a great CD for kids – try it some time. Recently Abe and I were listening to it as background music. “Froggie Went a Courtin'” came on – I’m sure you’ve heard it somewhere along the way, lots of kids singers have done very vanilla versions of the song, but not Bruce – not the BOSS. He does it like it ought to be done (of course), and Abe was groovin’ to the tune. If you’re familiar with the song, you know how it goes – Froggie goes a courtin,’ woos Miss Mousie, they have the wedding and then we get a list of all the guests…”First to come in was a flyin’ moth, she spread out the table cloth…” and so on.

“Next to come in was a BIG BLACK SNAKE!”

I want to pause for a moment here – and say two things. First, our kids are pretty naive. I wish I could tell you it’s because we knew what we were doing. Truth is, it was because of inertia. When Isabel went to pre-school, we had never moved beyond Sesame Street – why would we when it worked so well? (OK, I do need to admit that it took me awhile to get over Baby Bear‘s speech impediment.) I’ll never forget ‘Daddy Pizza and Movie Night’ when we went to the pre-school with all the other kids and dads. The movie was “Finding Nemo,” and Isabel didn’t make it past the first scene (by the way, what’s Disney’s issues with Mom’s?) All the other kids wondered why my daughter was crying and saying “I want to go home…” At the time, I felt like saying, ‘It’s because the kid’s/fish’s mother was just killed – the biggest crisis she’s ever had to deal with on TV is Big Bird having trouble finding Ernie!!!’ I didn’t say that to all the jeering four and five year olds, though, I just picked up my crying little girl and left. The second thing I need to tell you is that Abe is a lyrics-hound. He listens intently and repeats lyrics to himself. He likes the sound of words. Sometimes, days after we see a movie, we’ll hear Abe repeating the lines…a little like the guy I hung out with in college who used to repeat Caddyshack lines…scary.

So, back to “Froggie Went a Courtin.’ As we made our way through the wedding, we eventually came to the line that Abe would repeat again and again. He’d listen to it with the same sort of glee that someone might go into a haunted house at an amusement park . The line is of course, “Next to come in was a Big Black Snake – chased them all into the lake…” Here it is, that line is, from Bruce, in all it’s glory – Springsteen Froggie Clip – For a coupe of weeks, that snake was the villain in our games, he woke up Abe (and, consequently Tonya and me) more than once in the middle of the night…to have the imagination of a child. Strangely, though, this song has intrigued a lot of people over the years…

Here’s one loyal Springsteen fan’s attept to list all the other recordings of the song – Versions of Froggie Went a Courtin’ . Another devotee of the song has listed the over 170 verses of the song that have been written or sung since it’s first printed incarnation in 1611 here – Froggie Verses . The song’s one drawback…it’s repetitive. Man, is this song repetitive – but that, of course, cuts both ways. It drives us adults crazy, but sucks our kids in – it’s probably the reason why this song has lasted so long, and probably why, 400 years after it was first written, it can still give a little boy the chills.



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