Monday, September 30, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Life Is Better With You – Michael Franti & Spearhead
I Am the Wind – Underbirds
I'm Your Boyfriend Now – They Might Be Giants
Imagine That – Human-Tim + Robot-Tim
Nutritious –  Joanie Leeds And The Nightlights
Mr. Blue Sky – Billy Kelly & The Blah Blah Blahs
Born To Rock  – David Tobocman
When I Grow Up – Lucky Diaz And The Family Jam Band
My Favorite Summer Day – Poochamungas
A Dog Named Bruce – Ralph's World

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Monday, September 30, 2013

Angels We Have Heard On High – Dan Zanes
Blue Sky Time – Alex & The Kaleidoscope Band
Good Morning Everything – Lesley & the Flying Foxes
Bandwagon (Featuring Rachel Loshak, Dean Jones & Justin Lansing) – Joanie Leeds And The Nightlights
Similes And Metaphors – The Bazillions
We Just Wanna Have Fun – Milkshake
Peace Sign – David Tobocman
Ice Cream Soup –  Jambo
I Love Music (feat. Wordsmith) – Rhymezwell
Till There Was You  – Lucky Diaz And The Family Jam Band
Till the Sun Goes Down – Poochamungas

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fired Up for Poochamungas on the Block

When my nephew was two, he decided he wanted to grow up to be a firefighter. This was mainly because his father (my brother) had joined the local volunteer fire company and the impressionable tot got to spend a large amount of time at the fire house, with the volunteers, on and around the truck (and the fire dog). This obsession continued for several years until it mysteriously vanished.

Firefighting is a noble vocation, especially the full-time variety. You mainly fight the ennui of the day broken up by periods of high drama and potential threat to life and limb. Yet some aspire to its calling and take great pride and pleasure through their actions.

And yet...what if that wasn't enough for you? Chicago area veteran firefighters John Joyce (17 years on the job) and Pete Cunningham met in the Fire Academy, shared mutual interests in music, and ultimately started Poochamungas, a children's music venture that brings them out into the community in a whole new way.

I'm half-tempted to be ultra-snarky and say, "If you ever wondered what musical firemen sounded like...." But truth be told, I listened to their new CD, POOCHAMUNGAS BLOCK PARTY!, before I read the press release. So the firefighting background was new to be (despite the obvious red engine on the CD cover).

You're not going to hear anything groundbreaking. Then again, you're not going to hear anything hacky like "Fire Bad" or "Put Down the Matches!" Poochamungas is not a group of firefighters masquerading as musicians to better deliver a "drop and roll" safety message. They want to get kids to sing and dance, just like fellow Chicagoans Ralph's World. That being said, "Big Red" is an ode to a fire engine.

Poochamungas saved up songs since 2010 for this sophomore release – the telling points are Halloween and Valentine's Day numbers. But the majority of the material is summer-and play outside-related, such as "Till the Sun Goes Down," "My Favorite Summer Day (Block Party)," and "Games We Played." They even push kids to think for themselves with "Refrigerator Box" and "Imagination Train."

So if you ever wondered what a group of dedicated firefighters sounded like, trying to entertain local kids, Poochamungas is the answer for you. They sound like they're having fun and they want their audience to have fun. And for a little while, they deliver a hot time without any danger.

POOCHAMUNGAS BLOCK PARTY! is available through the band's website, Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.

Here is the video for their song, "Pursuit of Ice Cream" (from their first CD):

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Friday, September 27, 2013

Family Tree (Featuring Jonatha Brooke) – Joanie Leeds And The Nightlights
Begin Again – Taylor Swift
Snow Day – Zak Morgan
National Fossil Day – Jeff Wolin
Take It On Over (Timeout) – Princess Katie & Racer Steve
Love – The Que Pastas
Shine – Shine and the Moonbeams
Pockets – Lucky Diaz And The Family Jam Band
Dessert Island – Recess Monkey
Make Me – Big Bang Boom

