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Spoken word by the Master Storyteller

Last Update: 09-13-2015
Hairy Jazz

Shel Silverstein and the Red Onions
Album Title: Hairy Jazz
Publisher: Elektra Records
Date Released: 1959
Album / Record#: EKL-176
In February 1959 Shep put together a show called "Look Charlie" and among others it featured Shel Silverstein and a group called "The Red Onions". Later in the year Shel and "The Red Onions" put together this album, Shel's first, and Shep wrote the liner notes for it. LINER NOTES: A tiny sturdy figure trudged down the back alleys of Chicago's rowdy northwest side. It was bleak winter, grey and gusty. A winter such as only Chicago knows. Dark strips of ice lined the curbs. Ice that wouldn't leave the scene until well into April. An iron hard world. The lad pushed past the Armitage Avenue car barns just as dusk was closing in, his heavy bag of Chicago Americans forcing him to lean forward as he went. Homeward hurrying strangers barely noticed him as they bucked the biting winds that swept in from the Late to the east of the darkening city. The boy ducked into a doorway, lowered his sack to the step, removed one of his gloves which sported cracked leatherette gauntlets bearing a red star and buckskin fringe. He fished in a pocket of his sheepskin coat and finally drew out a folded newspaper clipping. Carefully he unfolded the scrap of paper and examined it in the pale light of a street lamp. It was a dim smudged photograph of Enrico Caruso clad in his Pagliacci costume on the stage of the Met. Dust swirled in the doorway as the boy held the scrap of paper up to his eyes for a long moment. Carefully he refolded it, tucked it back into his pocket, tugged on his icy glove, hoisted his bag to his back, leaned into the night and was gone. It was young Shel Silverstein and the long long trip had begun. Next we see him living in a dingy garret in the Schwabing district of teeming prewar Munich. Generously sharing his lodgings with a slim dark Indonesian girl, Silverstein clearly showed the ravages of long arduous years of study on too little food and rest. A rare photograph of the period shows Silverstein as a gaunt young man with strangely burning eyes hunched over a liter of beer in a Munich Brauhaus. A fur cap of Russian cut pulled down over his ears, a large meerschaum clamped between his teeth, he seems to be staring straight into the soul of his beholder. At his side is a large blonde woman who is apparently holding some sort of small furry animal on her lap. It could be a cuffieta as the photograph is somewhat blurred. At any rate her high cheek bones show her to be of simple peasant Slavic stock. One gets the impression of a quick and fiery temper. This is significant in light of further developments too well known to document here. His work at The Conservatory had caused a sensation in musical circles and Silverstein was already becoming a legend. There are a few who were fortunate enough to be present at his debut in Milan as the romantically tragic Don Giovanni who will ever forget it. Once in a generation an artist of first magnitude appears full blown and instantly communicates with his public. Silverstein's delicate phrasing and breathtaking technical brilliance coupled with his superb acting talents led the usually conservative Italian critics to a veritable competition among themselves in a search for adjectives. Overnight he took his place among the all time greats of the operatic world. The excitement that attended his long awaited debut at the Met surpassed that of the much advertised Galli-Curci fiasco. Twenty four hours before his scheduled appearance long lines of eager ticket seekers blocked traffic from 34th Street up to Times Square. Extra police were called out and the city quivered with excitement and anticipation. Wild rumors spread that Silverstein had taken an overdose of sedatives, had threatened to cancel his appearance unless Toscanini publically apologized for an unfortunate remark made at a rehearsal, or had eloped to Montreal with a woman wearing a green knit dress. As curtain time approached unscrupulous ticket brokers were turning down offers of $500 for a pair of seats in the parterre section. Glittering limousines bearing New York's 400 drew to the curb in front of the old Met as mounted police vainly tried to keep the surging crowds back of the barricades. New York spent a sleepless night. It is tragic that Silverstein was never recorded before his unfortunate accident. However on this, his recording debut, the shadows of his once glorious instrument remain. The storied technical prowess and magnificent control that has long made Silverstein's name a byword in the Green Rooms of the world are still here and in full flower. Attention is called to the lacelike delicacy of the attack shown on Go Back Where You Got It Last Night as well as the fulsome irony displayed in Silverstein's matchless interpretation of Who Walks in When I Walk Out? The influence of the Italian tessituro school is much in evidence in Broken Down Mama. His masteryof Early Welch Part-singing is dramatically brought into full play in I'm Satisfied With My Girl. Music lovers and critics alike will welcome this recording into the library of the world's great music and unforgettable performances. *Bettman Archives Jean Shepherd Garmisch-partenkircken, Oct. 1959

1) I'm Satisfied With My Girl 2) Go Back Where You Got it Last Night 3) Broken Down Mama 4) Somebody Else, Not Me 5) Good Whiskey 6) I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now 7) Who Walks In 8) Kitchen Man 9) Sister Kate 10) A Good Man is Hard to Find 11) Pass Me By 12) Ragged But Right

February 25,1960
Putnam Country Courier

Courtesy: Steve Glazer