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We have written bio pieces on the following artists:
published February 1998
For 10 years, I (John Wood) produced a family arts festival in Agoura, California called TAFFY. One of the absolute highlights was having singer/songwriter Norman Foote perform. I appreciated his passion for his art and the creativity and confidence of his performance. Children love his material because he doesn’t talk down to them, and adults appreciate his irreverent humor.
Recently, I got a chance to sit down with Norman to find out more about his life and his music. Here’s what he told me:
Norman Mervyn Barrington-Foote was born in Vancouver, Canada when that country was in its infancy. I’m kidding. He’s younger than me, for gosh sakes. Norman claims his name helped him develop a sense of humor at a young age. I can relate. My middle name is Reginald. But, parenting pals, I digress.
The boat trip to New Zealand gave him ample opportunity to practice the guitar, which in turn prepared him to join a traveling theater troupe as resident musician. Later, working with Jim Henson Productions introduced him to the creative world of puppetry.
Today, Norman mixes music, comedy, and larger-than-life props (or “props with an attitude,” as he says) in his fast-paced, interactive family shows.
His four albums, which have won NAPPA (National Association of Parenting Publications of America) and Parents’ Choice Gold Awards, reflect the variety of music he heard while growing up. “Taking traditional children’s songs, singing them in different styles and changing them around — I call it a twist on tradition,” he explains. His new CD, Pictures on the Fridge, has spun off an illustrated book, Spider Dan, based on one of the songs, which originated as a long poem.
“It’s about a spider who finds out he doesn’t really want to eat bugs — much to their relief and delight,” Norman says. Illustrations are by award-winning artist Charlie Mitchell, and the story offers valuable lessons about self-esteem and equality.
As a father of four with one on the way, Norman is keenly aware of the importance of music — for everyone. “When I’m singing or writing a song, I’m happy. All the hard work pays off when I hear the mass of laughter, the singing back, the echoes. Music encourages all kinds of things.”
As a musician myself, I believe that as we laugh and sing together, we strengthen the family bond. Norman Foote, full-time husband and father, is also a modern-day troubadour, sharing the good news from town to town throughout the United States and Canada — and lifting spirits with his music and mirth. You can contact Norman at Norman Foote’s website and by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website must be where you’ll find Spider Dan!
Norman Foote’s music, including Pictures on the Fridge, can be ordered from Youngheart Music, 1-800-444-4287, $13.98/CD, $10.98/cassette. The book Spider Dan is published by Longstreet Press, 1997, $14.95.
published February 1999
Troubadours in medieval times were not only entertainers but purveyors of news and social commentary —CNN on horseback. This rich tradition found its way across the Atlantic and eventually gave birth to American Folk Music — songs simple in structure yet deep in content. People and their music from a broad social spectrum intermarried and gave birth to American Folk Music- songs somewhat simple in structure yet deep in content and social relevance. These were the tunes sung on long road trips, shared in living rooms, and hummed during marshmallow toasting.
Not long ago, I reviewed modern troubadours Peter, Paul & Mary’s Around The Campfire, a wonderful compilation of 25 classic folk tunes, and took the time to speak with PP&M about their nearly four decades of contributions to American music, and what it’s meant to them as people and parents.
Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers made their debut at the Bitter End Coffee House in Greenwich Village during a time when concerned people were tugging on the unraveled edges hanging from the fabric of society. Their first, self-named album released in 1962, leaped to the top of the charts and did not drop off the top 100 albums for 3-1/2 years. Many Grammy Awards, Emmy nominations and 20 albums later, they are still singing together.
But now, as parents, the music has even deeper resonances — and their concerts are more like family reunions, as their sensitivity toward and cooperation with each other shatter the “fourth wall” that separates performer from audience
“Being a parent forces you to re-examine your values,” Mary says.
“Life is not an alienated journey,” Peter explains. “I hope we demonstrate how to form a sense of community and an intergenerational capacity to find common ground.”
Noel adds, “Kids develop incredible loyalty and attachment to music. Songs played over and over become part of one’s soul.”
As musicians, parents and individuals committed to a better world, PP&M have talked the talk and walked the walk: standing with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, performing at anti-war demonstrations, witnessing firsthand the suffering in El Salvador, and speaking out against injustice in South Africa and homelessness here at home.
Peter’s son and daughter were part of many of the activities, and he is a proud papa. “The greatest adventure of all is being a parent,” he says. All three musicians have observed the messages of their own music finding growing room in their children: fairness, standing up for the “little guy”, and sensitivity to the Earth.
As parents, Peter says, “We have an obligation to be our best. If we want our children to represent what we care about, then we have to represent what we care about.” Kinda sums things up, doesn’t it, fellow parents?
And as modern troubadours in a world of ever-shrinking choices, handing out tools of survival through song and inspiration, Peter, Paul & Mary lead on to the new millenium. See you there.
— John Wood
published June 1999
Craig Taubman has been performing since nursery school. Well, actually, his wife, Louise, was a director of a nursery school, invited her husband to share some of his original tunes with her charges one fateful day in 1987, and children’s music has been a better place ever since. I sat down with Craig one evening to learn more about this multi-talented creator of Craig & Co.
