Never-before-heard album is collection of American and British songs dated from 1878 to the 1930s and will be released October 20 on Collectors’ Choice
NEW YORK, N.Y. — In 1976, at the age of 16, Richard Barone — known for his acclaimed solo albums, fronting the ‘80s pop trio the Bongos, and authoring Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth — produced an album for the late Tiny Tim. As a high-school student in Tampa, Barone happened to notice an ad announcing that the artist would be appearing at a roadside TraveLodge on the edge of town and, lacking over-21 IDs, listened from the lobby with two friends. Suddenly the bar door opened and there, clutching his ukulele in one hand and his ever-present shopping bag in the other, stood Tiny Tim. A hotel-room concert for an audience of three ensued, and before you knew it, 16-year-old Barone had booked a ramshackle studio on the edge of Tampa and an album was made. The tapes sat on the shelf, unreleased, for 33 years as Barone pursued other projects — which have included sold-out concert events at the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall, as well as collaborations with artists ranging from Moby to Liza Minnelli.
Finally, these remarkable recordings will be released as the album I’ve Never Seen a Straight Banana on Collectors’ Choice Music on October 20, 2009. The set will include liner notes not only by Barone but also Tiny Tim’s official biographer, Justin A. Martell.
Martell calls Tim “a performer of tremendous caliber and substance, but also a walking encyclopedia of popular songs spanning from the early 1800s to the year of his passing.” He further notes that while best known for his hit cover version of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” his Reprise albums and his wedding to Miss Vicki on the Tonight Show, “a completely unknown 16-year-old boy from Tampa, Fla., saw what [others] could not: a serious artist.”
Barone’s resolute wish of having Tim play exactly what he wanted to “opened the door to getting the best possible and most sincere performances from Tiny Tim. The songs presented are unique in that the majority of them were either rarely or never performed by Tiny Tim elsewhere.”
The album takes listeners through the earliest Edison cylinders all the way through songs by Eddie Cantor (“When They’re Old Enough To Know Better (“It’s Better To Leave Them Alone”), Rudy Vallee (“Vagabond Lover”) and other early 20th century performers up through Bob Dylan (“Like a Rolling Stone”) and a few Tiny Tim compositions like “The Space Ship Song” (the Australian B-side of his 1971 duet with Miss Vicki and of his last Reprise single “Why”), “Dear Tuesday” (a paean to Ms. Weld) and the opening track whose title says it all: “Prelude (What Strange God Designed Me?)” — 17 tracks in all.
The album derives its title from the centerpiece track “I’ve Never Seen a Straight Banana,” whose lyrics were penned in 1926 by Ted Waite. The song was released in various versions throughout the ’20s, written in England and sold to Irving Berlin Music in America. According to Barone, “As fun a song as ‘I’ve Never Seen a Straight Banana’ is, it has an underlying meaning that escaped me as a teenager but is now clear: The search — not only for the unattainable but the virtually unfindable. In a way, that was Tiny’s lifelong quest: The search for perfect beauty. For the perfect showbiz stunt. The perfect song. It was perhaps this eternal search that made him one of the most unique and intriguing popular artists of the 20th century.”
While beginning to write his liner notes, Barone spoke with Rolling Stone senior editor Anthony DeCurtis, inviting him to the “Banana” overdub session/party. Echoing Barone’s own sentiments, DeCurtis said, “Strangely (this) seems so right now.”
“What an honor to spend time in his presence,” says Barone in closing. “God Bless Tiny Tim!”