Richard Nixon and Pearl Bailey Amid the Storm

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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“It’s All In the Game”: The Hit Song Co-Written By a Vice President

Charles G. Dawes served as Vice President of the United States under Calvin Coolidge during 1925-1929. At various times, he was a banker, a military general, and the co-winner of the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize (for his work on a post-World War I plan to help Germany stabilize its economy). If all that was not enough, he also co-wrote “It’s All in the Game,” the 1958 hit song recorded by Tommy Edwards.

Dawes’s Melody in A Major

Dawes wrote the music for what would become “It’s All in the Game” in 1911 while he was a banker. The amateur pianist and flautist then played his composition, “Melody in A Major,” for a musician friend who then took the sheet music to a publisher.

The tune became popular and was often played at appearances by Dawes. Below is a 1924 recording of “Melody in A Major,” featuring Carl Lamson on piano.

“It’s All in the Game”

Dawes, who was born in Marietta, Ohio on August 27, 1865 and passed away on April 23, 1951, just missed seeing his tune become a chart-topping pop standard. In the summer of 1951, not long after Dawes’s death, songwriter Carl Sigman took the melody that Dawes wrote and added lyrics to create “It’s All in the Game.”

Many a tear have to fall,
But it’s all in the game;
All in the wonderful game,
That we know as love.

Tommy Edwards Versions in 1951 and 1958

A number of artists sang “It’s All in the Game,” including Dinah Shore and Louis Armstrong. The Virginia-born R&B singer Tommy Edwards had a popular version of the song first with his 1951 recording.

But seven years later, Edwards recorded it again in 1958 in a rock and roll version.  This recording went on to top the charts, becoming the version most people recognize today.

First, here is Edwards’s 1951 version.

Now, listen to the differences between that 1951 version and Edwards’s 1958 recording of “It’s All in the Game.” The later recording illustrates the influence of rock and roll in the intervening years after Elvis Presley first recorded “That’s All Right” at Sun Studios in 1954.

Edwards also performed this version of “It’s All in the Game” on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 14, 1958 (only two years after Presley’s first appearance on the show).  Below, though, is his hit recording.

Edwards had some other minor hit songs, but he never again matched the success of “It’s All in the Game.” Edwards died on October 22, 1969 at the age of 47.

The Songwriters

As for the songwriters, Sigman wrote lyrics for other popular songs, including “(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story” (the theme from the 1970 tear-jerker movie Love Story) and “Ebb Tide,” the 1965 Righteous Brothers hit.

Sigman passed away on September 26, 2000 in Manhasset, New York.  He was 91.

The other songwriter who wrote the melody, as noted above, went on to become the only U.S. Vice President to co-author a hit song.  On top of that, he also is the only Nobel Peace Prize winner with a hit song (so far).

While you may not remember much from school about Dawes’s political career or his Nobel Peace Prize or his years as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, you likely recognize his important work on a great song that was made an American classic with some help by Carl Sigman and Tommy Edwards.

“It’s All in the Game” continues to touch people, whether in the version by Edwards or by other artists like Nat King Cole, Cliff Richard, the Four Tops, Van Morrison, George Benson, Tom T. Hall, Ricky Nelson, or Michael Buble. So, while I am still waiting for that hit song from Dick Cheney or Joe Biden or Mike Pence, for now, Charles Dawes remains the only vice president to get so many greats to sing his tune.

And that is the story behind the song.

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

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    The Scene in “The Right Stuff” That Makes You Love John Glenn

    John Glenn passed away today on December 8, 2016 at the age of 95.  The former NASA astronaut and Senator is one of the few people who could accurately be described as an American hero.

    An American Hero

    Glenn served his country well in a number of ways.  He left college to join the service after Pearl Harbor, eventually serving in the Navy and then the Marines. He served in the Korean War and later as a test pilot and as an astronaut.

    As a Marine Corps pilot, he broke the transcontinental flight speed record.  In 1962, he became the first American to orbit the Earth.  In 1998, at age 77, he became the oldest man in space as part of the crew of the shuttle Discovery.

    In politics, Glenn represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate for 25 years.  During that period, he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination and was often considered for a place on the ticket as vice president.

    The Right Stuff

    But of all his accomplishments, one scene about his life stands out for me.  In the movie The Right Stuff (1983) about the original Mercury 7 astronauts, Ed Harris plays Glenn as a somewhat moralizing goody two shoes, who still comes across as admirable.