I’ve known Craig since the late 1980s when I was producing the TAFFY Festival and he offered to perform for free to get the fledgling event off the ground. But his interest in music surfaced long before that. He and his three siblings had a preteen singing group called The NewMelody, but, Craig confesses, they didn’t come from musical parents. “Dad couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket,” he recalls.
After recording a couple of albums with sister Caren Glasser (now a cantor), he got the attention of the then-neophyte Disney Channel. Makin’ Music was filmed as a popular Kaleidoscope concert special, followed by the release of Rock ‘n Toontown, celebrating the opening of the Disneyland attraction. “I was very fortunate. Extraordinary exposure, resources and great experience came from working with Disney,” he says.
Initially, Craig wrote music “that I was told parents and kids wanted to hear and sing about. Traditional family and car music.” But after becoming a parent, he started to “think about what kids might be feeling.” Hence, two of his most popular songs, “Haircut” and “Mom’s Baby,” deal with real feelings of fear, jealousy and abandonment using clever lyric, gentle reassurance and fresh perspective. His two talented children, Noah, 10, and Abby, 9, sing on his albums; his music company, Sweet Louise, is named for his wife; and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if their dog, cat and koi fish are dancers in Craig’s live shows.
Some serious gems of wisdom swam to the surface during our conversation. For example:
Evident in Craig’s concerts is his joy in being close to his audience. Since parents make up at least half of each audience at kid’s concerts, they need to be engaged — and Craig’s mastered the “Bored Parent Syndrome.” He’ll have plenty of opportunities to make use of this talent in the near future with a new stage show, and as producer/performer for a summer concert series at the University of Judaism (Los Angeles). Also in the works: more recordings and a book of poetry.
Craig Taubman’s credo is written on a museum wall in Tel Aviv. “To Remember the Past, to Live for the Day and to Trust in Your Future.” Cheers.
For more information on Craig & Co., contact 1-800-6-CRAIG-8 or (818) 760-1077.
published May 1999
Jim and his partner Ed Brown churned out nine albums, approximately one a year, during their heyday. They did all the writing, all the music, all the voices, all the gimmicks, all the recording, all the packaging, all the time. When you listen to the recordings, remember: They did this without a multitrack tape recorder. The entire house became a living, breathing recording studio — voices in the kitchen, piano in the living room, pump organ in the bathroom with the sound effects in the bathtub, and so on. The recordings are strange, unique—and as clever as can be. Copp recorded his voice 90 times to replicate a crowd, and used a variety of voices to create an entire fourth grade classroom singing hopelessly off-key. His animal parades and barnyard animals are a real hoot.
I’m so glad I ran into Jim Copp the other day — I might have missed out on meeting a true pioneer and innovator. The songs’ plot lines and character voices remind listeners of the Firesign Theatre or even Monty Python, while the illustrations (also by Copp) are interplanetary and reminiscent of Shel Silverstein or John Lennon.
As we travel into the heartland of the Copp imagination, we find a literate, magical world comparable to Oz, Pooh Corner and Wonderland. You will search far and wide to find such words as “precipice,” “velocipede” and “vituperative” in any lyrics — ;not just those written for kids. In other words, not a condescending tone to be found. But the stories don’t always wrap up neat and pretty with a cute little bow, sometimes the oddball characters get eaten by cannibals, thrown off cliffs, fired from jobs and lost in storms. Yet they always hold our attention as Jim Copp’s precise baritone guides us through unfamiliar landscapes and labyrinths — and somehow we know that all is fun and forgiven.
In “Cloudy Afternoon,” Copp relates a baby-sitting trek to the park that goes awry with a nanny named Zella: She waddling and in the lead/ Me on my velocipede./ The clouds were fleecy white that day./ The month was March or was it May?/ And was I three? Or was I four?/ Or was I two? Or was I more?/ I pedaled on, and up ahead/ I saw the pond and Zella said,/ “You must be tired, pedaling that,/ And here’s a bench. Let’s sit.” She sat.
After Zella falls asleep, the clouds turn ominous and the young boy continues on through a variety of hazards before being rescued by the timely nanny. Everyone learns a lesson in a non-preachy way. Cassette titles, “for small fry and sophisticated adults,” include Jim Copp Tales, Fable Forest, Thimble Corner, East of Flumdiddle, A Fidgety Frolic, Gumdrop Follies, Schoolmates, and The Sea of Glup. The three available CDs are Agnes Mouthwash and Friends, Flibbergibbets on Parade, and A Journey to San Francisco with The Glups. P.S. — LPs are available for vinyl-loving friends!
The musical, theatrical legacy of Copp and Brown is nourished by Ted and Laura Leyhe, who now own and operate Playhouse Records, the house that James and Ed built. Ted used to listen to the albums as a child. When he called to trace the out-of-print music, the voice at the other end of the line was James Copp himself. They became friends and partners and the rest, they say, is history. . .and history for generations to come.
Yes, I met James Copp the other day. While browsing through the obituaries, I ran smack into one that grabbed my attention: James Copp Dies; ‘Unsung Genius’ of Children’s Records. Nice to meet you James Copp, and thanks for the memories to come. Catch you on the flip side.