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, September 26, 2013

Too Dirty To Love – Caspar Babypants
The Crocodile (Wouldn't Brush His Teeth) –  Boxtop Jenkins
Working on A Bridge – Lloyd H. Miller
Salivary Gland  – Human-Tim + Robot-Tim
Ferris Wheel – Laura Doherty
Hootenanny – Jambo
Gravy Stain – Mr. Saxophone
Duck Ellington – Lucky Diaz And The Family Jam Band
Getting A Sunburn – Recess Monkey
Stop at a Mom N' Pop – Uncle Rock

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What Will You Ever See? – Lunch Money
Thank You and Goodnight – Uncle Rock
This Little Piggy – Elizabeth McQueen
More Than Me – Milkshake
Shake it Out – Florence + The Machine
Freak Out – Astrograss
Yeah! – Cat Doorman
C-C-C-Cold Outside – Trout Fishing In America
Si Fuese – Mariana Iranzi
Thingamajig – Lucky Diaz And The Family Jam Band
My Treasure – Recess Monkey

Lucky Diaz and His End-Lish Love Make Music

Times are good for Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band. Bilingual customer base, critical acclaim, and a national ad featuring one of their songs. Lead songwriter Diaz has shouldered a big burden the past couple of years and it all paid off – apparently in spades.

The band features Lucky and his wife, Alisha Gaddis. Their new CD, LISHY LOU AND LUCKY TOO serves as the pilot for a hoped-for "throwback" kid's TV show. The characters blossomed from family car ride "road trips." They are one step behind Ralph Covert, who shot the pilot to his TIME MACHINE GUITAR last year and is crossing his fingers for a deal.

While listening to the CD, an anecdote came to mind, about comedian/UFC commentator/comedian Joe Rogan. He was on a radio show talking about why he stopped dating actresses. "I was struggling as a comic and living with an actress working as a waitress," Joe recounted. "The day my manager called to say I was hired on NEWSRADIO, I hung up and told her the good news." As Rogan tells the story, her response was not one of exultation for his success. Instead, she moaned, "When is it going to happen FOR ME!?"

Now let's all step back while I distance myself from the anecdote and say that categorically, Joe Rogan is no Lucky Diaz. And vice versa. But LISHY LOU AND LUCKY TOO indeed showcases his wife in the comedic sketches, which are throwbacks to an earlier era, with outdated puns and a host of characters ready for their time in the spotlight (you can find them by clicking through to the band's website).

It's intriguing to watch a band put so much on their plate and see how they balance it. Lucky Diaz and company released the spanish-language CD FANTASTICO! earlier this year and LISHY LOU AND LUCKY TOO goes 180 degrees in the opposite direction. They come off as a band of these modern times, while at the same time casting themselves almost as a band out of time.

The problem is that after the kids have seen Spongebob and Phineas & Ferb, just how far back can you throw them? The CD features a number of catchy songs, such as "Thingamajig," "Pockets," and "Duck Ellington." It's fun pop for kids. But the sketches went over the head of my two-year-old and my 12-year-old seemed not so amused. But good luck to them; there are so many niche networks that they might catch on somewhere.

LISHY LOU AND LUCKY TOO is available October 1 from their website, Amazon, and iTunes.

Here is the video for the group's song, "Thingamajig":

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Over Again – One Direction
Light Up The World – Lloyd H. Miller
Jump On The Moon – Human-Tim + Robot-Tim
Public Skool – The Travoltas
I'm So Glad – Alex & The Kaleidoscope Band
Holidays – Princess Katie & Racer Steve
Music Makes Me Feel – Astrograss
We Are All One Kind – Jambo
Long Gone – Recess Monkey
Up In Cat's Room – David Heatley

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Monday, September 23, 2013

Dear One – Jim James
Bus Ride – Mary Kaye
Rock Me – One Direction
Little Bob's Big Day – Human-Tim + Robot-Tim
Shakin' Shakin' – The Little Rockers Band
Workin' Kid – Milkshake
I'm A Duck – Lloyd H. Miller
Call Me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepsen
Hide And Seek – Recess Monkey
Cookie Road – The Julie Ruin
Goolie Get-Together – The Toadies

Friday, September 20, 2013

Recess Monkey Beached; Desert Island Disc Buoys Spirits

Recess Monkey has grown up. I guess this simian has evolved and can stand on its own (six) feet.

