The Sunday Football-Related Music Post: Amateur Efforts

lebeauIn one of the early posts in this series we looked at the practice routine of a professional musician and the workout routine of an NFL player. The musician was my son, and I just went to hear him play in Carnegie Hall, so I guess practice really does get you there. The NFL player was Clay Mathews, and he seems to have had a pretty reasonable career too.

But this does not mean that music cannot be an enjoyable avocation for a NFL player, and we’re going to look at some examples of this in the weeks to come, in varying degrees of competency.

The idea for this entire Football-Related Music series was actually spurred by Bob Labriola, whose “Asked and Answered” column on steelers.com is one of my favorite features. It has also resulted in ideas and materials for many a column on this site, which would probably annoy Labriola to no end, so let’s not tell him. Here is the item:

Q: The Pro Bowl is the least entertaining event in all of professional sports. Do you think it would, “spice up the game” by having players switch offensive and defensive positions? Meaning, if you are an offensive player, you must play a defensive position in the Pro Bowl, and vice versa. Some players have already made the switch during this contest anyway.

A: I say we give all of them musical instruments and ask them to play Beethoven.

In effect, that’s what Cam Heyward did last December. (Okay, it wasn’t Beethoven, it was Scott Joplin, which is close enough). Heyward attempted to join the members of the Pittsburgh Symphony who were performing for the team on string bass, obviously at the invitation of the actual bass player. It did not go well, and he gave up. But at least he tried. None of the others did, although some of them played percussion instruments later in the video. Not very well. So far Heyward wins the competition. You can watch the video here.

Dick LeBeau didn’t play Beethoven during his career with the Detroit Lions, but he played the guitar, and one of my favorite passages from George Plimpton’s “Paper Lion” concerned the young defensive back’s musical endeavors:

LeBeau was from Ohio, with a pronounced Mid­western twang, nasal and slow, which made the songs he put to his guitar quite incomprehensible, though fetching: gentle songs full of melancholy and poverty, one supposed, and love unrequited.

It’s a shame LeBeau never put his “Night Before Christmas” reading to music.

While looking for a picture of him to post, I ran across a 2010 cantonrep.com article about LeBeau which contained the following marvelous quote:

He has a dry sense of humor that could come off as both smart and strange.“I am thinking of becoming a spiritualistic medium,” LeBeau told Sport magazine in 1967. “I have a talent for that. I recently discovered that I can bring back Ben Franklin if I can just hit the E minor on my guitar. Old Ben really digs E minor.”

Author Steve Doerschuk goes on to say:

Had he played in New York, LeBeau might have showed up on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” He taught himself guitar as a young adult and soon was writing and performing songs. Playing in the Joe Schmidt Trio, featuring Lions teammates Schmidt and Bruce Maher, he cut a record from which his song, “The Lonesome One,” got some radio play time.

Naturally, I would link a sound file or video of this song if I could find one, but alas, it appears to have disappeared into the mists of time. (They made the recording in 1963.)

Many NFL players seem to make a sort of sound track for their lives—specifically workout music and songs to get them pumped up to play. In fact, Von Miller danced to the song he uses this way a few weeks ago on Dancing With the Stars.:

As with Dick LeBeau, making music, or what passes for it, can also be an important part of their downtime. It can get much more elaborate if they unavoidably have a lot of downtime. I covered Le’Veon Bell’s rap mixtape a few weeks ago. The downtime was due to the knee injury he was rehabbing. But did you know PacMan Jones also used some downtime to make an album?

In his case, it was the downtime associated with his indefinite suspension from the NFL after his 2007 arrest. The album, or more accurately, the single he recorded was supposed to headline an album with his hip-hop group Posterboyz. He planned to release the album on his record label, “National Street League Records.” It would seem, though, that the NFL felt his label’s name infringed on its trademark, and that was pretty much the end of his music career. Talk about the No Fun League. In this case it was probably warranted, though.

