CTI 1004 – Oklahoma Toad – Dave Frishberg
Herb Alpert, in one of his interviews with Dr. David Schroeder, in the NYU Steinhardt Jazz Studies series, said:
Masters used to be floating around in the Sixties, someone would record a group, they’d play it for you and if you liked it, you could bring it into the company for distribution.Conversations with Herb Alpert and Lani Hall – May 6, 2015. https://youtu.be/2cPQirn_f3A
As we’ve seen in the Taylors Dozen series, this was an easy, and probably inexpensive way, for Creed to launch the newly independent, CTI Records. A bought in master is pretty much the story of Oklahoma Toad, except it’s both simpler and more complicated than that.
So much of what is here, is researched, but supposition. I was hoping to talk to Dave Frishberg, but couldn’t. I’ve included a look at Dave Frishberg’s time in New York in the 1960’s in. See “Background” below.
For a more detail look at what Creed was doing at this time, and the producers of this album, Margo Guryan and David Rosener, see “CT 1000 – The “popular” label“. Open a new browser tab, press play, and listen to the album while reading on!
I was unable to find a streaming or online source for the Taylor/CTI mix. I recorded the Frishberg album in mono after forgetting to change a switch on my PS Audio NPC, and my turntable has gone for an upgrade, so I can’t rerecord the album yet. Here is the full album, in mono, imagine it’s 1970, the FM transmission might be in stereo, but your car radio only has one speaker.
Doug Payne’s CTI Discography Entry for Oklahoma Toad
New York City and Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: prob. c. 1969
Bill Berry (tp,flhrn); Garnett Brown (tb); Al Cohn (ts); Sol Schlinger (bs); Dave Frishberg (p,el-p,org,clav,vcl,arr); Stuart Scharf (g); Russell George (b); Herb Lovelle (d).
a. One Horse Town (Dave Frishberg) – 3:25
b. Van Lingle Mungo (Dave Frishberg) – 2:45
c. The Secret Of Success (Dave Frishberg) – 2:30
d. Oklahoma Toad (Dave Frishberg) – 3:30
e. The Prophet Of Doom (Dave Frishberg) – 3:40
f. Rocky Mountain Water (Dave Frishberg) – 2:55
g. You Can’t Go (Dave Frishberg) – 2:25
h. Wallflower Lonely, Cornflower Blue (Dave Frishberg) – 2:23
i. Nasty Nasty Habit (Dave Frishberg) – 2:25
j. I Don’t Believe You (Dave Frishberg) – 4:30
Note: CTI 1004 was reissued on vinyl in 2004 and can be detected by the replacement of the original’s cardboard cover stock with a more contemporary card stock and the (mistaken?) replacement of the original’s green label with the orange and red label used by CTI following this LP’s original issue.
Issues: a-j on CTI 1004, CTI (Jap) SR-3306, Vivid (Jap) VSCD 723 [CD]. a-u on Muzak (Jap) MZCS-1224/1225 [CD].
Singles: b & i also on CTI CT-509 .
Producer: David Rosner and Margo Guryan
Engineer: Warren Schatz, Larry Schnapf. “Re-recorded and mastered by Rudy Van Gelder.”
Jacket: Cover photo courtesy of The Museum of Natural History. Tony Lane (design).
Released: July 1970, with both white promo and green general release labels. Runout etchings on green label release include 6-18-70
How Did The Oklahoma Master Come to Creed?
The “Oklahoma Toad” album was produced by David Rosner and Margo Guryan for Daramus Productions. Unlike the other four albums in the original green label CTI 1000 series, this was the only album not to carry the Creed Taylor signature.
Daramus had bought another master to Creed, John Martine’s “Train Station” which was released as CT 506, and was released in May 1970. Like most of the CT100x albums, the recording for the Frishberg master session was made in late 1969. It was recorded at the Associated Recording Studios in New York and the Creed Taylor, CTI released version was re-engineered and overdubbed by Rudy Van Gelder at his studios in Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
Based on Billboard and Cash Box magazine articles, Frishberg’s album came out in July, with the single in August 1970. Which is consistent given what we know about the release numbers used for the CT5xx 45/single releases, and the CT1xxx album releases.
In March of 1970, The New York Times reported that Dave was playing sideman as part of a new 16-piece jazz orchestra, Billy Berry and the New York Band. By January of 1971, the New York Times again reported that Frishberg was sideman to Jimmy Rushing. The 8-monhs in between seem to have been taken up with TV performances and promotional work which was primarilly due to the success of one track, “Van Lingle Mungo” from the album “Oklahoma Toad“. This track changed the course of Dave’s career. Based on magazine listings from the time[See image gallery], Dave did performances on the Dick Cavett show and CBS-TV “Comedy Tonight”.
