The Stranger

Billy Joel Keyboard Book CoverBilly Joel is one of my keyboard heroes. He, with others — Elton John, Keith Emerson, and Herbie Hancock have done much to invite me and my fellow ticklers-of-the-ivory to the front, rather than the back of the band. His song, The Piano Man was in my repertoire during my record-setting (for its brevity) engagement at Cafe Italiano in downtown Birmingham, AL around 1974. His album The Stranger was released in 1977. Our Reflections dance-band, with Roberta, performed a really nice version of “Just The Way You Are” by 1978. Since first hearing it, I wished to eventually record the whistling parts from “The Stranger.”  I was fortunate to find the Billy Joel Keyboard Book online. The book contains a transcription of this piece that, thankfully, spared me needing to transcribe it.

My recording uses my Alesis Ion for the whistling sound. That sound is a modified version of the sound I programmed and used in my version of the Andy Griffith Show theme song. The piano in the recording is the Synthogy Ivory American Steinway Model D. The bass, ride-cymbal, and side-stick snare sounds are produced by my Kurzweil PC3K.

I hope that you enjoy my recording.


The Typewriter

LeroyAndersonCoverBlogVer2Except for this composition, few songs prominently feature a typewriter. In fact, there are, by now, a generation or two of “youngsters” who have never touched or seen a “real” typewriter. I only dreamed when I was the only male in a class of “girls” taking typing at Huntsville High School (1968-1969) how well my 80+ wpm typing-speed would serve me in my college, life, career, and life-after-career.

I became aware of The Typewriter when, a number of years ago, I purchased the pictured volume of Leroy Anderson piano solos. By that time, I already played and likely recorded another of his well-known compositions, Sleigh Ride. Leroy Anderson wrote many pieces that became popular favorites, with many featured by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. The Typewriter has been on the list of pieces I wanted to record since discovering it.

The piano solo arrangement had no included percussion / typewriter notation (that I needed and wanted). I listened to several online recordings and wished to find an easier way to obtain the notation than by transcribing it myself. Free legitimate versions of notation for the piece are not found readily… I found that I could purchase the entire orchestral score for $65; but, I wished to find a less expensive solution to obtain the typewriter / percussion parts. After more searching, I found that I could (and, did) purchase notation for the typewriter / percussion parts for $2. That’s my kind of deal — big-spender that I am… I used this store-bought notation to augment my re-instrumentation of the solo-piano version of the piece.

The typewriter sounds I used are ones that I found online and trimmed, cut-apart, and placed in-time into the recorded arrangement. Because each typewiter-key strike, bell, and carriage-return are discrete soundbites, I was able to arrange them in-time so that the piece’s tempos could fluctuate and breathe without losing synchronization with the typewriter audio/MIDI. All the sounds that are not typewriter are my Kurzweil PC3K8, using the 21st revision of the custom synthesizer program that I created (then, the 11th revision) for 2013’s Christmas At The Keyboard project.

I hope that you enjoy my version.

Memories of Christmas, Volume 2 — 2015

CD Cover Christmas 2015 750x750This year, my Christmas music-project is my selection of your and my favorite songs and carols from previous Christmas projects, 2007-2014. I have included all recordings made by Roberta Silva and me since the first volume of “Memories of Christmas” (2006).

Each of these songs has a rich history. Some of these I will later share. The only new performance for this year had been intended to be a medley that included “Silent Night” and “Adeste Fidelis.” However, 2007’s “Christmas Fantasia” project also includes both of these songs. David Lowe’s included organ arrangement, “Prelude, Fugue, and Toccata on Adeste Fidelis” features the piece again. It seemed that a third arrangement of “Adeste Fidelis” in this year’s project would have been excessive. This recording will wait its turn in an upcoming year’s project.

