Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

"From Piccolo Pete to the Piano Man: Music Instruments Referenced in Sound Recordings"

Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

"From Piccolo Pete to the Piano Man: Music Instruments Referenced in Sound Recordings"

Article excerpt

Twentieth century sound recordings abound with song titles and lyrical references to audio devices that provide rhythmic enrichment, melodic support, or other dramatic punctuation for popular tunes. The variety of musical instruments acknowledged is staggering. Beyond expected commentaries on keyboards ("Baby Grand" and "Piano in the Dark"), percussion instruments ("Drummer Man" and "Drums in My Heart"), strings ("April Played the Fiddle" and "The Man with the Mandolin"), woodwinds ("Concerto for Clarinet" and "Hey, Mr. Sax Man"), and brass instruments ("Bugle Call Rag" and "Cornet Pleadin' Blues"), there are also salutes to many more exotic music-making devices ("Didgeridoo," "Washboard Blues," and "When Erastus Plays His Old Kazoo").

Few artists have manifested the Faustian bargain with their instruments that characterized bluesman Robert Johnson's mythic relationship to his devilish guitar. Yet the personas of many popular performers are directly linked to their artistic weapons. Songs by B.B. King ("Lucille"), Duane Eddy ("Dance with the Guitar Man"), Preston Epps ("Bongo Rock"), Billy Joel ("Piano Man"), Gene Krupa ("Drummer Boy"), Sandy Nelson ("Drums Are My Beat"), and Stevie Wonder ("Hey Harmonica Man") express heart-felt reverence for their own instruments.

Beyond these legendary artists, fictional tales also meld music making devices to a variety of distinctive characters of sonic sensitivity. Recorded illustrations include: "The All American Boy," "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," "The Guitar Man" (Bread), "The Guitar Man" (Elvis Presley), "Johnny B. Goode," "The Little Drummer Boy," "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Nashville Cats," and "On Broadway."

As seen in the previous listings, notions of autobiographies and general storytelling revolving around musical instruments are quite common. So are situation comedies. With respect to the violin, for instance, there are numerous songs that reflect the foibles of the human condition via slang references. These include: "Fiddle Around," "Fit as a Fiddle," "I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle," and "Second Fiddle." Other humorous approaches to instruments are illustrated in the revival of classic tunes such as "Dueling Banjos" by a slapstick stylist who parodied the original recording on "Dueling Tubas." Spike Jones and His City Slickers applied a similar demonic treatment to David Rose's "Holiday for Strings." More serious performers have utilized structural metaphors such as the "Ebony and Ivory" keys on a piano to denote beneficial interaction of cultural and ethnic diversity. Finally, both orchestral cohesiveness and musical styles are depicted by identifying particular roles of specific instruments. This sense of building (or cooking) a band unit is described in "Dance to the Music" and "Memphis Soul Stew."

Tunes without lyrics often gain their titles from the primary instrument utilized in their recorded renditions. Examples of this phenomenon include: "Bongo Rock," "Kitten on the Keys," "Let There Be Drums," and "The Toy Trumpet." Likewise, virtuoso performers sometimes craft tunes for themselves or receive tributes from other artists through linkage of their signature instruments, names, or musical styles. Illustrations of fame and fortune secured through specific identification with trumpets, saxophones, guitars, and pianos include: "Hank Williams' Guitar," "I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music" (Louis Armstrong), "Guitar Queen" (Bonnie Raitt), "Someone Stole Gabriel's Horn" (Bunny Berigan), "Walkin' with Mr. Lee" (Lee Allen), "Yakety Axe" (Chet Atkins), and "Yakety Sax" (Boots Randolph).

Finally, a strange array of recordings identify sounds as direct relations to specific instruments. For example, the adjective "mellow" is used as a descriptor for dozens of instruments, including "(Everytime I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone." Yet it is comic portrayal of mock instrumental virtuosity that seems to attract popular attention on many recordings. …

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