It's hard to believe that the kindie power-pop trio did not even exist a decade ago. Since 2005, they have produced 10 (ten!) CDs, including a pair this year (DEEP SEA DIVER came out two seasons ago and now DESERT ISLAND DISC).

Original members Jack Forman and Drew Holloway were joined this year by new drummer Korum Bischoff. People like to talk about how a "new member" can sometimes reinvigorate an established band. But the group's IN TENTS marked a high water mark in their recordings. And DEEP SEA DIVER will rank high in my Fids and Kamily Poll for 2013.

While the Monkey men have received numerous comparisons to the Beatles over the years (spurred by the naming of a previous release TABBY ROAD), DESERT ISLAND DISC brought to mind another Hall of Fame band – the Beach Boys.

If IN TENTS was Recess Monkey's "Sgt. Peppers" moment, then DESERT ISLAND DISC could be their "Pet Sounds." It's stripped down, it's intimate, it's for children but doesn't discriminate against adults. Plus it was recorded on a genuine island (!), Bainbridge Island, Washington – home of producer Johnny Bregar's Backyard Studios. You definitely feel the vibe on tracks like "The Hermit," "The Cave," "Around the Campfire," and especially "Getting a Sunburn":

Summer is here, here again.
I'll hide in my room until the end.
I'm sun inefficient, freckled you see.
That orb in the sky's no friend to me.
'Cause I'll be getting a sunburn all over my nose.
Cover me up from my head to my toes.

It takes guts to find a concept and stick with it. Recess Monkey has now birthed multiple concept albums – circus-themed, outer space, water-focused, and now "no man is an island." Indeed, you can hear the solitude and contemplation in the orchestrations on "Desert Island," the centerpiece of the album.

DESERT ISLAND DISC features guest appearances ranging from local (Sam Bishoff on sax, to ubiquitous Dean Jones (Dog on Fleas) and Justin Lansing (Okee Dokee Brothers). But the Recess trio themselves do the heavy lifting, which includes reining in the concept to ensure it doesn't stray too far from the beach.

Many children's recording artists are predictable: Every year or so, they reliably pump out another collection of songs that mine the ground they've successfully sharecropped over the course of their career. Recess Monkey has taken the opposite direction – they've thrown away the overly familiar and are challenging their audience to come away with them on new aural adventures. This time, it's a desert island. Are you game? Trust me, it's worth the trip.

DESERT ISLAND DISC is available on October 15 from the band's website, Amazon, CDBABY, iTunes, and many fine music retailers.

Here is the video from the band's song "Shrimp," from DEEP SEA DIVER.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Friday, September 20, 2013

Crayola Doesn't Make a Color for Your Eyes – Kristin Andreassen
Pleadia – Andy Z
You Are An Astronaut – Human-Tim + Robot-Tim
Here Comes Peter Cottontail – The Hipwaders
Natalie – Bruno Mars
Born To Rock  – David Tobocman
Stop at a Mom N' Pop – Uncle Rock
S.S. Brooklyn – Lloyd H. Miller
Kids in America – The Muffs

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, September 19, 2013

In A Timeout Now – Randy Kaplan
Last First Kiss – One Direction
Everyone  – Elizabeth Mitchell
Why is the sky blue? – Nick Cope
Slow – Trout Fishing In America
Superhero You – Steve Songs
A Dog Named Bruce – Ralph's World
Shake Your Groove Thing – Peaches & Herb
Honk Honk (Major Deegan) – Lloyd H. Miller

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, September 18, 2013

First Day of School  – Ethan Rossiter And The Jamberries
Grumpy Boy – Steve Songs
Kindhearted Babysitter Blues  – Randy Kaplan
Bike  – Charity And The JAMband
Hide & Seek – Princess Katie & Racer Steve
Let's Be Friends – Jambo
Music– Alex & The Kaleidoscope Band
Rad – Play Date
Henry (Hi Ya Ya) – Lloyd H. Miller
Five Little Monkeys – Mr. Gabe

