Friday, August 14, 2009

"They Call The Wind Maria"

Every time I think I'm coming to the end of this series and can envision only four or five more songs to profile, something comes up and I find myself seeing ten or fifteen beyond that number - and delaying one week's selection for something more immediate.

When I did the KT Wikipedia a month ago, I came upon and used a quotation from Bob Shane from the 1997 book Martin Guitars in which Bob descried the folksinger label attached to the group, saying that they did "folk-oriented material amid all kinds of other stuff." The first song that popped into my head for "other stuff" was "They Call The Wind Maria," a Broadway Lerner&Loewe chestnut that stood out from the folkier selections on the ...from the Hungry i album but remained a highlight of that record because of the sheer power and excellence of the performance. And as with songs previously profiled here like "Scarlet Ribbons" and "Try To Remember", it has been folkies and country singers who have contributed at least as much to the song's popularity as the musical comedy community.

The Trio has long introduced the song as one swiped from a failed Broadway musical, but that's not quite so, unless you prefer to think relatively. Paint Your Wagon played on Broadway for 289 performances between late 1951 and mid 1952 - at seven shows a week, that's about 40 weeks - not enough to retire on but what should have been well past the break-even point for shows of that era. Production problems created cost overruns that ate up the modest profits. Now that's not a flop - unless of course you remember that Lerner and Loewe were almost co-equal with Rodgers and Hammerstein as the dominant composers on postwar Broadway and unless you compare Wagon with genuine L&L hits that ran for years like My Fair Lady and Camelot.

Still, Wagon would likely be dismissed to the dustbin of history were it not for this song and another great tune, "I Was Born Under A Wanderin' Star." "Maria" was sung in the original cast by Rufus Smith, the least-known but fully equal member of that group of stunningly talented Broadway baritones of the era that included Gordon MacRae, John Raitt, Richard Kiley, Robert Goulet and more - and the recently-deceased Harve Presnell (d. 6/30/09), whose version here is from the 1969 movie and is as Lerner and Loewe conceived it:

The Kingston Trio gives us the next three versions - first, the one that many of us fell in love with from Hungry i, a fabulous version in a nightclub without orchestra or chorus (forgive the fanzine images of Mariah Carey, whose parents did in fact name her after this version of the song but got the spelling wrong):

Now, I never fully embraced John Stewart doing Dave Guard-era Trio songs - until the Flashback album. That version here is a superior performance - five years down the line Shane is in even better voice, Stewart's lead guitar and background vocals are haunting, and Stewart and then Shane just blow away the rhythm guitar part at the end - and John Triofan Lee's mastering brings Nick Reynolds' bongos up to a proper level - just magnificent:

And an excellent piece of evidence showing why Bill Zorn is the only singer in folkdom with the vocal power to take Shane's place in the group - here's the current KT in an equally wonderful rendition:

And another Big Voice from the days of yore - I hope some here remember Vaughn Monroe:

Frankie Laine, from 1998, late in his career:

It would have been a treat to hear Laine do this in his prime.

Carlie Slaven presents a delightfully unique and original bluegrass version:

Finally, our surprise selection of the week - actor Pernell Roberts of Bonanza and Trapper John MD set against videos of the former show in its glory days:

Contrary to some people's suppositions, I do not actually live at the computer, and next week's Weekend Videos may well go the way of last week's - into the dark cavern of lost good intentions. I'll be in Manitou Springs CO rehearsing like crazy for our show there - hope to have a WV anyway but no promises. Then again - no one seemed to miss one last week....:)


greenhawk46 said...

hey, thanks for all your hard work on this blog-and your appreciation of folk music and folk artists

Conrad Carlberg said...

Way back in the very early 1960s, my parents used to take me and my friend to a place in Upland called, as I recall, The Golden Lantern, where you could often hear The Ridgerunners, Mike Stewart's high school group. They did a version of Maria that surprised me. I'd heard only the KT's Hungry i version, but Mike & Co. really kicked up the tempo of the final third of the song, and it _worked_. Now I hear on your cut from Flashback that the KT did something similar a very few years later. I wonder if that was Mike's idea, picked up by John, or v.v. Maybe Jerry Burgan remembers.

Jim Moran said...

Hi Conrad - Wow! You got to see The Ridgerunners (named after a KT song penned by older brother John on the album called #16). I'm sure you know that group was the forerunner of We Five of "You Were On My Mind" fame. The KT connection is important for the Ridgerunners' version that you heard because the 1963 KT version here was simply John Stewart stepping in and doing original member Dave Guard's part. The Trio had recorded this same version on their second album in 1958 "From The Hungry i" with the original group of Guard, Nick Reynolds, and Bob Shane, who sings the lead here. The arrangement was by Guard, and the liner notes on the Hungry i album observed that the Trio had "dressed up an old standard" with "shifting rhythms and keys." Though I usually didn't like the original group's songs as done with Stewart, "Maria was the exception. Stewart's harmony vocals are spot on and his guitar accompaniment is outstanding.

Conrad Carlberg said...

Not The Golden Lantern, but The Meeting Place. Duh. Guess I've spent too much time in Dana Point.