    One scene in the film centers on events from January 27, 1962 after Glenn’s flight is postponed due to weather conditions.  Vice-President Lyndon Johnson and the press are outside Glenn’s house wanting to talk to Glenn’s wife, Annie.  Annie, upset and not wanting to meet with the press or the vice president, talks to Glenn on the phone.

    In the scene, Glenn is aware of the political and media pressure on the space program.  And he is pressured to tell his wife to talk to the vice president.  But instead, he backs his wife “100%.”  The other astronauts also come off well in the scene, putting aside any diffenences to back up Glenn.

    The incident and Glenn’s response is a true story, even if a bit stylized with a humorous take on LBJ for the big screen. Johnson and the media were pressuring Annie, and Glenn backed up his wife all the way.

    Glenn later explained, “She said she was tired, she had a headache, and she just wasn’t going to allow all those people in her house … I told her whatever she wanted to do, I would back her up 100 percent.”

    There would be a few more delays due to a fuel leak and weather problems.  But of course, Glenn did get off the ground on February 20, 1962 in Friendship 7, becoming the first American to orbit the earth. But he was already a hero to those who knew him.

    Godspeed John Glenn.

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    The Hanging of Tom Horn

    On October 22, 1903, Tom Horn was hanged in Wyoming, one day short of his forty-third birthday. Historians generally do not dispute that Horn had killed a number of men.  But most believe Horn was innocent of the killing for which he was hanged. Many are familiar with Horn’s later life through one of Steve McQueen’s final films.

    Tom Horn’s Life

    Horn was born on November 21, 1860 at a family farm in Scotland County, Missouri. Young Tom had a troubled early life, growing up in a large family with an abusive father. In one of his early fights, he was beat up by two boys who then killed his dog.

    At the age of sixteen, Horn moved West.  There, he worked a number of different jobs, including acting as a scout for the Army. Horn acted as an interpreter when Geronimo surrendered to the Army. After the Apache Wars, Horn bought his own ranch.  But cattle thieves overran his ranch, again causing him to wander.

    Horn found other work, such as as a prospector, a ranch hand, a deputy sheriff in Arizona, and an agent for the Pinkerton Detective agency. But it was his work for cattle companies that eventually led to his demise.

    During the Johnson County War in Wyoming, Horn worked for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. Reportedly, Horn killed a number of men in this role. He then worked in Colorado for the Swan Land and Cattle Company, where he again killed more men who were suspected of rustling.

    Horn then served in the Army in Cuba during the Spanish American War. Eventually, though, he ended up back West working for cattle owners, this time working for cattle baron John C. Coble in Wyoming.

    The Murder and Trial

    On July 18, 1901, the body of a 14-year-old son of sheep ranchers was found murdered. Authorities began investigating the killing of the young Willie Nickell, soon focusing on Tom Horn.

    The government put Horn on trial in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  The trial featured as a key piece of evidence a statement Horn made.  He had claimed, apparently while still drunk, that if he did the killing, it was the “best shot that I ever made and the dirtiest trick that I ever done.”

    On October 24, 1902, the jury found Horn guilty of the murder. A few days later, the court sentenced him to death by hanging.

    During the appeal, Horn wrote his autobiography while in jail, focusing on his early life: Life of Tom Horn, Government Scout and Interpreter. Eventually, the Wyoming Supreme Court turned down the appeal.

    The governor refused to stop the hanging. And Horn was hanged in Cheyenne by means of a “Julian Gallows” that used water as a means of releasing the trap door.

    Many historians believe Horn was innocent of the killing of Willie Nickell, while noting that he did do a number of other killings. Still, his case is a reminder of how innocent people may be convicted of capital crimes. Still today, we discover innocent people on death rows across America.

    Tom Horn on TV and Film

    Tom Horn’s story has resonated in popular culture. The 1954 television series Stories of the Century, took an unflattering look at Tom Horn and his crimes.

    The episode portrays Horn as someone who worked for the law but “then for some reason turned criminal.” In the episode, actor Louis Jean Heydt portays Horn.

    Steve McQueen provided the most famous portrayal of Horn in the 1980 movie Tom Horn. The film was based on Horn’s writings, and McQueen gives a largely sympathetic portrayal of Horn, while not shying away from his violence.

    McQueen was notorious for clashing with his directors, and Tom Horn went through several directors before TV director William Wiard came on board to finish the film. McQueen also requested several rewrites of the script, which included work by the great Western writer Thomas McGuane.

