hoop skirts

Cora Hatch

From a paper on the poem “Nothing to Wear”:

Cora Hatch’s public appearance had elements of both Harper’s New Monthly “true woman” and Flora M’Flimsey. In her initial divorce petition, she complained that B. F. Hatch refused to buy her flannel petticoats even though he freely paid large sums for her gowns and, especially, frilly and fashionable undergarments. The point of such garments was to be seen wearing them. The view that hoop skirts were designed to hide a woman’s legs is exactly wrong. They were to show them off.

woman in hoop skirt on a low table indoors with another woman looking on.
woman in hoop skirt in public, with a bit of leg showing and a man looking.

In the first cartoon, Clara is consulting with her friend Julia. She has rigged up an “imitation set of front door steps. “What is the effect now, Julia dear?” Julia replies: “Charming, love, you might even flirt just a little more with safety.” In the second, a voyeur is shocked to discover that the young woman’s calf is padded. It is titled “The Padded Calf — Veal A La Mode.” The cartoon warns the young woman (rather than chastises the man): “Don’t stuff your calves with bran, lest you should re-veal the real state of your understanding.” The “Patent Padded Calf” was a real product. Women did pad their calves, if they were insufficiently plump, because their dresses rose in the back whenever they bent over or ascended stairs and in the front whenever they sat down.


gig updates

I played a gig at the Ocean Charter School Winter Faire last weekend. This was a school fair in Culver City. The stage was in a big tent. The kids moshed a bit and generally committed to the music. An odd thing was that they formed this kind of open space for activity right in front of me and used it for all kinds of miscellaneous stuff, like playing with toys. They weren’t watching in the way adults would at a concert hall, they were just making the music a part of their own thing. The music wasn’t irrelevant, which I know because they weren’t drawn in by the other acts in the same way.

I played with my normal intensity, and afterward a few adults stopped me to say they liked it. I loved playing in that environment — there was high quality attention, decent sound, a sizeable audience, and interactive listeners.

Then this Thursday I played at the Hyperion Tavern for my regular bi-weekly show. I did two new songs.

One was the original 1907 Ada Habershon/ Richard Gabriel version of “Can the Circle Be Unbroken.” I started too fast, which matters because there’s a fairly hard fingerpicking part, but then I figured what the hell go with the flow and things worked out fine. Learning this song has involved a lot of research into its history, which was necessary because the 1935 A.P. Carter version is so famous that it has drowned out most information about its predecessor. The turning point in learning it was finding a 1962 recording of the original by a guy named Dorsey Dixon who was then an old man. I speculate that he played the original because he was born in 1897 and would have been familiar with the original for many years before A.P.’s version existed. He died in 1968, six years after this recording. It’s amazing and beautiful that his life span, his background as a musician, and this recording session by archivists during the 1960s folk boom all lined up to allow me to play this lost song.

The other new tune was Nothing to Wear, an 1857 “comic ballad” by Septimus Winner. The song is a lot of fun and people loved it. Google has a history of the song. has a midi version, which is as a-musical as all midi files but gives you an idea of the melody.

It takes me months to master a new song, so it was cool to get past that phase and inject fresh music into the set.

alvinandlucille bio

Alvin and Lucille page

There’s now a Myspace page for “Alvin and Lucille”, the jazz act I do with Tequila Mockingbird. We needed an online identity, and especially a place to put our recordings online so we could do bookings a little more easily.

As always the music is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license to enable remixing and sharing. The mixes generally have the guitar and vocals hard-panned to the left and right so you can sample one or the other without any trouble. You could sing karaoke or use the guitar as a backing track for a sax solo by turning off the channel with the vocals. Or you could turn off the track with the guitar and snag some of Tequila’s beautiful voice as an a capella vocal for a remix.

The jazz material is a different animal than the Americana I do here, so I’m going to maintain this site independently, and I’m not going to link directly to the MP3s because I think they need to be a separate listening experience.

