I've Never Seen a Straight Banana - Rare Moments: Volume 1
- Pop, Vocal
- Tiny Tim
Liner Notes: TINY TIM
I’VE NEVER SEEN A STRAIGHT BANANA –
RARE MOMENTS: VOLUME 1
I wasn't ready for Tiny Tim. But then, who ever was? Spotting the small ad in the paltry entertainment section of the Tampa Tribune - announcing that he would be appearing at a roadside TraveLodge motel on the edge of town - sparked a glimmer of childhood memory, but only the faintest impression of who the man really was.
Since we were underage, and without proper fake IDs to enter the bar, high school friends Sherri, Marla, and I listened in the brightly lit lobby. We could hear the bizarre mix of songs, from covers of current hits to the patriotic finale, "You’re a Grand Old Flag." Suddenly, the bar doors burst wide open, and there, clutching his ukulele in one hand, his ever-present shopping bag in the other, out of breath and larger than life, stood Tiny Tim.
We applauded as if he were stepping up to the podium to accept a Grammy. He giggled, blowing kisses. "Oh! Thank you! Thank you! Did you like the show?" When we admitted sheepishly that we were too young to be allowed into the venue he didn't miss a beat, and offered to perform for us in his room.
Thus began a remarkable friendship -- and the series of extraordinary recordings you now hold in your hands.
Sitting on the edge of his motel bed with his ukulele, he astonished us with each unfolding song and story. It wasn't just his unexpectedly flexible voice - which shifted easily from deep baritone to flighty falsetto - but his grasp of the very essence and history of popular recorded music, including esoterica like microphone technique. He was an American Musicologist long before the universities had degrees in the subject. Most of all, though, it was his unshakable, optimistic sense of fun and passion for life, love, and music. I knew immediately that I wanted to record him as he really was, doing the material he wanted to do, and capture his gift for storytelling. I was thrilled when he agreed to let me bring a tape recorder to the hotel the next night.
Tiny was especially excited to play for us the title song of this album, which he'd recently discovered. "Oh, how I wish we could make a record of this one, Mr. Barone'" he'd say, anticipating a hit. "We can all be in California before Christmas!" "Well then, why don't we do it?" was my reply. I booked some studio time in a ramshackle studio on an even farther edge of Tampa, where Marla and I had been recording with our punk group, the Snails. That day, besides "Banana," Tiny let loose with an impromptu and seamlessly well-constructed song cycle that ranged from the first Edison recording ("Mr. Phonograph") to the medley he sang for Bob Dylan in the 60s. He was always full of surprises!
After the sessions, Tiny went back on the road, and I went back to school. In the following years, drawn by Tiny's stories of New York and Greenwich Village, I moved there, got into a band, and was soon on the road myself. The Tiny Tim tapes remained on a shelf. Life went on. On rare occasions I would bump into him, and always he'd ask if I still had the tapes and remind me that they must be released. But each time I was already engaged in a project - the time just wasn't right. While beginning to write these notes, I spoke to Rolling Stone's Anthony DeCurtis, inviting him to our "Banana" overdub session/party. He echoed my own thoughts when he told me, "Strangely, it seems so right now."
As fun a song "I've Never Seen A Straight Banana" is, it has an underlying meaning that escaped me as a teenager but now is clear: The search -- not only the for unattainable, but the virtually unfindable. In a way, this was Tiny's lifelong quest: The search for the perfect beauty. For the perfect show biz stunt. The perfect song. It was perhaps this eternal search that made him one of the most unique and intriguing popular artists of the twentieth century. What an honor to spend time in his presence. God Bless Tiny Tim!
New York City
Richard Barone’s book, FRONTMAN: Surviving The Rock Star Myth (Backbeat/Hal Leonard Books) includes an entire chapter about his experiences recording Tiny Tim. Check it out at FrontmanBook.com.
As has been reiterated during the paradigm shift that has occurred with regard to Tiny Tim's legacy, he was not only a performer of tremendous caliber and substance, but also a walking encyclopedia of popular songs spanning from the early 1800's to the year of his passing. Some recordings have succeeded in capturing Tiny's connection to forgotten eras in the history of recorded song, while others have not. Fortunately, I've Never Seen a Straight Banana stands out as one of the few that does.