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, September 17, 2013

a wild one – Justin Roberts
I Just Had an Idea – Elska
Sylvie – Elizabeth Mitchell
Metaphor  – The Alphabeticians
Locked Out Of Heaven – Bruno Mars
Bigga Bagga – Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke
Come To California  – The Hipwaders
The Plumbing Song – Weird Al Yankovic
Brooklyn By Bike – Lloyd H. Miller
I Just Wanna Play – Sunshine Collective

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Monday, September 16, 2013

Is She a Girl or Is She a Monkey – Randy Kaplan
Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin
Chickens and Dinosaurs – The Ukulady
Washing Machine – Milkshake
Ride In My Little Red Wagon – Willie & The Wheel
DeeDee Taught Me How To Count – Kepi Ghoulie
Boo! – Trout Fishing In America
Busy – The Not-Its
Fruit Nut – XTC
Sing-A-Long Song – Lloyd H. Miller
Shake It Off! – Uncle Rock
Goolie Get-Together – The Toadies

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Friday, September 13, 2013

The Sun Will Shine Again – Frances England
May This Be Love – Elizabeth Mitchell
Groovy Day – Jambo
Raised by Trolls – Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke
Pretend Your Hand's A Puppet – Ratboy Jr.
Bananas (Plum Crazy) – Tangerine Tambourine
They're Red Hot – Randy Kaplan
Face the Bird – Pete Donnelley
C'mon, C'mon –  One Direction
Working On A Bridge – Lloyd H. Miller
Kangaroo! – Alex & The Kaleidoscope Band

Traveling Back (in Time) to Brooklyn With Lloyd Miller

Talk about pulling a 180-degree turnaround.

My last review was for Josh and the Jamtones, an unrepentant "good-time" kids band. This week, I'm tackling Lloyd Miller's latest CD, S.S. BROOKLYN – a veritable minefield of educational tunes.

Now Lloyd's a good egg. In fact, he even recorded a surprise, short video for Ben's birthday earlier this year (thanks, Lloyd). The majority of my blog posts are the playlists made every weeknight by Ben. In addition to those playlists, Ben also chooses two songs that will wake him up in the morning. Two Deedle Deedle Dees songs ("Ah Ahimsa" and "A Song For Abigail Adams") have both racked up impressive totals of more than 60 selections.

Taking a break from the Deedles, "America's Ultimate Teaching Band," Lloyd does not stroll far from home. In fact, he's all about the borough of Brooklyn. The leader of a weekly traveling sing-along project, Lloyd decided to record many of the popular favorites from these sessions, under the able hands of kids music uber-producer Dean Jones (Dog On Fleas). S.S. BROOKLYN features some Deedle faves ("Honk Honk (Major Deegan)" and "Henry (Hi-Ya-Ya)," about Henry Hudson) as well as time capsule-esque location setters "Gowanus Canal" and "Carroll Street Bridge." There's a lot of bridge-building going on here, if you include "Working on a Bridge," co-written with his daughter, Hazel.

Lloyd gives himself a breather so the kids can participate on "I'm a Duck!" and "I'm a Rat." Having just battled some invasive basement dwellers for most of the summer, that's the one tune we won't be hitting on replay any time soon. You also get the timely "Seventeen Years (A Cicada Love Song)":

I've been underground so long.
I missed the last few years of Bill and the first few of Barack.
I've been down in darkness so long,
I missed all eight years of W, I'm so glad we can talk
After 17 years.

When I first saw the cover art for S.S. BROOKLYN, I got a distinct Windsor McKay/Little Nemo vibe. It turns out to be public domain artwork from the legendary Walt Kelly (Pogo). That's why I'm stressing that Lloyd is taking kids back in time with his music, Not only does the modern seven-year-old not know Pogo, but his thirtysomething parents likely (and sadly) are in the dark as well about the character and the Okefenoke Swamp.

