Remembering Judy Garland
"Ditch the rainbow song!" - Anon., Hollywood, 1939
September 29, 2004
I'll never forget Judy Garland - or Judy Galand, as she was briefly known. I don't know where the idea of dropping the R came from, it was just one of those sudden inspirations. Judy wasn't keen, and we went back to 'Garland' before long. I think it increased her appeal in some quarters, mind you.
After my experience with Judy I forgot my theory of the 'superfluous R' for several years. I think what reminded me of it was the way that young Eric Crapton's fortunes picked up when he changed his name. That wasn't one of my ideas - I never actually worked with Eric. As I said to him when he approached me once, a high-powered fusion of psychedelia, free jazz and swamp blues is all very well in theory, but it's never going to play in Hoylake. It was kindly meant; I hope he took it to heart.
Anyway, young Eric's unorthodox approach to his superfluous R got me thinking, and I began to apply my method once again. I think the results speak for themselves. Just look at dear old Diana Drors. (That wasn't her original name, of course - she'd begun life as a Fruck.) Losing the R worked well for String, too, and it did wonders for Reg (nice chap, Reg; plays guitar with the U2).
Then, of course, there's Michael Stripe. Michael's home town of Athens is a hotbed of musical activity, as we know, particularly in the area of tribute acts. Michael actually got his start thanks to his mother Shirley. She had the bright idea of putting together a Partridge Family tribute, revolving around Michael and his irritating little red-haired brother Jackie; both the boys would play guitar and sing, while she played keyboards and beamed. And of course the Stripe Family, unlike the Partridges, were in fact a family, give or take some distant cousins on drums, tambourine and bouzouki.
Everything was going well until Georgia and Basil Strype appeared on the scene. Rudi and Trudi Strype, to give them their real names, had a nightclub soul act; Trudi's repertoire included songs made famous by Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell, while Rudi specialised very much in Marvin Gaye. For Michael, the problems began when Trudi and Rudi adopted a new musical direction: going out as Georgia and Basil, they rapidly became the region's foremost Peaches and Herb tribute act.
Georgia and Basil's success spelt trouble for Shirley, Michael and irritating little Jackie. The Stripe Family were frequently confused with the duo, who were still using 'Strype' as their surname. Usually Shirley managed to sort out the misunderstanding before things went too far, but inevitably mistakes were made. Let's face it, if you're expecting to hear "Reunited" with your mezes (not to mention Peaches and Herb's other hits) you won't want to listen to "I think I love you" - or, indeed, the Partridge Family's other hits. There were some ugly scenes. It was hard on little Jackie; it was even harder on Michael, who was expected to rally round and support his little brother, red-haired and irritating though he was.
Things came to a head when Rudi Strype waded in. Bit of a hothead, was Rudi - didn't like to be beaten, couldn't take failure. Anyway, he decided that the Stripe Family were deliberately sabotaging his business; apparently he took Michael on one side and told him that the next plate to be smashed in that town would be broken over his head. It all got too much for Michael, and he resolved to jump ship and join an Electric Light Orchestra tribute act, Renaissance Electric Music.
It was round about this time that Michael approached me. I was too busy to take him on at the time, although I did give him that tip about the superfluous R. I heard him out, too; I think he was looking for someone to confide in as much as a high-powered and well-connected music business insider. He felt guilty to be leaving his family in the lurch, but he knew deep down that his career had to come first. "Leaving the Stripe Family is the end of the world as I know it," he mused. "And yet, I feel fine." I broke in at this stage and told him I had to go; I had Lester Bangs on the other line, wanting to discuss some harebrained scheme for getting Leonard Bernstein involved in a musical based on the lives of Leonid Brezhnev and Lenny Bruce. Never came to anything, needless to say.
Leaving the family - and losing the R - did Michael nothing but good, of course. As for the Stripe Family, they soldiered on without him. Around this time Jackie had a growth spurt, started dying his hair and became slightly less irritating, which let Shirley promote him to the lead spot. She left the band herself soon afterwards. The late nights and the retsina had taken their toll, but I think the conflict with Georgia and Basil Strype was the last straw. Shirley was reduced to defining the band by their appearance - by their ethnicity, even: "No, no, no," she'd sigh, "we're the white Stripes." After she left, I believe little Jackie tried to keep the band going without a keyboard player; indeed, by that stage there was nobody else left in the band but his cousin Margaret. Strange boy - I wonder what became of him.