What sets this album apart from anything produced for Tiny Tim in the 1970's is that it is one of the few recordings from that era to capture the true essence of what Tiny Tim was all about. What is additionally astonishing is that while seasoned record executives and producers failed to see the appeal of Tiny Tim as a serious artist; a completely unknown, 16 year-old boy, from Tampa, Florida saw what they could not. In the time since Tiny Tim had been dropped by Reprise Records in 1971, the few singles of his that had surfaced, in extremely limited pressings, were often under-produced and, while oftentimes very entertaining, bordered on the absurd. Unlike the so-called “professionals” who were content on seeing Tiny record novelty songs like “Howard Cosell (We Think You're Swell)” and rehash “Tip-Toe Thru' the Tulips” with singles like “Tip-Toe Disco” and “Tip-Toe to the Gas Pumps,” Richard Barone was interested in just having Tiny perform what Tiny wanted. This opened the door to getting the best possible and most sincere performances from Tiny Tim. The songs presented are unique, in that, the majority of them were either rarely or never performed by Tiny Tim elsewhere.
Justin A. Martell, Tiny Tim Biographer
“I’VE NEVER SEEN A STRAIGHT BANANA –
RARE MOMENTS: VOLUME 1”
Produced by Richard Barone
Original sound recordings made in Tampa, Florida at the TraveLodge Motel and Recnac Recording Studios, Spring/Summer 1976.
Mastered and restored by Warren Russell-Smith and Steve Rosenthal at the Magic Shop, NYC, July- August 2009.
Overdubs recorded at Shelter Island Sound and Fourth Floor Studios, NYC,
Photographs of Tiny Tim and cover design by Richard Barone. Photo of Tiny and Richard by Marla Misenheimer.
Back cover photo by Cynthia Black.
Art direction by Claire Morales.
Project consultant and historian: Justin A. Martell
1. Prelude (What Strange God Designed Me?)
String arrangement by Richard Barone & Deni Bonet
Deni Bonet: Violin and viola
Strings recorded at Fourth Floor Studios, New York. July 2009
Assisted by Paul Bevan
Mixed by Steve Addabbo
Tiny Tim knew so many unknown songs, but often after some digging one is usually able to turn up at least a little bit of information with regard to the more obscure songs he sang. As of this writing, however, no one has been able to find out anything about this one. Unlike many of the other tracks on this record, it sounds as though it may have been written in the 1960's or 70's. Nevertheless, it is an interesting and appropriate number for him. Indeed, what strange god designed Tiny Tim?
2. I've Never Seen a Straight Banana
Arranged by Richard Barone & Matthew Billy
Overdubs recorded and mixed by Steve Addabbo at Shelter Island Sound, NYC, July 20, 2009.
Terre Roche: Ukulele, backing vocals
Deni Bonet: Ukulele, violin, accordion, backing vocals
Candy John Carr: Drums, percussion, backing vocals
Miss Jane Cole: Backing vocals, percussion
Eddie Rabin: Piano, backing vocals
Steve Addabbo: Guitar, associate producer
Richard Barone: Bass, backing vocals
Anthony DeCurtis: Backing vocals. percussion
Justin Martell: Backing vocals, vibraslap
Margaret Dorn: Backing vocals, percussion
Eric Joppy: Backing vocals, percussion
Alexander Rudenok: Backing vocals, percussion
Marla Misenheimer: Backing vocals on the original performance
Studio assistants: Salvatore Buscaino, Jacob Klein, Philip Chaiken, and Jim Lucido.
Words and Music by Ted Waite
Arrangement by Richard Barone & Matthew Billy, 2009
Released in various versions throughout the mid-1920's, this song was originally written in England and later sold to Irving Berlin Music in America. One might notice while listening to Tiny Tim's version, the lyrics are westernized, in that they speak of places and things in North and South America. The original version of this song contains completely different lyrics and references to places in Europe and other eastern continents. With that said, Tiny Tim gives the song a treatment making it worthy of being this album's title track. The vocals and musical arrangement are eerily reminiscent of the awesome power of Tiny Tim's signature song...and you all know the one I'm referring to.
3. Mr. Phonograph
Words and Music by Professor H. A. H. von O'Graff
Tiny thought this fun little number to be pertinent as it was the first song ever recorded when Thomas Edison invented the cylinder player in 1878. This is the only known studio version of Tiny Tim singing this song. He sang it as the opener for both of his marathon medleys in 1979 and 1987.
4. It's Not Your Nationality
Words and Music by Howard E. Johnson
Recorded by Billy Murray, Victor Records #18184
Another gem from 1916, this song was originally sung by another one of Tiny Tim's idols, Billy Murray.
5. No One Loves a Fat Man
Words and Music by Dave Reed Jr.
Recorded by Arthur Collins Columbia Records #1001
Just a snip of this vintage Arthur Collins song. “Coon Songs,” a genre which could be seen to poke fun at African Americans, were a questionable fad of the late 1800's and early 1900's. Certainly considered offensive by 1976 standards, Tiny censored the song and left out some of the lyrics in order to not offend listeners, but delivers it with a charmingly innocent authenticity.
