bronwynbishop on 07/22/2013 at 10:45AM
"Poems urgently needed to set to music! Write clever poems, catchy rhymes. Achieve fame, money in popular music field!" screamed the advertisement in the March 1955 issue of Popular Mechanics. Aspiring songwriters all over the country sent their lyrics and varying sums of money to the New York address at the end of the ad, lured in by the promise that their words would be turned into stellar songs which would be sent to radio stations and record executives- but as it turned out, the music was thrown together in minutes by bored studio musicians, and the songs would be left to languish in obscurity. This was the modus operandi of the song poem industry, a scam which started at the turn of the 20th century and has lurked at the fringes of the music world ever since.
Many song poems have become cult classics, including "Virgin Child of the Universe", "Jimmy Carter Says Yes" and "Green Fingernails". The singers and songwriters who recorded them have gained infamy as well, such as Ramsey Kearney, singer and composer of the infamous "Blind Man's Penis (Peace and Love)". But one man is revered over all others by song poem aficionados. Troubled genius, acid casualty, known as "the Mozart of Song Poems"- Rodd Keith. His weird and wonderful recordings have been compiled in the releases I Died Today, Ecstasy to Frenzy, and Saucers in the Sky. Now Happy Puppy Records has put together a new collection of Rodd's best, from the private archives of collector Bob Purse. This collection includes such gems as "Country Boy," which showcases Rodd's attempt at a Southern twang, the Muzak-esque "Before I Go Out," and the syrupy "If I Had A Million Dollars" (not to be confused with the Barenaked Ladies song, or the Eminem song).
Born Rodney Keith Eskelin in 1937, Rodd showed signs of musical talent at a very young age. He spent his childhood performing in his family's evangelical band, and eventually went out on tour with his first wife, a musician named Bobbie Lee. According to his son, jazz saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, all who knew him emphatically referred to him as a genius. After splitting with Bobbie and becoming part of the psychedelic drug scene in Los Angeles, Rodd turned his talents to the world of song poems. He would set the poems to music in minutes and record up to thirty in one day, with no time for rehearsals or second takes. He knew he was wasting his talent- he considered the work a form of prostitution. Yet he recorded hundreds of the songs, under the names Rodd Keith and Rod Rogers, from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s.
After a few years of cranking out these tunes, Rodd began to decline. His second wife left him and stories of his drug-addled lunacy began to spread. He spoke gibberish, wandered the streets of LA naked, and decorated his apartment with garbage bags. He became obsessed with making a movie with a main character who jumped off a freeway overpass- and in December 1974, Rodd himself died this way. Whether it was suicide or an accident is not known.
So go ahead and listen to the music of a drug-addled genius and the lyrics of a thousand average Joes. Perhaps this collection will inspire you to send your own lyric musings to a song poem company. I hear Ramsey Kearney is still at it. But don't expect the finished product to sound half as good as the ones on this collection, because Rodd Keith was the song poem industry's one and only genius.