The single was called “Let It Shine,” and as far as I could determine from the brief sample I made myself listen to, it is based on the old camp song “This little light of mine.” The original composer is doubtless turning over in his grave. As I wrote those words I realized I had no idea who wrote the song, or whether anybody does. Here’s what turns out to be an interesting story about this song, from a site called Tincanland:

This Little Light of Mine was written in the 1920s as a song for children by a white northern pastor/music teacher, Harry Dixon Loes. Inspired by one or more of several Gospels which reference the Lord’s shining light, it became a staple of Sunday School teaching across the U.S.

It was in 1952 when The Ward Singers, legendary pioneers of the modern gospel sound, turned it into a ‘gospel’ song for adults. Soon after, Zilphia Horton adapted it further still and taught it to Pete Seeger (as she did with We Shall Overcome) and other folk singers of the 1950s. It became a Civil Rights anthem, generally assumed to be a symbolic old slave song from the south.

Not surprisingly, This Little Light of Mine can be performed in pretty much any manner you please. I’ve found over 30 distinct versions.

The author of the piece (unidentified) goes on to enumerate the various musicians who have performed it, from Yo Yo Ma to Etta James. S/he goes on to say:

No matter who is singing, This Little Light of Mine remains a most powerful song of personal freedom, and no matter the style, some of the child-like jubilation and wonder found in that original children’s hymn still shines through every time.

This convinces me that the author did not find the PacMan Jones version. If you want to hear it, you can do so here. I can’t bring myself to embed it in my post. It just feels way too wrong…

As you can see, it’s amazing what you find when you start digging around, and I will feature some of the things I’ve discovered in future posts. I’ll just end with a Steelers-related item, and a rant.

Did you know that Ben Roethlisberger appeared in a music video in 2006? I sure as heck didn’t:

Ben Roethlisberger has agreed to appear in the video for the song “Mr. Right Now” by the PovertyNeck Hillbillies, the Fayette County-based country music band that recently signed a national deal with Rust Records.

The PovertyNeck Hillbillies celebrated the June 6 release of their first national album — a self-titled CD and DVD combo — Friday night with a concert at the Chevrolet Amphitheatre at Station Square.

“Mr. Right Now” has enjoyed success among fans throughout Western Pennsylvania, but the single will be released nationally, along with the new video featuring Roethlisberger, later this month.

The Rooney family, which owns the Steelers, named the PovertyNeck Hillibillies as the official band of the team earlier this year.

And since I know you want to know these things, here is the “behind the scenes” video of the video:

But alas, apparently having Ben Roethlisberger on your music video isn’t enough to keep a band going. As Scott Mervis, music critic of the Post-Gazette, reported in January 2008:

The PovertyNeck Hillbillies, a regional band that at one time seemed primed for country stardom, has called it quits — for now.

Don’t despair, though—some of the original members have reformed (in 2012) under the name “The Hillbilly Way.”

<rant> And finally, I can’t avoid mentioning the height of amateurism (and sadly, not in the original sense of the word). Yes, I’m talking about the Steelers Christmas carol videos with which they began assaulting the ears of Steelers Nation about four or five years ago.

It’s not terribly surprising that most football players aren’t particularly good singers. I can accept this. What I can’t accept is that the entire premise of the exercise is to make it as bad as possible. I have this straight from the lips of Teresa Varley, who told me that it wouldn’t be nearly as funny if they were trying to sing well.

I suppose I never considered that the point of a Christmas carol video, released as a thank you to a fan base, is to be funny, and that it would be best if it were not be possible to make out which carol was actually being sung at any given moment without the aid of subtitles. Silly me.

Some of the players have decent voices. This would generally the positions which don’t require serious weight-lifting. (It does something to your vocals cords that isn’t good, or so I was told by a voice teacher who had sung for some years at the Metropolitan Opera.)

But it should be an easy enough matter to audition everyone who thinks they can sing and offer some incentives to those who sing well enough (or at least can carry a tune). They would have to agree to the extra time and effort to put out a video (preferably during the off-season, when they aren’t already way too busy) which would be enjoyable to listen to.

sorry about that…</rant>

That’s all for now. But there are plenty more amateur efforts (many of which are unfortunately also amateurish) to feature in the coming weeks. Interleaved will be actual experts in their craft, starting with a Super Bowl sized surprise next week…

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