None of that stops the affable Mr. Miller from leading the neighborhood kids in a chorus of "I'm Gonna Light Up the World." And it all wraps up with the title track, where Lloyd reminds us, "We're all in the boat, we gotta get along." Already more of a message than most of the Jamtones' CD, if you wish to do an apples versus oranges comparison. But don't shoot the messenger, especially a bike messenger such as the narrator of "Brooklyn By Bike" or you'll miss highlights from around the borough.

There may not (yet) be a market for historical rock. But Lloyd (and the Deedles) have set sail for the long haul. With S.S. BROOKLYN, Miller looks forward to sailing into the future (and the past) at the same time.

S.S. BROOKLYN is available from Lloyd's website, Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.

Here is the video for "Seventeen Years":

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, September 12, 2013

Millions of Things – Like Totally!
Can't Keep Johnny Down – They Might Be Giants
Wander 'Round the World –  Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke
Big Green Party Machine – David Heatley
Twirl! Twirl! Twirl! – Mr. Leebot
I Would – One Direction
So Many Words – Cat Doorman
Peace Sign – David Tobocman
Rad – Play Date
Fill It Up – Josh And The Jamtones
Kangaroo  – Caspar Babypants

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Wednesday, September 11, 2013

May This Be Love – Elizabeth Mitchell
Mister E – Zak Morgan
If You Want a Mustache – Space Balloons
Buy Nothing Day – The Go! Team
My Sister Kissed Her Boyfriend – Trout Fishing In America
Mothership – Mr. Saxophone
Why Is Dad So Mad? –  The Board of Education
Punkin' Patch – Andy Z
Just Not Me – The Hipwaders
Sunflower –  Josh And The Jamtones
Wag More (Featuring Indigo Girls)  – Boxtop Jenkins

Monday, September 09, 2013

Bens Playlist - Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Snowman kind of day – Nick Cope
My Eraser – Bill Harley And Keith Munslow
Bicycle Built For Two – Frances England
Potted Plant Guy – David Heatley
First Day – The Board of Education
Veo Veo – Mariana Iranzi
Otis –  Justin Roberts
Stop at a Mom N' Pop – Uncle Rock
I Love U – Josh And The Jamtones
Clever Girl – The Doubleclicks

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Monday, September 9, 2013

Little Little Baby – The Harmonica Pocket
Silent Night – Dan Zanes
Everyone – Elizabeth Mitchell
Move Like Saturday Night – Frances England
Because I Said So! – Big Bang Boom
I'm a Shark (I Rock, I Swim) – ScribbleMonster
Shrimp – Recess Monkey
I Love New York – Joanie Leeds And The Nightlights
My Secret Robot – Justin Roberts
Everybody Dance – Josh And The Jamtones
Goolie Get-Together – The Toadies

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Friday, September 6, 2013

Move Like Saturday Night – Frances England
I'm Not Tired – Ralph's World
Shake it Out – Florence + The Machine
I Knew You Were Trouble – Taylor Swift
Otis Dooda Theme – David Heatley
Love Factory – Mary Kaye
Yes And No – Caspar Babypants
Frog  – Artichoke
Everybody's Going Out To Play – Billy Kelly & The Blah Blah Blahs
Swing Low – Josh And The Jamtones
Give Me Back My Hat – Bill Harley And Keith Munslow

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pizza pie  – Nick Cope
Playin' On A Sunday – David Tobocman
Did You Feed My Cow?  – Ella Jenkins
Upside Down  – Ratboy Jr.
Human Bean  – Dean Jones
Blink Of An Eye  – Frances England
Sunglasses – The Que Pastas
Hootenanny – Jambo
My Magic Trick – Ralph's World
Copycat  – Bill Harley And Keith Munslow
Bonsai – Billy Kelly & The Blah Blah Blahs

Just Joshin' – Time to Hunt Bear WIth Jamtones

Josh and the Jamtones are interested in "fun" with a capital "f."