The recordings of James Copp and Ed Brown are available through Playhouse Records; $12.00 CD, $9.00 cassette. Call
published November 1999
“Dad’s an Alien”
John Lithgow and I first met a few years ago. Well, we didn’t actually meet . . . what I mean to say is, he and with his children literally sat at my feet as I sang and played guitar for children during the Hollywood Bowl’s Open House program.
Whoa! Hold on just a darn minute, Mr. Self-Serving! Rocket ahead (cue space sound effect) to 1999: John Lithgow has a ton of movies under his belt; a hit TV show, Third Rock from the Sun (100 episodes and counting); a fistful of Emmy’s; Tony and Drama Desk Awards; a super-cool kids’ album; and a live concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall coming up — and I’m sitting at home typing.
But all that couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. John Lithgow, in addition to being a gentleman, is a consummate artist. He is well-schooled (classically trained at Harvard, Fullbright Scholarship to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and internships with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Court Theatre). He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Mary, a history professor at UCLA; daughter Phoebe, 17; and son Nathan, 16. His oldest son Ian, 27, is an up-and-coming actor in his own right. In short, John Lithgow is a Renaissance man in Millennium clothing.
I interviewed John on a cheap phone with a faulty speakerphone and hung up on him four times! Patiently, he said, “Here’s my home number. Call me when you’re ready.” (I swear I’ve only called him 15 times since.)
When his first child was born, Lithgow learned to play the guitar and make up songs to sing to him. (Thank goodness he was dissuaded from the accordion and a life of crime.) He moved on to performing in classrooms and cheap hotels. (I made up the last part.) In 1990, he released a 30-minute live-concert video for kids called John Lithgow’s Kid-Size Concert, a mix of children’s classics and original tunes. He told me, “Though I grew up in a theatrical family, my musicality was limited to Gilbert & Sullivan at Harvard. In fact, my youngest son is playing in a band and has far surpassed my guitar-playing ability.”
There’s a wonderful quote in his liner notes for Singin’ in the Bathtub, his CD on Sony Wonder: “I’ve been a grown-up actor for about 30 years now. In a hundred plays, movies, and TV shows, I’ve had to learn thousands of lines, rhymes and even lyrics. And you know what? I’VE FORGOTTEN ALL OF THEM! . . . [yet] I can sing so many songs from heart that I first learned when I was a kid.” Those very songs form the basis of the “Singin'” album, indelibly etched not-necessarily-for-kids songs that are burrowed somewhere in the molehills of our memory banks. (Editor’s note: You’ll find this album listed as a NAPPA Gold winner for 1999. My review of the album is here.)
Lithgow recently finished production on Hallmark/TNT’s Don Quixote, scheduled for a spring release. He’s excited, he says, at the prospect of finally wresting the real Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra classic from the overwrought musical exercise that has been a staple of high-school drama seasons for lo these many years. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also completed his first children’s book, The Remarkable Farkle McBride, about a child prodigy who seeks his purpose in life.
Family, films, TV, stage, music and books — I guess we won’t be hearing John Lithgow whining, “M-o-m-m-m, there’s nothing to do.”
— John Wood
published August 2000
“Songs of Saguaro”
“I’ve been performing since I was
Never one to pass up a performing opportunity, Horn learned how to play the guitar after her two kids were born. “It’s so much fun to write children’s music,” she says. “It brings out the child in me.”
Her latest album, The Pack is Back!, which features only two desert songs, explores a variety of issues and musical styles. “I like to write music that is adult [in] feeling, but has lyrics that the kids want to listen to,” says Horn. “They want to hear music like they’re hearing on the radio.”
The title song refers to a true story about a pack of peccaries or javelinas—pig-like critters that get real pushy when there’s food around. One night a baby javelina came to the door of one of Horn’s friends, looking for food. The next night two showed up, and so on until 16 of the little porkers were straining at the door. (The next time I see a peccary I will pause before I let him partake of my pizza!)
Horn’s new CD gives a unique spin to subject matter from bologna sandwiches (“The Baloney Blues”) to couch potatoes (“Don’t Be a Couch Potato”) to manatees (“Manatee Come to Me”). A songbook and double CD are included to aid in classroom study. One CD contains just the music tracks—great for kid karaoke.
Horn is also lending her talents to a public-awareness campaign in Arizona. A rash of child drownings in swimming pools this year has prompted public-service announcements sponsored by the Phoenix Fire Department. Horn’s “Just a Few Seconds Is All It Takes” will soon hit the airwaves, reminding loved ones that despite fences, gates and covers, accidents can happen in the blink of an eye.
Horn’s future plans include more music and a TV show. “I have so many ideas and want to bring my music to as many people as possible! I don’t like to let the grass grow under my feet,” she says. And on cue, the Arizona sun sets with its trademark tapestry. Patty Horn mounts her trusty steed and rides off to new and exciting musical adventures. Heigh-Ho Expedition! Away!
The Pack is Back!: Two Geckos Music & Publishing; $13.95 CD, $8.95 cassette. Website at www.pattyhorn.com.
— John Wood