6. Baby Shoes
Words by Ed Rose and Joe Goodwin
Music by Al Piantadosi
Tiny Tim often stated that he did not perform imitations, but rather, that he could channel the spirits of the old singers that lived “within” him. This version of “Baby Shoes,” performed here in the style of Henry Burr, is an excellent example of what Tiny Tim meant when he said that. Henry Burr was one of Tiny Tim's favorite recording stars of the acoustic era, which was the era of recorded music that predates the invention of the electric microphone in 1925. Burr's version of “Baby Shoes spent a week on the Billboard Chart in June of 1916 and when listening to Tiny's version one could just as well be listening to a wind-up gramophone in June of 1916. For posterity, it should be noted that unreleased recordings do exist of Tiny also performing this song in the style of Al Jolson.
7. You Are Heaven Here on Earth
Words and Music by Tiny Tim
As Tiny explains on this recording, in 1963 he began the tradition of awarding trophies to the prettiest girl he met every year after meeting Miss Snooky at a lesbian night club in Greenwich Village called The Page Three. He referred to these girls as “classics” and would sometimes award more than one year, as he gave out a grand total of thirteen between 1963 and when he met Miss Vicki in 1969. The trophies would often be accompanied by a record featuring Tiny singing a song that he wrote for the girl. Miss Snooky is a special case, in that, she's one of the few to have had two songs written for her; this track and “The Space Ship Song.”
8. The Space Ship Song
Words and Music by Tiny Tim
This song has appeared a few times in Tiny Tim's discography, most importantly as the Australian B-Side for his 1971 duet with Miss Vicki, and last single for Reprise Records, “Why.” Tiny also performed it on his 1995 album “Songs of an Impotent Troubadour.” What makes this version unique and worthy of listening to is the fact that it's the only available recording where Tiny sings the song entirely in falsetto, making it the version that is most likely the closest to the way it sounded when he recorded it for Miss Snooky in 1963.
9. Tiny Meets Dylan (Medley)
Words and Music by Rudy Vallee and Leon Zimmerman
-Like a Rolling Stone
Words and Music by Bob Dylan
-My Time is Your Time
Words and Music by Eric Little and Leo Dance
Many pseudo-1960's rock and pop enthusiasts don't understand that Tiny Tim was embraced by the “rock world.” Many of his contemporaries admired him or, at the very least, found him intriguing. Dylan had met Tiny Tim in 1962 when they both played at the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. In 1967, The Band backed Tiny on several numbers in Peter Yarrow's cinematic expose' “You Are What You Eat.” They told Dylan that they had enjoyed working with Tiny and this prompted him to attend one of Tiny's concerts. Tiny learned that Dylan was in the audience and began to perform “Positively 4th Street” in the style of Al Jolson. According to “Dylan: A Biography” by Bob Spitz, at the end of the number Tiny got down on one knee and belted, “It's not 8th street, 7th street, 6th street, but ppoossiittiiivveellyy ffoouurrtthh ssttreeeeeett!” Dylan then invited Tiny to his home in Woodstock, it was there that the now infamous Dylan/Rudy Vallee/Banana conversation occurred. As the legend goes, Dylan recorded the conversation. Mr. Dylan, if you’re reading this, it'd be great to hear those tapes!
10. Granny/Carolina Mammy (Medley)
Granny (You're My Mammy's Mammy)
Words by Sam Lewis and Joe Young
Music by Harry Akst
Recorded by Yvette Rugel, Victor Records #18854
Being a troubadour, Tiny Tim knew songs from all around the world and could sing numbers for any occasion. Since he was touring Florida, he felt it appropriate to include a few Dixie songs such as this one and the two following tracks.
Words and Music by Billy James
11. You Can Take Me Away From Dixie (But You Can't Take Dixie From Me)
Words by Roger Lewis
Music by Fred Rose
12. School Days
Words and Music by Will Cobb and Gus Edwards
Throughout his career, Tiny Tim would sometimes perform in a singing style that has been called, by fans, the "Old Man Voice" or "Grandpa Tim." On December 1st, 1968, Tiny performed "School Days," in this style, on the Ed Sullivan show in-between two songs ("Great Balls of Fire" and "I'm Glad I'm a boy/My Hero") from his second album, which had been released in November. Viewers must have been perplexed, as they often were by Tiny's behavior, watching him suck his bottom lip back to achieve the look and sound of "an old man recalling his youth." The majority of people most likely shrugged the performance off as Tiny Tim just being Tiny Tim. They were most likely not aware that Tiny was aiming to recreate the style of Byron G. Harlan. Born in 1861, Harlan was older than the majority of the other popular singers of the era. Another thing that set him apart from the other singers was that his sound was made unique by the fact that he had no teeth!
13. With My Guitar
Accordion arranged and played by Deni Bonet; Recorded at Fourth Floor Studios, New York, July 2009. Assisted by Paul Bevan.