If you're looking for lesson plans and well-intentioned meanings, go elsewhere. The band's second CD, BEAR HUNT!, has a clear message: If you set your mind on doing something, you'll feel great it you accomplish it. In the meantime, there's still plenty of time to dance (to songs like "Everybody Dance!" "Pirate's Life," and "Fill It Up."

The premise behind BEAR HUNT! is that Josh and company are going on a field trip. The expedition is to hunt a ferocious grizzly. They encounter many strange people and experiences along the way (did I mention there are skits among the 13 tracks?) and a surprise ending (no spoilers).

Like I said, if you weren't paying close enough attention, the Jamtones are not pushing an agenda of clean clothes, eating your veggies, and going to bed at a reasonable hour. If anything, the Jamtones want to keep your kids dancing until they drop. To that end, they've enlisted Father Goose (formerly with Dan Zanes) to funk up tracks like "Swing Low" and "I Love U."

If there's anything close to an ecological motif on BEAR HUNT!, it's the upbeat ballad, "Sunflower," with co-lead vocals from Josh's wife, Patience:

Sunflower sunflower grow so high
The rain helped you when it showered from the sky
Sunflower sunflower blossom bloom
I hope some friends grow around you soon.

The Jamtones came together in the late 00's as an outgrowth from Josh Shriber's Jammin' With You program for kids. The group recorded its debut CD (JUMP UP) and from there progressed on one of the most popular East Coast ensembles, spending 13 weeks as number one on SiriusXM's Kids Place Live's "13under13" countdown. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that my niece is a huge fan of the group. In a twist of fate, she's also Josh's niece.

Josh and the Jamtones are making a push for wider exposure and a larger fan base. It's not an understatement to say that either thing would be undeserved. The band rocks out (for the younger set) and has plenty of time to deconstruct its future and determine if it wants a definitive "manifest destiny." Or perhaps they just want to continue having fun with a capital "f." As a popular sitcom once espoused, not that there's anything wrong with that.

BEAR HUNT! is available on Tuesday, October 1 from Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.

Here is the video for their song, JUMP UP:

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Turning Tables – Adele
Are You a Mirror (...Or a Window?) – Quiet Company
Changes – David Bowie
Hola Hello – Mariana Iranzi
Go Plane Go – Kira Willey
Me and My Brand New Haircut – Billy Kelly and the Blah Blah Blahs
Row Row Row Your Boat – Caspar Babypants
I'll Be An Alien – Justin Roberts
Hippie Mom – Big Bang Boom
The Bullfrog Opera – Morgan Taylor; The Okee Dokee Brothers
A Dog Named Bruce – Ralph's World

Around the World (and Up the Street) With Bob McGrath

It's hard to summarize a 50-year career in one article.

It's even harder when that career has taken some pretty novel twists and turns over the years. But that's been par for the course, according to Sesame Street's Bob McGrath. I decided to check in with Bob as the 44th season of Sesame Street looms on Monday, September 16.

Bob McGrath
A classically-trained Music major, Bob went from being a boy soloist in church to a featured tenor on "Sing Along With Mitch Miller" to a popular crooner for thousands of Japanese teenagers. After moving to the New York area with his wife, Ann, Bob did session work and studied acting until...well, hang on.

A self-described "cracker from Ottawa, Illinois," Bob joined the University of Michigan's Men's Glee Club and became the first freshman soloist in the group's history. His vocal abilities ultimately brought him to Mitch Miller's popular weekly TV show, where Bob spent five years as the featured male soloist. During that tenure, Miller and his ensemble were invited to tour Japan and perform 30 shows in 30 cities.

"Mitch Miller's audience in the States was mostly older people," Bob recalled. "But in Japan, we attracted teenagers and young professionals." Every show concluded with a singalong, with the lyrics projected on a screen. "People came because they wanted to be entertained but they also wanted to learn English," he added.

Another singer's absence provided an unexpected big break.

"Leslie Uggams did not make the trip so I received the opportunity to sing three or four solos," Bob recalled. "People would chant 'Bobu, Bobu' when I finished my solos." Before there was an Internet, word of mouth created a sensation and "Bobu Magurasu" (aka Bob McGrath) Fan Clubs sprung up around the country.

