Please Mrs. Avery . . . This Song Is Stuck In My Head

Sylvia's Mother Story

Anytime I hear the song “Sylvia’s Mother” by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, it ends up stuck in my head for some time as an earworm.  It is one of those songs I have heard many times since its release in 1975, but I never thought too much about it even though it is an unusual song.  So, where did “Sylvia’s Mother” come from?

In “Sylvia’s Mother,” the singer calls a former lover but ends up speaking to her mother. Sylvia’s mother tells the man that her daughter is leaving town to marry another man. She tells the man not to say anything to Sylvia, but as the song continues the singer realizes that Sylvia is there with her mother, preparing to leave. But apparently Sylvia does not know it is him on the phone.

The power of the song largely comes from the aching vocal provided by Dr. Hook singer Dennis Locorriere as the singer begs with Sylvia’s mother: “Please Mrs. Avery, I’ve just got to talk to her/ I’ll only keep her a while.”

One of the interesting things about “Sylvia’s Mother” is that it was written by Shel Silverstein, which helps explain why the song does not sound like most other songs.  Silverstein is noted for writing Johnny Cash songs like “A Boy Named Sue” and “25 Minutes to Go.”  Perhaps he is even more well known for his drawings, poetry, and books, such as The Giving Tree.

“Sylvia’s Mother” was not the only song that Silverstein wrote for Dr. Hook. At the time Silverstein gave the band “Sylvia’s Mother,” Silverstein had already provided several songs to the band. But when the band was looking for a potential single to add to their first album, Silverstein offered them a new song, “Sylvia’s Mother.”

“Sylvia’s Mother” initially bombed as a single when Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show released the self-titled album in 1971. But they had faith in the song, so instead of releasing another single, they released “Sylvia’s Mother” again as a single in July 1972. This time it was a hit. Silverstein eventually provided another hit to the band in 1973 with “Cover of the Rolling Stone.”

Another interesting fact about “Sylvia’s Mother” is that Silverstein based it upon a true story from his own life. Silverstein had a relationship with a woman named Sylvia Pandolfi, but like many relationships, this one ended. Later, Silverstein, still in love, called her, but Pandolfi told him she was preparing to fly to Mexico to marry another man. The next day, Silverstein called again, talking to Sylvia’s mother, who reaffirmed to the distraught man that his relationship was finished.

The following short video tells the real story behind “Sylvia’s Mother,” featuring both the real “Sylvia” and her mother. Arjan Vlakveld directed the short documentary.  Some sources, like Wikipedia, spell the name of the real woman as “Silvia,” but this video and other sources indicate her name was spelled the same way as in the song, “Sylvia.”

The lead singer of “Sylvia’s Mother” Dennis Locorriere eventually saw the above video.  While he knew Silverstein wrote the song based on a true story, seeing the video left him “speechless.”  He eventually met the real Sylvia.

Other performers also recorded “Sylvia’s Mother.” Around the same time as Dr. Hook’s version was released, Bobby Bare recorded a country version of the song that also was a hit. In many ways, the song’s story and heartbreak theme fits the country genre like a glove.

Other artists have performed the song live.  For example, Billy Bob Thornton has performed a faster version of “Sylvia’s Mother” live with the Boxmasters.

Bon Jovi has covered “Sylvia’s Mother” in concert. This 2003 performance appeared on the Bon Jovi video This Left Feels Right Live (2004). In the performance, Bon Jovi works to recapture the aching pain of the Dr. Hook version.

The Refreshments, a band from Sweden, included a cover of “Sylvia’s Mother” on their 2016 album Straight Up.

The song also featured prominently in the second season of the TV series Fargo. “Sylvia’s Mother” played on the radio during the death of one of the characters.

Finally, one may wonder whatever happened to the singer and Sylvia’s mother. The British band, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, also wondered what happened to the singer in the song. So, they released a new song called “Mrs. Avery.”

In their sequel, The Men They Couldn’t Hang tell the story of the singer calling Mrs. Avery years later after he has been married and divorced. The song appeared on the band’s 2009 album, Devil on the Wind.

Silverstein throughout his life had a reputation as a ladies’ man. But one of his most-remembered contributions to the world is this song about a lonely man’s heartbreak.

Silverstein eventually married another woman, Susan Hastings. The two had a daughter, although Silverstein and Hastings divorced and then she died in 1975, not long after the success of “Sylvia’s Mother.” Although Silverstein had another child in 1983, he never married again.

And that is the story behind the song.

What is your favorite Shel Silverstein song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Peter, Paul & Mary’s Ode to Playing “Right Field”

    baseball card Ruth
    Some right fielders are good.

    It is that time of year when winter turns to a season of hope.  We hope for a beautiful spring as we welcome warm weather.  Also, we hope that this year will be “the year” for our baseball team.  But no matter what happens with the season, every team at least has a chance on opening day.

    For anyone who played baseball growing up, there is one position where they would stick the kids who were not very skilled at the game.  These were the kids who were hopeful enough to play the game.  But the coaches did not have much hope in them.  I know, because I was one of those kids.

    I still love baseball.  So it is worth celebrating those of us who grew up in right field.

    Peter, Paul & Mary wrote a touching ode to playing right field “watching the dandelions grow.”