Words by Mort Harris and Edward Heyman
Music by Ted Snyder
This 1930 tune, originally sung by Lewis James, was on Tiny Tim's mind in 1976 as he recorded it on two occasions that year. Once for Richard Barone in the Trave Lodge Motel in Tampa, Florida on February 29th and again for Martin Sharp on July 13th in his living room in Sydney, Australia. The version recorded for Sharp remains unreleased to this day, making this version the only one by Tiny Tim to be released commercially.
14. Dear Tuesday
Violin arrangement by Deni Bonet & Richard Barone
Deni Bonet: Violin; Recorded at Fourth Floor Studios, New York, July 2009.
Words and Music by Tiny Tim
Although he adored many girls he knew personally, Tiny was also an avid reader of show business and gossip magazines. The glamour and beauty of many Hollywood actresses excited him and in the late 1950's and early 1960's, Tuesday Weld was the object of his obsession. While Tiny was a great interpreter of song, his songwriting, though sincere, was inconsistent. His infatuation with Tuesday Weld, however, drove him to write what is probably his finest composition.
15. I Found You
Words by L. Wolfe Gilbert
Music by Anatol Friedland
Recorded by Henry Burr, Victor Record #18591
Like several of the other songs on this album, Tiny Tim was probably the only living person capable of pulling this gem out of his internal encyclopedic songbook. As with “Baby Shoes,” this song was originally performed by Henry Burr.
16. When They're Old Enough to Know Better (It's Better to Leave Them Alone)
Words by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young
Music by Harry Ruby
Like “My Guitar and You,” this is another song on an unreleased Martin Sharp recording made two years prior in Tiny's Brooklyn apartment. Aside from that, the only other instance of Tiny singing this particularly appropriate title appears in the form of a snip on a short documentary produced in 1993 by Mike Carano, “God Bless Tiny Tim” (not to be confused with the album of the same name). The performance on this album is the only studio take in existence, making it, in my opinion, the definitive version of the song, made popular by Eddie Cantor. While Tiny Tim displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music, he could oftentimes forget certain words or lines in the heat of performance. For aficionados, on this song Tiny Tim noticeably misses a line in the first verse. That line is supposed to be: “There is no harm in loving and wooing.”
Historical notes by Justin A. Martell. Researched by Justin Martell and Richard Barone.
Production Notes & Acknowledgements:
The original performances were captured in Tampa, Florida on a TEAC A-170 stereo cassette deck at the TraveLodge motel, February 29, 1976, and at Recnac Recording Studio, using two TEAC 3340S 4-track reel-to-reel tape machines, Summer 1976. Present at the motel room sessions were Sherri Sanborn and Marla Misenheimer. Marla also attended the studio sessions, which were engineered by Ken McArthur and me. A very, very special thanks to my eternal friends, Miss Sherri and Miss Marla – it wouldn’t have happened without them.
A grateful smile and hug to Steve Addabbo who masterfully maintained sanity during the massive “Banana” overdub session at Shelter Island Sound. A heartfelt thanks to the fantastic musicians and friends who joined us that day (see details for track #2), with extra kudos to Deni Bonet who also played brilliantly on several other tracks on this album.
A big ‘thank you’ to Warren Russell-Smith and Steve Rosenthal at the Magic Shop, for restoring the original cassettes and reels back to life, and bringing their expertise to ensuring nothing was lost.
Special thanks to my manager Alexandra Parent; Richard Kerris; Ken & Anna Zankel; and my assistant Ellen Joy Voell; to Ernie Clark at TinyTim.org; Justin Martell who, by interviewing me for his forthcoming book inspired me to finally finish this project and share it with you; Dave Elliot; Miss Jane Cole; Cynthia Black; Anthony DeCurtis; Roy Trakin; Jim Bessman; Sue Khaury, and Gordon Anderson at Collector's Choice Music for giving this special album a special home.
Finally, I am indebted to my friend Matthew Billy for his invaluable creative contributions, technical prowess, suggestions, and encouragement throughout this amazing process.
For more information, visit GodBlessTinyTim.com, TinyTim.org, and RichardBarone.com.
Personal Management for Richard Barone:
Richard Barone Music, New York City
© 2009 Richard Barone Music/RBM Special Editions. All rights reserved.
Prelude (What Strange God Designed Me?)...
I've Never Seen A Straight Banana...
It's Not Your Nationality
No One Loves A Fat Man
You Are Heaven Here On Earth...
The Space Ship Song
Tiny Meets Dylan (Medley)
Granny/carolina Mammy (Medley)...
You Can Take Me Away From Dixie (But You Can't Take Dixie From Me)...
With My Guitar
I Found You
When They're Old Enough To Know Better (It's Better To Leave Them Alone)...
I've Never Seen A Straight Banana (Hotel Room Version)...