Bob returned to Japan nine times for headlining engagements (at clubs called the Latin Quarter and Copacobana). He was a sensation, with Japanese native language recordings, concerts, television, and live appearances. Prime Minister Eisaku Sato's daughter was a fan and Sato invited Bob to perform at a high-level function. "How odd for an Irish tenor and Illinois farm boy to be singing Japanese folk songs at a private show for the Prime Minister," he said.

American audiences got a chance to witness Bob's prowess when he appeared on a 1966 episode of TO TELL THE TRUTH:

Back in the States, the Mitch Miller show had been cancelled and Bob began taking acting classes to prepare for new career challenges. "I still did club dates and session work," he said. "I also performed symphonic choral work with Leonard Bernstein."

A chance encounter one afternoon outside Carnegie Hall changed his life. "I bumped into an old college fraternity brother who mentioned he was working on a new children's television show," Bob said. "He suggested that I audition, but I thought about the quality of most programming for kids and said I wasn't interested in the least."

His friend persisted and invited Bob to watch some test footage. "Prior to that I had never seen or even heard of Jim Henson or any of his Muppets," Bob said. "After watching five minutes I told them yes, I'll audition." With his foot in the door, Bob shot the pilot episode. Then a second one. He survived five pilot episodes, while others fell by the wayside.

Getting Sesame Street on the air was an arduous process that included two years of testing (of which yours truly was a participant). Television producer Joan Ganz Cooney wanted to create a children's television show to help young children prepare for school. "The focus was especially for disadvantaged, inner-city kids who did not test as well as upper-class children," Bob said. From those origins came the genesis of Sesame Street, of which Bob was among the four "human" cast members. The others were Matt Robinson (Gordon), Loretta Long (Susan), and Will Lee (Mr. Hooper).

"We started doing 130 episodes a season," Bob remarked. Over the years, that total got cut down more and more. In 1998, the show produced 65 episodes. By 2002, it was down to 50. In 2004, Sesame head writer Lou Berger stood firm for several days and would not agree to anything less than 26 episodes. "The bean counters asked what was so important, why not 25 episodes," Bob added. "Lou asked, 'Okay, which letter of the alphabet am I supposed to fire?'" The show has continued to produce 26 episodes every season since that encounter.

Sesame Street cast at Thanksgiving parade, circa early 2000s.
Bob and the other cast members knew their show was different, but didn't see the immediate impact until a summer tour of parks in cities with large, urban populations. "Thousands of kids came out to see us in Watts, in Chicago, in Jacksonville," Bob said. "They loved us and went nuts for Big Bird. It was like Woodstock for toddlers."

Off the street, Bob began to perform children's concerts, often with symphony orchestras. Even though it was an expensive proposition to have all the music written and scored for a symphony, it was a great investment. "It's thrilling to perform with a symphony and wonderful for kids and their families to hear professional live, acoustic musicians," Bob said. "It provides an alternative to recorded, and often synthesized music. Hopefully, it might induce kids to become active music makers."

Although Sesame's producers had cast an urban mix of performers, their musical skills varied wildly. "Will Lee was a fantastic actor but had no musicality," Bob laughed. The cast performed Hayden's Toy Symphony with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. "We each had an instrument but Will could never remember his cue," he added. "Composer Joe Raposo finally sat in the front row with a flashlight and signaled Will when to play and when to stop." Bob laughed, "The rest of us frantically followed along with the score while Will just waited with a big Mr. Hooper smile for Joe to shine the flashlight."

At the first rehearsal with the Boston Pops, no one recognized muppet maven Jim Henson with his long hair and beard. "Jim's croaky voice stunned Fiedler and the orchestra," Bob recalled. At the concerts, Jim stayed out of sight and manipulated Kermit, who sang "Bein' Green" and brought down the house. "People were amazed to learn what the man behind Kermit the Frog really looked like."

Bob (and the rest of the cast) could not predict that Sesame Street's legacy and impact would stretch into a sixth decade. "Joan Ganz Cooney called the show an experiment in children's television," Bob said. "Every season when the writers set their goals, the scripts still reflect that. This year, it will read '45th Experimental Season'."