The included arrangement of the “Hallelujah Chorus” for brass and strings is by me. It is also from 2007. I was never pleased with certain aspects of the 2007 version. So, the 2015 Christmas season, I placed the work back onto the potter’s wheel and gave it a re-spin. Now, in 2017, I’m thinking about throwing it back onto the wheel and giving it another spin… Please stay tuned.

Without hesitation I will say that my favorite piece in this group is the last one, Roberta’s 2008 recording of “Some Children See Him.” I transcribed Dave Grusin’s arrangement of this and “In The Bleak Midwinter” from the “James Taylor At Christmas” CD. I hope that you find the piece and Roberta’s beautiful performance as emotionally moving as I do.

Merry Christmas & Season’s Greetings from Stan Owen, Jr. and Creative Minds’ Music.

Click on the mp3 player to play
Title mp3 Audio Composer
In The Bleak Midwinter mp3 Harold Edwin Darke, arr. Dave Grusin
Christmas Fantasia mp3 Various, arr. Carl F. Mueller
O, Little Town Of Bethlehem mp3 Lewis Henry Redner, arr. Harold DeCou
Do You Hear What I Hear mp3 Gloria Shayne Baker, arr. S. Owen, Jr.
Carol Of The Drum mp3 Katherine Kennicott Davis, arr. Harold DeCou
Go Tell It On The Mountain mp3 Traditional, arr. Harold DeCou
I Wonder As I Wander mp3 John Jacob Niles, arr. S. Owen, Jr.
Sleigh Ride mp3 Leroy Anderson
Willy Evergreen mp3 John Von Spreckelsen, arr. S. Owen, Jr.
Hallelujah mp3 George Frideric Handel, arr. S. Owen, Jr.
Prelude, Fugue, and Toccata on Adeste Fidelis mp3 John Francis Wade, arr. David Lowe
Some Children See Him mp3 Alfred Burt, arr. Dave Grusin

Funeral March of a Marionette

Funeral March of a Marionette

(…in my best Alfred Hitchcock voice) “Good Evening… Tonight, we share the story of an unfortunate marionette who died in a duel. There are exclamations of grief and great sadness by the marionettes and puppets who are part of his troupe.

The funeral procession begins, but is interrupted when the principal participants abandon the procession for libations. Eventually, their period of refreshment ends, the procession resumes and eventually concludes. Everyone then solemnly makes their way home.”


The first version of “Funeral March of a Marionette” was written by Charles Gounod around 1872 and was originally published as a piano piece. It was part of a never-published suite that was intended to mock a then-living, little-regarded-by-Gounod-and-others music-critic. Because the critic died before the suite could be published, the March was extracted from the suite and was first published as “Funeral March of a Marionette.” Later (1879), Gounod arranged the piece for the orchestral instruments heard in this recording.

The Funeral March has been recorded many times over the years, including an early recording by John Philip Sousa. However, it likely gained it’s largest exposure as the opening and closing theme, arranged by Bernard Hermann for Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1962) and the Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962-1965). Hermann featured two short arrangements of the March as the show’s opening and closing theme. The most remembered of these versions is an 8-bassoon arrangement.

I searched for free or online-for-sale versions of the Hermann score(s), but was unable to find them. I began to think that this would be another piece that I would be forced to transcribe. I ordered a 2-CD set containing Hermann’s scores from the Alfred Hitchcock Hour. To do the transcription, I ordered and obtained the CD containing the show’s opening and closing themes. Unfortunately, the versions of the March that are on the CD, at 30 seconds, each, do not contain enough of the composer’s original four minute and a half content. For me, it was “back to the drawing board” for this project…

After additional searching, I found Gounod’s orchestral score available on one of my favorite online resources: the International Music Score Library Project. IMSLP shares music scores that are in the public domain. An unbelievable amount of content is available from them, online.

