Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Swiss Christmas by the Smothers Brothers—Murfin Winter Holidays Music Festival 2023-‘24

                                                        Some Smothers Brothers Christmas spirit from their 1963 album curb Your Tongue, Knave!

Word came that Tommy Smothers died the day after Christmas at age 86.  Another milestone figure of my generation gone.   Tommy was, of course, one half of the folk/comedy duo The Smothers Brothers.  He was the blonde older brother on the string base, mentally slow and slightly addled who was argumentative and jealous of his brother.  That would be Dick, the supposed brains of the act and a straight man on guitar.  In reality, Tommy was highly intelligent and shrewd and was the main creative force of the pair.

The brothers united as a folk act in the late 1950s and on Tommy’s suggestion added comedy to distinguish themselves from the glut performers during the folk revival.  It worked.  They soon graduated from dingy folk bars to the hippest night clubs on both coasts and Chicago.  In 1961 they recorded their first Mercury LP, the first of many.  Those albums and routines filled hours in bedrooms and dorms.  The same year they made their first television appearance with Jack Parr and became regulars in the comedy roster of the Steve Allen Show.  After a failed one season sitcom they made a deal with CBS-TV for their own hour long variety show with supposed creative control

                        Chicago's Mr. Kelly's, then the city's hippest night club was one of the Smothers Brothers gigs in the early '60s.

The Smothers Brother’s Comedy Hour came on the air in 1967 in the midst of the civil rights movement and urban revolt, Vietnam War protests, and the stirrings of second wave feminism.  The network expected a younger, hipper version of the variety show than those usually fronted by older stars.   It did have a kind of goofy, hippie charm but, mostly a Tommy’s urging became more daring about the issues.  A parade of top rock stars and other musical acts introduced controversial ideas and language challenged increasingly sensitive network censors. 

George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Joan Baez, Buffalo Springfield, Cass Elliot, Harry Belafonte, Cream, Donovan, The Doors, Glen Campbell, Janis Ian, Jefferson Airplane, The Happenings, Peter, Paul & Mary, Spanky and Our Gang, Steppenwolf, Simon and Garfunkel, The Hollies, and The Who were showcased despite the advertiser-sensitive nature of their music.

Pete Seegers appearance was his first appearance on network television since being blacklisted in the 1950s. It became controversial because of his song choice, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, an anti-war parable for the Vietnam War song that the network considered to be an insult to President Lyndon Johnson and his war policy.  It was just the most celebrated of  Tommy’s battles with the censors which only escalated

                                        The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour became a cultural phenomenon.

On April 4, 1969, ironically the first anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the network abruptly canceled the show at the height of it popularity city the Brothers failure to deliver tapes of completed programs to the censors.  It became a cause celeb and Tommy became an outstanding advocate of free speech and First Amendment rights. 

He also became increasingly radicalized and personally engaged in left political action.  Dick was far more conservative, and the brothers were often at real odds.  But they continued to work together until they retired from touring in 2010.  Dick acknowledged that their real differences were part of the chemistry that made the act continue to work.

                                    Tommy Smothers won an Emmy in 2008 for his later show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Today we will share a seasonal song off The Smothers Brother’s most successful album, Curb Your Toung, Nave from 1963 when they were still working mainly in clubs.  It captures the comic schtick between the two,   

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