At home in the early years, Bob saw first hand how kids reacted to him. "My three-year-old daughter Cathlin was watching Sesame Street one day when I came home," Bob said. "She did a triple-take between me and the TV and jumped into my arms, beating me on the chest, yelling, 'That's my daddy!'"

Producing so many hours of television eventually required more human cast members. In season 3, Maria (Sonia Manzano) and Louis (Emilio Delgado) signed onto Sesame Street. Like with any neighborhood, people would move in over time. For instance, Roscoe Orman took over as Gordon in season four. Alison Bartlett (Gina) joined the cast in 1987. Alan Muraoka (Alan) has been behind the counter of Hooper's Store since 1997.

To celebrate the 25th season, a new director brought in a vision to remake "The Street." He doubled the human cast and added a new, second set. "By introducing so many new elements, we lost the sense of the Street," Bob said. "When it was the four of us (Matt, Loretta, Will, and I) we were in every episode. Now there were so many members of the cast that we rarely crossed paths during the season." That phase was short-lived. Five years later, the new cast and set were eliminated. "For the past 20 years, we've had a wonderful core cast, some new additions, and a few of us dinosaurs," he laughed.

Music education remains meaningful to Bob. In addition to symphony concerts, he delivers keynotes and workshops for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association for Music Merchants (NAMM).

He recently remastered songs from two older CDs into a new collection, BOB'S FAVORITE SING ALONG SONGS. In addition to the 15 tracks, the CD has instrumental versions of every song. "I had many requests from teachers who wanted audio tracks for performances and assemblies," Bob said. "As much fun as it is to hear performers sing, it's important for children to hear their parents singing as well as hearing their own voices. Learning that everyone has a voice that should be heard encourages them to become active music makers."

Bob has tremendous respect for professional musicians. "I've always hired as many top people as the budget allowed, such as Dick Hyman and Bob Becker and " he said. "The dedication to their craft contributed a great deal to the longevity and success of all my recordings, both in CDs as well as new media streams, such as digital downloads."

Sesame Street memories are special to the viewers and they love to share with Bob. "It's become generational," Bob said. "Kids do recognize me, but more often it's their parents and even grandparents." If it's the shared memories that turn a performer into an icon, then Bob McGrath has earned the moniker.

Forty-four years after its inception, Sesame Street could have become a burden. But Bob doesn't see it that way. "It's not an ego trip for me," he said. "I'm not Fred Rogers and the show isn't about me. It's all about Sesame Street and what it represents." Bob talked about meeting grownups working in hotels and airports who greeted him with bear hugs. "One man told me I'd been like a father to him while he grew up," he said. "So we are fulfilling our original mission. And that's why Sesame Street is still necessary, here and around the world."

SESAME STREET starts its 44th season on Monday, September 16 on PBS stations around the country. Visit Bob at his website or purchase BOB'S FAVORITE SING-ALONG SONGS.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Joy to the World – Dan Zanes
You Are My Sunshine – AshebA
When the World Was New – Dean Jones
Mother Nature's Son – Aaron Nigel Smith
I'm So Glad – Alex & The Kaleidoscope Band
Flat Stanley – Steve Songs
It's Not Fair to Me – Bill Harley And Keith Munslow
Kiss With A Fist – Florence + The Machine
Try it – Milkshake
Just a Normal Day – Lesley and the Flying Foxes
Little Bitta You – Andrew & Polly
I Walk The Line – Chris Isaak

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Ben's Playlist - Monday, September 2, 2013

Delicious – Orange Sherbert
Little Things – One Direction
Bully Bully – Shine and the Moonbeams
Peaceful – Cat Doorman
My Happiness – Chris Isaak
Sell Out – Reel Big Fish
Everybody's Got their Underwear On – Billy Kelly and the Blah Blah Blahs
Whole lotta fun – Nick Cope
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – Caspar Babypants
Waiting Room – Fugazi
OK By Me – Johnny Angel Wendell