Category Archives: Uncategorized

Mister Sandman

Here’s The Viper with Edward Burch and Riley Broach of The Famous Orchestra playing “Mister Sandman,” a Pat Ballard song popularized in 1954 by the Chordettes — a vocal group from The Viper’s own hometown of Sheboygan, Wisconsin (and who namecheck Liberace in the 3rd chorus, a fellow Southeastern Wisconsin performer).

right click to download .wav file | right click to download .mp3 file

We recorded this as a scratch track on my tiny little Tascam DR-05 for Riley’s mother and the rest of the sisters Halverson to use as they practice singing this song for Riley’s wedding, coming right up in July!

Edward Burch, Riley Broach, and The Viper rehearse in Champaign, Illinois, June 2013.
Edward Burch, Riley Broach, and The Viper rehearse in Champaign, Illinois, June 2013.

Y Stijn Debrouwere, el rey del América

Madison Match-up Madness, culminating in this moment of mental chess between Milwaukee, WI’s The Viper and Ghent, Belgium’s Stijn Debrouwere. Photo by Rob Henn.

In the summer of 2009, when The Viper and His Famous Orchestra started playing together again after my return to the Midwest, an innocent self-search on Google turned up the fact that a trad jazz band out of Belgium had posted a cover of “Ich Bin Berlin (The Sundown Song),” a Viper and His Famous Orchestra tune recorded for our Everything for Everyone long-playing CD.

What followed was some frenzied e-mails among the members of the Orchestra, some excited comments to the YouTube video, and a correspondence with the Rambling Boys singer/ukulelist, Stijn Debrouwere (including an e-mail interview that you can find here).

On Saturday, August 18, 2012 we finally got to meet up in person. Stijn travelled to Madison, Wisconsin from Cedar Rapids, Iowa (where he’s been working) and The Viper travelled to Madison, Wisconsin from Milwaukee, Wisconsin (where he hasn’t been working).

After dinner with some friends, we all retired to the Spaight Street home of Orchestra trombonist Rob Henn to make some music: everything from Bob Wills, Roger Miller, and Hank Williams through some Stijn Debrouwere orginals and Viper stand-bys.

Rob documented some of this through his laptop camera/mic and posted the results, with some context, to YouTube, which you can see here. This is the long awaited international, trans-Atlantic intersection of The Viper and His Famous Orchestra and The Rambling Boys of Pleasure, playing “Ich Bin Berlin (The Sundown Song)” for your orchestrated pleasure.

August 18, 2012 – The Viper (plus Rob Henn) + Stijn Debrouwere
Madison, WI

October 1, 2011 – The Viper and His Famous Orchestra
PRF Auktoberfyst 2011, Cicero, IL

August 10, 2009 – The Rambling Boys of Pleasure
Ghent, Belgium

Wisconsin Mardi Gras (scheduled for June 5th this year)

On June 5, 2012, Wisconsin will be voting in an historic recall of our current governor, Scott Walker (among others). As a union kind of guy and as a parent of a Milwauke Public Schools student, I present this song which, rather elliptically, makes the case for giving Walker his walking papers and electing Milwaukee mayor (and Washington Heights neighbor) Tom Barrett in his place. Info on the song after the video.

MUSICALLY: What you’re seeing in this recording is the first song I’ve written on piano and, really, my first public performance on the ivory/ebony 88’s. That’s why I look so terrified for so much of the song. Late last year, we inherited a free piano from someone looking to unload it. So by February of this year I decided I was going to learn to actually play something on it. With it being Mardi Gras season and all, I decided that that something was going to be the New Orleans style associated with Professor Longhair — a habanera rhythm on the left hand; 8-to-thebar, “crush” grace notes, and falling arpeggios on the right hand.

The music for this song is basically the result of that: a swiping of “Tipitina,” “Big Chief,” and “Hey, Little Girl” (with some of Louis Jordan’s “Early in the Morning” and Ray Charles’s “Mess Around” around the edges).

VISUALLY: I set up the camera to try to make it look like the way Fats Domino was filmed in the 33 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee television variety special from 1969. I definitely succeeded in the Fats part, belly-wise. You also see me sporting my new Mahlon Mitchell button — free from the Tom Barrett rally with Bill Clinton I’d gone to earlier in the day at Pere Marquette park in downtown Milwaukee.

LYRICALLY: It goes like this (some of which I flub in the version I filmed — like I said, I was terrified and just holding on for dear life):

Don’t let the good times roll
Good times roll too slow
And it might take a push or a shove
To make the bad times go

So let the talkers talk
And let the walkers walk
And if they need a push or a shove, shove with love
And let the bad times roll

There’s a way to tell the story
So that it turns out right
Don’t let the good times flow
They flow too slow
Baby, let the bad times roll.

So tell your Ma and your Pa
Wisconsin Mardi Gras
Is scheduled for June 5th this year
Tout le monde, chantez-les bas

And let the talkers talk
Let’s let the walkers walk
And if they need a push or a shove, shove with love
And let the bad times roll

All y’all can sing it with me:
“Laissez les mal temps roulez
And if you still can recall, the thrill of it all
Baby, let the bad times roll.

…and it’s true. Like Frederick Douglass said: good times don’t just roll — sometimes they need a push or a shove. So let’s get out there and shove (with love).

Set list for July 9, 2010

Two Fridays past, we played a “secret” show (i.e., one we didn’t publicize) for a small but enthusiastic crowd, following a small but enthusiastic potluck, at the Humboldt Park, Chicago home of LeRoy Bach. The guests were met, the feast was set, and Edward Burch, followed by The Viper & His Famous Orchestra provided the merry din.

This was the first of 4 performances from that weekend (set lists and commentary from the other 3 to follow. Here’s what The Viper & HFO played.

  • Sharkin’
  • First Round Polka
  • Atomic Sermon
  • Sharkin’
  • My Seafaring Lassie
  • The Viper’s Blue Yodel no. 6.02 x 10 to the 23rd
  • Uncle Bud
  • Big Headed Small Minded Man
  • Party in the U.S.A.
  • Hey! Rounders
  • Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’

This was our first fully orchestral show since 2009, and featured a ridiculously expanded crew that included The Viper, Riley Broach, Edward Burch, Victor Cortez, Rob Henn, John Peacock, and Kip Rainey, three of whom played the suitcase at any given moment.

Sue Peacock has posted a number of videos from this show to YouTube, including the “Sharkin'” you see above, at:

The lighting is dim and kind of red, but the sound is surprisingly good.


1919 is the title of the second installment of John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy, named for the year in which the spoils of war — such as, oh, say, Iraq and Palestine — were carved up and cobbled together in the nation-building visions dreamed up by the European/American powers-that-were after World War I, a process echoed and answered in the montage form of Dos Passos’s own quadro-cameral novel.

And with two decimal places, $19.19 is also the amount of the check that came in mail for me from CD Baby — my first one — for CD and digital sales of The Viper and His Famous Orchestra’s Everything for Everyone.

Don’t tell me not to spend it all in one place. I already have: in mailing out copies of the recording and sending certified mail to the publishers of songs we covered on The Viper and His Famous Orchestra’s live EP from 2000, A Song for All Seasons, the next CD I’m trying to make available through CD Baby. Since this one was all covers, it’s a bit more work in that regard — mitigated somewhat by the fact that two of the five songs are pre-1923 compositions (and thus public domain), complicated somewhat by the fact that one of the songs (Fats Waller’s “The Rumpsteak Serenade”) interpolates enough of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train” that I’m considering that a whole ‘nuther cover from another mother.

Look for it in about 30 days.