The Funeral March score includes parts for flute, piccolo, English horn, clarinet, bassoon, tympani, bass-drum, triangle, french-horn, trumpet, trombones, ophicleide (predecessor of the modern-day tuba), violins I & II, viola, cello, and bass-violin. I played and recorded each one of these separately, one at a time, while listening to the ones I’d already recorded. Additional tweaking almost certainly occurred…

I hope that you enjoy my rendition (above).

The “It’s You” Project

It’s You CD cover

This post shares information about my buddy (bassist and barber-extraordinare), Billy Lee’s and my multi-year project, “It’s You.” Before sharing details about our project, a little background information…

Billy Lee and I first met sometime around 1975 while I was playing at the Huntsville (AL, USA) Hilton and he was playing at the Carriage Inn on University Drive. I often went into the Hilton lounge after I finished playing for dinner in the (Hilton) Pepper Tree Restaurant, next door. It was at this time that I met and became friends with the Hilton band members: Pat Huggins (master-of-ceremonies, bassist, and vocalist), Guy Hornbuckle (keyboardist–bandleader), and Danny Harrison (drummer). Danny shared a house near the Carriage Inn with Billy and another fellow, Mike Harrison (no relation to Danny) who has also remained a lifelong friend.

Sometime around 1976, Billy and I joined the Reflections dance band (featuring vocalist, Roberta Silva) at Huntsville’s Sheraton Motor Inn and played there for the next two and a half years. In an extended power-play gone bad for us, the band broke up and Roberta stayed at the Sheraton, forming a new band without us. The story is long and some parts are quite painful, so I’ll summarize. Things were pretty hard for us for a couple of years.

After some time, both of us went back to school — Billy, to become a master-barber and I, to become a software-engineer. Billy and I have remained soul-brothers through these years.

In 1999, not long after I returned to Huntsville from St. Louis, MO, Billy and I began our project to record a selected group of Billy’s original songs. Originally, we planned to record five or six songs from his extensive collection of compositions. We usually managed only one work session per week, and sometimes, weeks and even months transpired without us working at all. It was not until 2004 that we finally considered the project “finished” enough to record to CD. Even at the “end,” I knew there were still many details that Billy wanted to tweak. But, I was impatient, was having many problems with my aged G3 Macintosh computer (replaced in 2006), and wished to be able to say that we were finally “through.” By 2009, I posted the initial version of the project online.

Billy at the piano

Billy at the keyboard in CMM’s Studio #1

On the recordings, Billy sings all lead vocals, plays all guitar parts, and most of the bass parts. Project notes excerpted from emails I sent, 1999 – 2014, indicate that our mutual friend, Bobby Glenn recorded bass on “Like You Did To Me.”

In 2014, I returned to our project to address Billy’s and my concerns. I remixed and remastered the three selections to hopefully resolve most of the issues we had with the first version. I hope that you enjoy 2014’s update of these songs.

The “It’s You” Songs

Like You Did To Me – This was the first song that Billy and I recorded. This catchy tune gives tongue-in-cheek advice to a departing lover. The tune’s guitar-solo features Billy’s iconic guitar styling. Piano and synthesizer-brass parts are played by me. Bobby Shepard played drums.

It's You – This sadly-tender love-ballad is sung by someone willing to do anything for another, one who may not have realized how much they were loved. The song features one of Billy’s finest-ever guitar solos. As arranger, I was able to press the solo into double-duty – to help tie things together at the end of the arrangement. Billy played all keyboard parts on this song. Rusty Reeves played drums.

Baby, Come On Back – Jilted by a heartless lover, this song invites the prodigal back so that the singer can turn the tables and return the favor by walking out the door. Piano and organ parts are played by me. Phil McClendon played drums.

