Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Remembering a song about “roc” that’s definitely rolled

I first heard a scratchy 78-rpm recording of Slim Gaillard singing Yep-Roc Heresay when I was a kid. I hadn’t heard it again until it popped into my head the other day when I was thinking about dinner.

Slim Gaillard
One of the delights of living in these digital times is that almost every distant memory is within Google’s reach. I not only found the song on iTunes, I found various versions on Web sites, where I also discovered that lots of people remembered the song for the same reasons I did:

It’s catchy, and it makes you hungry.
It’s also quite startling–and great fun—to hear an American jazz musician singing about stuffed grape leaves and bulgur.
How it came to be is a bit mysterious, as is just about everything regarding Gaillard except his playful personality and his talent as a composer, guitarist, pianist and comedian.
Various sources (and Slim himself at various times) claimed he was born in Cuba, or Detroit and that his father was Cuban, or Greek. What seems certain is that he eventually settled in Detroit and developed a stage act playing piano with his hands upside down.
He became well-known in the 1930s and '40s for writing and performing fun songs with lyrics that were either inventive or nonsensical, or both. Among the most familiar is A Flat Foot Floozy with a Floy Floy.
There are variations on the story behind Yep-Roc Heresay but the one we like is this: Before he became successful, Gaillard was living in the basement of a beauty parlor in Detroit. His landlady was an Armenian woman who provided dinner along with lodging. Gaillard liked the food so much he decided to sing about it.
There’s also speculation that he was simply reading from the menu of a Syrian or other Middle Eastern restaurant, but the Armenian connection is bolstered by pronunciations that would be voiced by an Armenian from Turkey or Allepo.
See what you think when you listen to this version posted on Qifa Nabki, a Web site that usually deals with Lebanese politics—and be sure to check out the comments.             

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