Cash Box magazine, June 6th issue, Page-18, reported the album was scheduled for release in June, and reported “CTI Records has signed Dave Frishberg, a contemporary singer-composer to a long term contract.” I’ve not seen a press release or anything else that substantiates either of those claims, so I’m guessing that was rumor, bar-talk, opportunistic reporting. Nothing else from Dave was released on CTI, not even a second single from the album, and Dave moved to the west coast in 1971.
Oklahoma Toad – The Album
Frishberg himself has said very little about the album. This comes from his memoir:
David Rosner entered my life back in New York in the late 1960s, when I was hustling my songs around to different publishers. Our mutual friend Margo Guryan (who subsequently married David) had brought me to Rosner’s office at April Music to show him my new song “Oklahoma Toad.” I was trying earnestly at that time to write “contemporary’,” and David and Margo took me and my writing very seriously. I was under the spell of the Four B’s—Beatles, Beach Boys, Bacharach, and the Brazilians—and David and Margo shared my enthusiasm.
I was continuing to write songs for other people to sing, Rosner was publishing them, and in the process of making demos I became interested in performing the songs myself, because after all, I knew how they were supposed to go. I wrote a handful of what I considered “country’ western” songs, a few baleful ballads, and a few novelty songs that bordered on the surrealistic.
About a year later, David and Margo produced my first album, all original songs, aimed at the youthful market. The LP, titled Oklahoma Toad, came out in 1970 on the CTI label. One of the songs, “Van Lingle Mungo,” got some airplay and spontaneous publicity in the sports pages nationwide.“My Dear Departed Past”, chapter-5, P120, – Dave Frishberg, ISBN 978-1-4950-7130-0
And this from a private email between Margo Guryan, one of the producers, and myself.
Dave considered Oklahoma Toad to be his “jazz” album -and that Daramus, Inc., Margo and David’s production company, had tried to put it out, before turning to Creed.Margo Guryan to reply via personal email. August 31st, 2020.
As documented on Arnaldo Desouterio’s Jazz Station blog
“After Dave, Margo and I finished recording and mixing, I presented the album to Creed Taylor,” says David Rosner, Frishberg’s music publisher and the album co-producer. “Creed loved what he heard and agreed to release it on his CTI label – provided he could do some additional recording, re-sequence the tracks and re-mix the album.”Dave Frishberg’s cult album for CTI is being reissued today as a 2-CD set – https://jazzstation-oblogdearnaldodesouteiros.blogspot.com/search?q=frishberg
Creed Taylor took the original multi-track tapes (engineered by Warren Schatz & Larry Schnapf) to his longtime collaborator Rudy Van Gelder, who did the mixing and the mastering at his famous Van Gelder Studio in New Jersey.
Comparing the two different mixes, you may have the false impression that some horn overdubs – by people like Al Cohn & Garnett Brown – were added by Creed at Rudy’s. “Creed didn’t add the horns. We recorded them at Associated,” reveals Rosner. “We – Margo, Dave and I – used them sparingly when we mixed, especially in “Van Lingle Mungo”, whereas Creed seemed to have used everything on the tape.”
Taken as a pure jazz album, I can see why Frishberg didn’t like the end result. It’s not clear though why Rosner/Guryan couldn’t find another label for Frishberg. That it was perceived of as a jazz album with singing, is problematic and in itself is enough “to start an argument”[see Jimmy Rushing article in image gallery above]. However, compared to many tracks in the Billboard Hot 100 for 1970, I think the Taylor/CTI tracks hold up well. It some respects, very well.
This is especially true for the non-country music styled tracks “Oklahoma Toad, Van Lingle Mungo, One Horse Town, You Can’t Go”, while “Rocky Mountain Water“, is a fine pop-song circa 1970; Fifty Years later, “The Prophet Of Doom” and “I Don’t Believe You” vie for the best track on the album.
James Taylor, Simon & Garfunkel, The Carpenters, The Hollies all had massive hits in 1970. Frishbergs offering holds up very well now to compared to chart hits like Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers“, Joe South’s “Walk A Mile In My Shoes“, Michael Parks’ “Long Lonesome Highway“, and certainly for me, is better than almost anything from that year by The Doors and Creedence Clearwater Revival, who multiple had top 20 hits in 1970.
A Tale Of Two Mixes
Comparing the two mixes of the tracks and albums, the Taylor/CTI mix has weathered much better than the Frishberg/Guryan/Rosner production. Their mix reminds me much more of 1970. I can close my eyes and imagine the tracks coming from a series of movies. Which is ironic, since much of the Taylor/CTI output that came after the Frishberg album is heavily orchestrated jazz more suited to movie soundtracks. The Rosner/Guryan mix of “Van Lingle Mungo” could have been played during the credits with the names of the bandits in the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, and included on the soundtrack album.