Tequila’s a killer singer and I think the music is great. Check it out:

Alvin and Lucille on Myspace


1921 St Louis Blues by ODJB

MP3: Original Dixieland Jazz Band — St Louis Blues.

Wikipedia entry on ODJB:

Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) was a New Orleans band that made the first jazz recording in 1917. The group made the first recordings of many jazz standards, probably the most famous being “Tiger Rag.” In late 1917 it changed the name’s spelling to “Jazz.”

The band consisted of five white musicians who had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a diverse and racially integrated collection of musicians who played for parades, dances, and advertising in New Orleans.

The O.D.J.B. were billed as the “Creators of Jazz.” Trumpeter Nick LaRocca convinced himself, in his old age, that this was literally true, but there is no evidence from the interviews and writings of the other O.D.J.B. members that the rest of the band ever considered it anything more than a snappy advertising slogan.

MP3 is courtesy the 78 RPM collection at Image is thanks to

primary sources sheet music sources

UCB sheet music

Aggravation Rag

I just found a new source of historical American sheet music — the web site of the University of Colorado at Boulder has a sheet music music collection. It’s not huge overall, but it has a great ragtime section.


a couple old timey songs from Madame Pamita

Here are a couple original tunes from Madame Pamita that I dig. These are direct MP3 links to media she hosts.

Love Is Good is a small lullaby written and sung by Madame Pamita and played on a 1940s Harmony Baritone Ukulele.

Pink Pocketbook is a raggy blues with naughty lyrics written by Charlie and sloppy baritone ukulele stylin’s by Madame Pamita.


Don’t go away yet

The cover page for this 1884 song about a witching and saucy young minx has a great graphic:

Don't Go Away Yet

about meta

About this site

This site is primarily for my own covers of songs from before the recording era was really underway. The time period is roughly 1800, when American musical identity started to branch off from its foreign roots, to 1927, when the economic and technological conditions created by recording ended the era of participatory music.

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band broke in 1917. Piano sales went into the toilet around 1923. Louis Armstrong raised the artistic game to a point that excluded ordinary musicians during the period 1927-1930. Bing Crosby started singing in a way that wasn’t possible in an acoustic environment — too quietly to be heard without amplification — in the early 1930s. There was a transition from a musical environment where music was made in person to an environment where it was made far away. Before, the product was sheet music and instruments. Afterward the product was records and phonographs. This blog is about the musical world before that change.

Also I’m going to put up pointers to pre-recording low culture like burlesque, Thomas Edison, municipal corruption and crime, and to current philia like steampunk and civil war reenactment.

The site will be as participatory as possible given that it is ultimately a personal blog. My own music will always be remixable. I’ll point to sheet music repositories that I come across, so that others can play this music also. I’ll welcome submissions from friends and music from around the net, and whenever possible I will try to link up to other blogs and social media.

There will be material from the real-world Los Angeles music scene — clubs, bands, friends, and events. I’ll post about the act I do with Tequila Mockingbird under the name “Alvin and Lucille,” though a Myspace page Tequila is setting up will be that project’s main home.

To some extent this site has conflicting purposes. On one hand I need a brochure to promote my music and get gigs. On the other hand I just want to have fun with a silly premise. Maybe these needs will sabotage one another and force the project to go in one direction or the other. But maybe they will complement one another. We’ll see.

This site is not an indefinite commitment. Maybe it will end sooner, maybe later. And once it ends it will definitely become a brochure, though I can’t say what it will be a brochure for at at this end of the experience.

Lastly, this site may have an undercurrent of digital politics, but it will stay submerged. My other blog is for technology and politics. This place is for goofing off with fun stuff.


Trapeze disrober

From the Library of Congress archive of moving pictures, a lady trapeze artist takes it off from high above the stage:

MPEG format, 20 megabytes

Quick Time format, 11 megabytes


Rise of the multi-bio

Musicians must have bios. It is a rule. And if one is good then more is better, so my bio is going to be a bunch of blog posts within a “bio” category. Whenever I write about myself I will put it in this category.

Here is some biographical information: on the day I am writing this, I am 42.