Click to expand “It’s You” project notes, excerpted from my sent emails: 1999 - 2014
Date Commentary excerpted from email sent by SMOjr Date Commentary
9/13/99 (Initial recording session) I helped Billy this evening to begin some recording that I will help him with. 9/16/99 I went after work and got a haircut (from Billy). He’s fine and is excited, I think, that we’re going to work on his songs.
11/15/99 Tonight is the night that I’d arranged to do recording with Billy. I had erroneously arranged for M&D (parents) to come, also, but will offer them a “raincheck.” 11/15/99 Billy just left. We recorded Bass, Guitar, and Piano of his first song (there are 3 we’ll do, initially). Next week we’ll record vocals, and maybe I will beef-up the piano part I (mis)played this eve.
11/22/99 Billy left (from his now weekly Monday night recording session, here) a little before 9. We had quite a productive session — recording two versions of his vocal solo, fixing one flubbed measure on the bass audio part, and for fun, generating a set of harmony vocals (that we won’t probably keep…). 11/29/99 Billy left from our weekly Monday-night session a few minutes ago. We have almost finished the first song of 3. I would feel like we’re slow, but I know that many bands take a year to record an album…
12/6/99 Billy begged off from our weekly recording tonight because of having a sore-throat and mild cold. I told him I thought that was a good idea. 1/5/00 Billy and I got a good bit done on his 2nd song, tonight. He recorded a bass part and a couple of keyboard tracks. We spent about 2 hours, and that took the eve.
1/10/00 Billy and I recorded 3 takes of his vocal for the 2nd song. Maybe I’ll have a mix by the w/e of the 21st. 1/11/00 I don’t know where the evening has gone. I worked for a while on listening to the various miking techniques that I used last night to record Billy — trying to decide which “sound” that I like best. Also, trying to decide how to get a still-better vocal performance from him…
1/24/00 I worked with Billy this eve. We re-recorded the lost Bass and Guitar parts. And, we’re finally getting the first (song) whipped into shape, and are making progress on the second (song). 2/6/00 May do a little work this morning to try to split Billy’s session which is a long linear recording which has 3 songs — into 3 separate sequences which will enable easier manipulation, etc.
2/7/00 Then, I worked with Billy till nearly 8. We fixed a bass part into which I’d accidentally recorded keyboard also. 3/27/00 (To friend, Kenny regarding his proposed Tuesday visit) Actually both Billy and Rusty are planning to come. Rusty is bringing some old tapes of the Reflections and his recorder for dubbing. I doubt that, of all times, Tuesday will be good…. Too bad Tuesday’s your only available time… Que Malo.
4/25/00 Had a recording work-session this evening with Rusty and Billy. We, for the first time, set up Rusty’s (own) MIDI drum “machine,” and I showed him how to best set it up for our future work together. He didn’t know much about using it in a MIDI setup such as mine, so the tutelage was both appreciated and needed. Billy knows that this work is ultimately to benefit his songs, so he was “right in there.” 5/2/00 I’ve spent the eve working with Billy and Rusty, beginning recording of a new tune from Billy. Tonight Billy recorded a piano part, bass part, and Rusty “laid down” a drum part. Since they left about 8 I’ve done little except eat my evening “meal.”
5/16/00 Then we had our weekly recording session. We recorded a vocal track. It had been so long since last recording vocals, that I could scarcely remember how… 🙂 5/23/00 Billy came by for a while this eve (Tues), and I got a copy of words to the (new) song of his that we’ve recently started recording.
6/20/00 Worked with Billy this eve. Had crashing problems with Performer when we tried to record. It happened several times consecutively. I realized that the problem reminded me of a problem discussed previously on “the list” (Performer users). To make a long story shorter, the email I’d saved was, indeed, relevant. And, making the corrections suggested in the mail, fixed my problem. 6/27/00 Worked this eve with Billy. Bobby Glenn is in town and came with Billy. Bobby re-recorded a bass part for the song of Billy’s we’re working on at the moment.
7/11/00 Then this eve I worked with Billy. We recorded one track and worked only about and hour, and talked for a while more. 7/12/00 (From sister, Cathy)

glad you got a little bit of practice in tonight with Billy, Morris.

It’s not practice. I’m recording Billy.