    I’d dream of the day they’d hit one my way;
    They never did, but still I would pray,
    That I’d make a fantastic catch on the run,
    And not lose the ball in the sun;
    And then I’d awake from this long reverie,
    And pray that the ball never came out to me,
    Here in . . . Right field.

    Below, Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers perform “Right Field” at their 25th Anniversary Concert.  Check it out.

    Leave your two cents in the comments. Photo of Ruth card via public domain.

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    Eugene the Jeep and Popeye

    Popeye Dog

    On March 16, 1936, Eugene the Jeep made its first appearance in the Thimble Theatre strip that starred Popeye.  The Jeep was a yellow creature, somewhat like a dog.  But, unlike a dog, Eugene walked on his hind legs and had magical powers.

    From Where Did Eugene the Jeep Come?

    In the comic strip, Eugene the Jeep’s origin was explained by the fact that Olive Oyl’s Uncle Ben found Eugene in Africa and then gave it to Olive.  Animated episodes, however, provided different takes on Eugene.

    In animated versions of Popeye, the animators treated Eugene the Jeep largely as a “magical dog.”  In The Jeep (1938), Popeye gave Eugene to Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea.

    But a few years later in Popeye Presents Eugene the Jeep (1940), Popeye received Eugene from Olive.  In the episode, he acts like he had never seen the “baby puppy” before.

    Near Misses With Movies

    Eugene the Jeep almost made it onto the big screen with Robin Williams in Robert Altman’s 1980 movie Popeye. An early screenplay by Jules Feiffer included Eugene the Jeep.

    But reportedly it was difficult to make the magical creature believable in the live-action film.  So, he was taken out of the story. Some of his magic remained, though, as the writer gave some of the Jeep’s characteristics to Swee’ Pea in the movie.

    But although Eugene the Jeep missed out on that movie, he is still around. For example, he is the school mascot for a couple of high schools.

    At one point, Eugene the Jeep was scheduled finally to make it to the big screen by appearing in a 3D Popeye movie directed by Gennedy Tarakovsky (Hotel Transylvania). But Tarakovsky left the project in 2015 after disagreeing with the studio, which wanted a more modern version of Popeye.

    The video below features a screen test of animation from Tarakovsky’s film, including an appearance by Eugene the Jeep.

    We will have to wait and see whether Eugene the Jeep appears in the final version of the new Popeye film.

    What is your favorite Eugene the Jeep story? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Marty Stuart Takes Us “Way Out West”

    Way Out West CD

    On Marty Stuart’s latest album, Way Out West, the country singer-songwriter finds inspiration in the western United States. But it is not an album of old cowboy songs. Stuart’s songs find their sources in a more modern West.

    These are the sounds of electric guitars, not harmonica and an acoustic guitar. The music of California plays a larger role in the album than a cowboy campfire, with songs inspired by the sounds of surf-rock or the Byrds or mariachi or spaghetti Westerns — with a little dash of visions of psychedelic aliens. Maybe this is what Gram Parsons meant by Cosmic American Music.

    The album features Stuart’s long-time band the Fabulous Superlatives, which includes Kenny Vaughan (guitar), Harry Stinson (drums) and new member Chris Scruggs (bass).  And Mike Campbell, the guitarist with Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, produced Way Out West.

    Stuart’s website boasts: “The new album, with its atmospheric production and primal rock & roll energy, evokes classics like Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs and Cash’s The Fabulous Johnny Cash, one of the first albums Stuart ever owned.”

    Check out the title track of Way Out West, which gives you an idea of the atmospheric sound of much of the album, which also features several instrumentals.

    One of my favorites on the album is what sounds like a country road song. So, check out the first single, “Whole Lotta Highway (With a Million Miles to Go).”

    Marty Stuart continues to work as an artist exploring new sounds and concepts, not staying stuck in any one place. He has made some great concept albums during the last several decades, including The Pilgrim (1999). So it is cool to see him creating new sounds with a concept that ties together the whole album. It is more of an atmospheric ride or a late-night soundtrack than a collection of catchy songs, but that is okay. It is a fun ride out West.

    Way Out West hits the Internet on March 10, 2017.

    What is your favorite Marty Stuart album? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Richard Nixon and Pearl Bailey Amid the Storm

    Nixon Bailey Piano

    On March 7, 1974, singer Pearl Bailey invited President Richard Nixon to join her on stage at a White House dinner for the Midwinter Governors’ Conference.  Nixon joined Bailey onstage at the piano, playing “Home on the Range.”

    The Washington Post called it “the impromptu ‘Dick and Pearl Show.'” The two then went into “Wild Irish Rose.” The audience loved the duo. California Governor Ronald Reagan later said that the evening was “absolutely tops.”

    But on the same week as this performance, a grand jury had named the president as an unindicted co-conspirator in the growing Watergate scandal.  It had also issued criminal indictments against six former officials in Nixon’s administration and a lawyer for his reelection campaign.

    There was talk of the possible impeachment of the president.  And the country also faced an energy crisis, trouble in the Middle East, and economic woes.  In five months on August 8, Nixon would announce his resignation.

    But for a few moments on March 7, the president must have felt a little respite as his mind was taken off his troubles.  For a brief time, with the weight of world about to crash upon him, he had a few laughs with Pearl Bailey.

    From a description of the evening, the video below appears to be from that night on March 7, 1974.  Check it out.

    Leave your two cents in the comments. Photo image via YouTube.

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