    Tom Horn
    — which was released on March 28, 1980 — was the next-to-last film released that starred McQueen. During the filming of the movie, McQueen had trouble breathing, and he was later diagnosed with a form of lung cancer, malignant mesothelioma. On August 1 of that year, his final film, The Hunter, was released. McQueen died on November 1, 1980 at the age of 50.

    The movie Tom Horn received mixed reviews and did a disappointing $12 million at the box office. At the time, Variety claimed that McQueen appeared to be walking through the lead role. But actor James Coburn claimed Tom Horn was McQueen’s best film. Currently, it has a 68% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

    The movie seems to have aged well over time, as has Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, which was released the same year.  Empire calls Tom Horn an “underrated, gloomy Western.”

    In subsequent years, viewers were more tolerant of Westerns that focused on something besides action.  In 2014, True West explained that the movie and McQueen’s acting in the film were ahead of their time: “Audiences were used to action-packed Westerns with gunfights and brawls. McQueen offered them something different—a meditation of the West and a character study of one of America’s best-known figures of the era.”

    Below is the trailer for Tom Horn. Check it out.

    Photo via public domain. What did you think of the movie “Tom Horn”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    It All Started With the Border

    American Band, the new album by Drive-By Truckers, immediately signals the songs are about to tackle issues in contemporary America with the first words of the first song.  In the opening track, “Ramon Casiano,” the first lines proclaim, “It all started with the border,/ And that’s still where it is today.”

    The Killing of Ramón Casiano

    Casiano was a 15-year-old Mexican teen killed in 1931 in Laredo, Texas.  The killing occurred after the 17-year-old Harlon Carter returned home from school and his mother told him about three Latinos hanging around the family’s property.

    Carter took his shotgun and found Casiano and two friends at a nearby swimming hole.  Carter insisted the three go with him to his home to answer questions, but Casiano refused and pulled out a knife.  Reportedly, after Casiano laughed off Carter’s attempts to take the young men, Carter shot Casiano in the chest and killed him.

    Harlon Carter’s Career

    The incident would have long been forgotten except for Carter’s career after his trial and appeal.  Initially, a court convicted Carter of the homicide and sentenced to three years in prison.  But later, an appeals court reversed the conviction because of an incorrect jury instruction on self defense.

    After the prosecution was eventually dropped, Carter went to work for the U.S. Border Patrol starting in 1936.  Eventually, he rose to leadership positions within the National Rifle Association.

    In 1977, Carter led a revolt within the NRA that led to his election as NRA Executive Vice President.  Under his leadership, the NRA moved from its focus on issues like hunting to take a more hard-line stance against any laws limiting ownership of guns.

    Carter’s killing of Ramón Casiano, however, laid buried in his past for a long time.  After denying his involvement in the killing for some time, Carter finally admitted it in 1981.

    The Song

    The killing of Casiano echoes in our time, with links to the killing of Trayvon Martin, who is more explicitly referenced in another song on the album, “What It Means.”   “Ramon Casiano” also connects to the current presidential election’s focus on immigration.

    Songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley of Drive-By Truckers tackle a number of issues making the album relevant today while also making great music. In “Ramon Casiano,” which was written by Cooley, the chorus indicts Casiano’s killer and several of today’s leaders.

    He had the makings of a leader,
    Of a certain kind of men,
    Who need to feel the world’s against him,
    Out to get ’em if it can.

    Men whose trigger pull their fingers;
    Of men who’d rather fight than win,
    United in a revolution,
    Like in mind and like in skin.

    “Ramon Casiano” is biting commentary, all the more relevant because it comes from a southern band.  The Houston Press asserts that the band’s new album American Band “reclaim[s] Southern rock for the good guys.”  Meanwhile, Slate affirms that on the album, “[w]ith songs about racism, police shootings, and immigration, the Southern group is making rock great again.”  NPR concludes, “American Band lives up to its name in how it digests, understands and challenges the notions of what it means to be American.”

    The praise being heaped on American Band is a heavy weight for it to carry.  One album cannot atone for the sins of a country or lift up everyone.  The new songs did not have to reside on YouTube long before angry comments appeared.

    But even if one song cannot change things, it can reach some people and educate a little bit.  If nothing else, the song makes one wonder what kind of man Ramon Casiano might have grown into had he been given a chance, even if we already know how things turned out for his killer.  “It all started with the border,/ And that’s still where it is today.”

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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