Today there is understandable confusion over what was the CTI release, and what the Daramus Rosner/Guryan mix of the album.
Before you even hear any of the tracks, you can tell which version it is by the cover artwork. The original album and the 2004 re-issue has the CTI Records logo, and Stereo CTI 1004 top left. Dave Frishberg’s name is split across two lines in the CTI release and on the CD release, on a single line. The album artwork on the CTI releases use a flat font with an outline, the streaming versions use a similar font, that has a more three dimensional appearance. The CTI re-issue in 2004, as Doug Payne noes, retained the original cover, track sequence, but the labels were changed.
The track sequence is also different, the CTI album starts with “One Horse Town“, where as the Rosner/Guryan’s producers mix starts out with “Nasty, Nasty Habit” and sets a very different tone for the following tracks. Finally, the Rosner/Guryan producers mix, adds in “The Ballard Of Ralph Nader”, which wasn’t written and recorded until 1971, and was updated by Dave Frishberg and distributed by Nader’s campaign during Naders run for President of the United States in 2000.
If you listen to the album on any of the streaming services, Spotify, Pandora, Youtube Music, Amazon Music, Tidal, Deezer, Apple Music/Itunes, you will be listening to the Rosner/Guryan mix. To the best of my knowledge, the only way to hear the Creed Taylor production, you either have to get a vinyl copy, or the confusingly titled “Producers Edition”, released as noted by De Souteiros in 2010 in Japan and distributed by Muzak Inc. Hence, the youtube video above.
How did the final album mix change? Using my vinyl copy of the album, this is a comparison of the track “Van Lingle Mungo“. The first two samples are where you can hear the difference. The first 30-seconds are the Rosner/Guryan mix; the second the Taylor/CTI mix, followed by two more 30-second samples of later Frishberg recordings, The third sample is from the 1991 Concord Jazz, “Dave Frishberg Classics CD“; and the fourth from the 2006 Arbors Records, “Dave Frishberg Retromania CD” [links to these can be found via the discography]
The wave form shows perfectly that the Taylor/CTI rendition is more dense, richer, and how overtime, almost 36-years, Frishbergs treatment has almost become a vocal only, with a little tinkering on the keys. I’ll cover the “Van Lingle Mungo” 45/single in it’s own entry for Taylors Dozen.
The November 26th issue of down beat magazine carried a longer review of the album, and while Dave and producer Margo Guryan might have considered this Dave’s “Jazz album”, down beat editor Dan Morgenstern didn’t. He ended his review with
I hope this album, or at least some of its songs, makes it big. Then, perhaps, we’ll get that long-overdue jazz LP featuring Frishberg as an instrumentalist (a role in which, so far, he’s only been recorded on a Jimmy Rushing BluesWay LP). It will be a treat, for Frishberg is one of the best jazz pianists around today, not to slight his other talents.Dan Morgenstern, down beat magazine, Nov. 26th, 1970 – page 21-22
Did Dave Frishberg just want to be a sideman?
Listen to Dave playing “Oklahoma Toad” live, excerpt from “Judy Carmichael’s Jazz Inspired” podcast Episode 292. The CTI album track sounds nothing like this, get. A link to the full Judy Carmichael Jazz Inspired podcast interview with Dave can be found in “More Information/References” section at the end, it’s well worth a listen if you are interested in Dave Frishberg.
I have to wonder though, if Dave Frishberg hadn’t made “Van Lingle Mungo“, at a time when the US was still very much in love with the national pastime of Baseball, if it hadn’t made radio play, and late night TV appearances, if Dave would have gone on to be a very successful jazz/pop pianist, who also wrote songs, rather than a lyricist who writes understated, sarcastic, ironicin observational songs, and performs them at the piano.
When I started “Taylor’s dozen”, I was hopeful that I could actually get to speak with some of the people that were involved with those very early singles. Dave Frishberg seemed like a great candidate. Dave has given many interviews, has even been on NPR “Fresh Air” three times to my knowledge. In addition to Dave, one of the two producers of his Oklahoma Toad album, Margo Guryan has an active Instagram account.
In general, perhaps because of his status, as a cultural bellwether through his song lyrics, Dave Frishberg has been more than generous with his time with interviewers, radio, television and even his biography. So while I could not talk to Dave directly, I feel that I’ve been submerged in “Frishberg” through the enormous amount of material available.
Despite a long career and numerous successes in the music business, Dave isn’t well and has a Go Fundme page to help support him (see below). I tried to reach out via the Go Fundme organizer multiple times, but alas no response.