7/18/00 (From sister, Cathy)

Hope you have a good recording session tonight with

We worked from 6 till 7. So, that wasn’t that long.

1/14/03 I’ve still got some wiring to do before resuming vocal recording here. I need to run mic cables from the upstairs studio to both downstairs rooms.
6/12/03 I’ve been up this morning working, readying audio files for upload to Bobby Shepard. He will record drum tracks for Billy’s songs. This first go-round is a test to see what will be the audio file format we will use for exchange. I’m hoping for a minimal required conversion(s) (it’s often a multi-step conversion process). That could get to be tedious. The first “test file” is uploading as I’m writing this. It’s nice to have ADSL fast-Internet. But the “A” part of ADSL is asynchronous — which means simply that uploads can be MUCH slower than downloads. (Now, it looks like the 18 minute transfer may have failed. I don’t know what happened. Oh, well!! That, and my machine locking-up about 3 times this morning while doing conversions, etc. Lot’s of fun). 7/23/03 Billy and I worked last eve. And, that also went pretty well. We re-recorded the vocals to one song — and got a vocal that was much more to our liking than the one it replaced.
7/29/03 P.S. This is Billy’s and my recording night (unless he cancels….) 8/1/03 I have been working on vocal processing using the MU100R over the last few days — trying to regenerate harmony vocals for Billy’s song. The harmony vocals were sounding quite bad. I finally discovered several reasons and generated an initial, new harmony vocal track last evening. I’m still not quite happy with it and will work with it a little more this morn.
11/30/03 (Note to drummer, Bobby Shepard) I have FTP uploaded 3 files from Billy’s “Baby, Come on Back”: a vocal mix, an instrumental mix, and a MIDI file with matching tempo map and a track with a side-stick snare click (you may/will need to appropriately reassign MIDI channel and note…). The audio files are 48K / 16 bit Windows WAV files. They should sit at T-zero (flush at the beginning) of the midi file. 5/18/04 This evening Billy and Phil McClendon (drummer) will come here to record the final drum track on the last of 4 or 5 songs that Billy and I have been working (?) on since ’98, or so….. Unbelievable that I’ve had to be the one to consistently drive this project along…… Maybe with one more sustained push from me — we can get this project “in the can….”
5/25/04 Tonight, I (supposedly) work with Billy, here. I worked last evening rendering MIDI drum tracks (recorded last week) to audio. I then “moved” them to the upstairs studio and put them into place in the normal project. So, in the event that Billy does visit tonight, that’s what I’ll be doing this eve. 5/27/04 Then I worked with problems in my studio last evening. I moved Billy’s project from my internal hard-drive to my external hard-drive. And, although I had different problems — It was a still completely frustrating experience with the computer “locking-up,” etc. every time I tried to record and even play…… I have one more option to try — moving the project BACK to the Jaz cartridge drive (where it began). Maybe, just maybe, this will allow me to finish on this computer without having to move downstairs. I really don’t
want to do that because of having to move my studio monitors down there and also because I’m not accustomed to the acoustics down there. I’ll try copying the project to the Jaz drive and will keep my fingers crossed.
6/15/04 I’m wondering whether Billy will remember tonight’s (scheduled) work-session. Hopefully, we will make the rear CD cover tonight and he will select from one-or-the-other of the two designs for the front cover that I have made…. 6/16/04 Speaking of getting something / anything done — Billy and I finished the CD cover last night. And, that’s one project that’s “in the can” as the expression goes. I guess that the origin of that is probably from film, and is speaking of the film canister….. (?).
1/19/14 I performed the “re-record” of all three of Billy’s songs yesterday. However, on my final check, I was STILL not happy with the reverb (too much ambience) on one of the vocals. So, this morning I will re-work that one mix, one more time. After that I will crank up the CD factory to make both a few of the Billy CD and also a few more of my Christmas CD, to have a few extra on hand (I only have one left).