I did make contact with Jonathan Rosner, whose father, David Rosner was Frishberg’s publisher, Jonathan put me in touch with Margo Guryan, who agreed to answer some questions. I sent a long email question list, not just about her work with Frishberg, but also with John Martine, whose CT 506 single Guryan and Rosner also produced. In addition some questions about her time working for Creed. Margo graciously declined to answer so many questions, it was a rookie mistake by me. Margo did offer some recollections, which I’ll use as appropriate.
Frishberg – The Song Writer
While playing piano, Dave was also putting his journalism degree to use by writing songs. Dave would often both perform with, and write with Bob Dorough. It was with Dorough that Frishberg wrote his first big hit, “I’m Hip“, sung and performed on piano by Blossom Dearie in 1966. Frishberg went on to write a number of other, cocktail bar, populist easy listening tunes, such as “Peel Me A Grape“, also performed by Dearie, covered by Anita O’Day and many others in ’66 and beyond.
Over the next 20-years, Dave would become a beloved institution for quirky, modern retrospectives on American life. In 1997, Dave would even write a tribute to the iconic NPR Fresh Air radio show, called “Fresh Air Fanatic”, to celebrate the shows 10th anniversary in 1997. It was never clear though that this was the destiny Dave wanted. This would have been part of what I’d like to have explored with Dave.
In this clip, from Oregon Art Beat PBS show, in 2010, Dave explains how is happy place is Portland, where he can just be a jazz pianist.
Frishberg – The Piano Man
Dave Frishberg had come to New York after his two years of National Service, spent interestingly in the Air Force recruiting organization, putting his journalism degree from the University of Minnesota to good use, writing articles for servicemen being decommissioned. He landed a job within a day of arriving in New York, writing “continuity” material for WNEW.
Within a year he was able to secure a union card[see image gallery above], and became a regular pianist at jazz clubs in the Village. Dave went on to become a highly rated pianist and performed live with many of the jazz greats of the period including Kai Winding (’59-60)- Dave toured with Winding to promote/support Winding’s recording for ABC-Paramount, produced by Creed Taylor; Carmen McRae (’60-61); Eddie Condon (’61-64); Gene Krupa Quartet and Ben Webster (’62-63); and importantly, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims (’63-71). he was much in demand as a sideman. Dave also recorded with Sal Salvador Big Band, Dave can be seen at the piano on the cover of the 1963 “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet!” album[See image gallery].
During a long engagement at the Shalimar Club on Lennox Avenue, he introduced his latest discovery, a brilliant young pianist named Dave FrishbergLiving with jazz by Morgenstern, Dan; Meyer, Sheldon – P325 when discussing Ben Webster
Dave was one of two established pianists for the house bands at the Half Note in the Village (Hudson and Spring Streets, 1957-1971). Dave played with the Al Cohn and Zoot Sims combo. The other house band at the time was Bob Brookmeyer Quartet. The members of the two bands would often stand-in for each other. There is even a 1979, album “Suitably Zoot” on which Frishberg and both bands perform.
During the same period Dave was at the Half Note, a number of live albums were recorded there, including Wynton Kelly Trio featuring Wes Montgomery, “Smokin’ At The Half Note“, produced by Creed Taylor. A year later, Montgomery would win his first Grammy for “Goin’ Out Of My Head”.
While there is nothing I can find that says Creed knew Dave at that time, it’s reasonable to assume that Creed had seen Dave perform as a pianist. Through Brookmyer, I assume, Dave had met Margo Guryan.
Dave Frishberg gofundme – please help if you can [via gofundme]
Okalahoma Toad [via discogs master recording]
Dave Frishberg Discography [via Dave Frishbergs own website]
My Dear Departed Past – Dave Frishberg memoir/biography. ISBN 978-1-4950-7130-0
Interview with Dave Frishberg [via Judy Carmichel’s Jazz Inspired]
Dave Frishberg [via discogs artist page]
The biographical encyclopedia of jazz – Leonard Feather/Ira Gitler. ISBN 0-19-5-07418-1
Al Cohn and Zoot Sims at The Half Note [via Jazz Profiles]
Some Lost Jazz Clubs of the Village [via WestView News]
Suitably Zoot [Album listing on discogs]
Smokin’ At The Half Note [Album master release on discogs]
David Amram On Blossom Dearie [via Marc Myers Jazzwax]
Numerous NPR radio interviews and articles [via npr.org]
Updated 10/15/2020: Added link to CT 1000 post.
Updated 10/20/2020: Changed single date to August 1970 based on down beat/run out etchings.
Updated 10/20/2020: Added green label runout etchings
Updated 11/11/2020: added album reception heading and down beat review qoute