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Elephants may be my favorite animals in Africa, It’s probably because they’re always doing something interesting. Even if they’re just eating I can watch them for hours, amazed at the skill with which they maneuver their trunk. This video, I shot at Lebala Camp in Botswana, is an example of how entertaining their eating can be. The fact they were snacking on water lilies just a few yards from my room made the experience even better. Also the elephants are helping me send mother’s day flowers to Betty who’s been an incredible mother to our kids. I know it’s a week early, but I’m out of the country on the official day.
Harry Connick Jr. got a lot of attention this week for his honesty as a mentor on American Idol. His honesty & humor were on full display in 1989 when I interview him about playing jazz & the sound track for “When Harry Met Sally.” He also showed off some serious piano chops and gave a funny critique of rock & roll, & new age music.
Roy Rogers was a part of every Saturday for a lot of kids growing up in the 40.s, 50’s, & 60’s. He was the “King of the Cowboys”, but he wasn’t just an actor playing a role, he really was an expert horseman, an excellent shot, and a good singer and all three skills were on display in his movies and TV shows. Best of all he was a truly nice guy. Several years ago I went to his museum to interview Roy & Dale, meet Trigger & Bullet, (both stuffed & mounted) and then on to Nashville where he was recording an album of duets with country music stars.
Roy told me that when he asked for a raise at Republic Picture where he was a top box office draw, the head of Republic told him no. Roy then said, “I want the rights to my name and likeness.” They said, “OK, that’ll never be worth anything. He went on to put his name and image on everything, from clothing to comic books and became the second biggest licensee behind Disney.
Enjoy this look back at the career of a guy who was once the number one box office star in the world and whose picture was on the lunch boxes of most grade school boys in the 50′s. .
Just because you miss a few notes every time you sing doesn’t mean you can’t be a singer and a very successful singer to boot. If you listen to the judges on American Idol praising some of the contestants they believe can become big stars, you might hear them say, “You were a little pitchy in a couple of spots. But that’s OK, because I believed your performance.” What they’re really saying is, “You look like a star, and you move like a star and don’t worry about your notes, because we can fix that in the studio. We’ve got machines that can tune you up.”
Years ago, back in 1989, I had gospel singer Andrae Crouch demonstrate for me the magical pitch correcting power of synthesizers. He was also showing how the synthesizers can provide the voices of singers who aren’t at the concert and hit the notes for stars who may be to breathless from dancing to sing their full songs. This was just after Andrae and his choir had provided the background vocals for Madonna’s hit record, “Like A Prayer.”
To put the synthesizer to the full test I had Andrae record me saying four words, that’s right speaking not singing the words. Now this was pushing the machines to the limit but he made a song out of it, even if it wasn’t very musical on my part. This was before auto tuning came along to regularly turn people’s speeches into songs. I thought this story had been lost to history and the tapes erased, but I found it last night. And now with almost all records going through pitch correction before they are released it seemed timely to show how for many singers today, being close to on key is good enough. Music and horseshoes, points for being close, who would have thought.
Iguazu Falls, It’s South America’s biggest and most spectacular water park. On the border of Brazil and Argentina, it’s been voted one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Because it twists and turns and bends for almost two miles the falls seem as if they most me the biggest in the world. And by the numbers, 275 different falls, which make up this dramatic panorama, it is the biggest. It has less average water flow than Niagara, but it’s greater than Victoria Falls.
Around every bend there is a new perspective to be had causing you to ooh and aah again and again. But one view not to be missed is the one from a boat at the bottom of the falls. However don’t stare at this one with you mouth open in wonder or you might drown as the falls come tumbling down all around you, and on you.
And the first shall be last… to paraphrase. This was the 1st tune the guys laid down at the recording session I was filming last spring and it’s the last one I have left to post. They used the old Freddy King tune, “The Stumble” as a kind of warm up. It worked because they were hot by the end, Hadley Hockensmith guitar, Phil Driscoll keys & trumpet, Bill Maxwell drums, Michiko Hill piano, and Pee Wee Hill bass.
Once again, just as on all the other songs from this session, the guys were playing with their ears, not their eyes, since there were no charts to work from. It was a great day in the studio with some soulful blues tracks laid down. My only regret is that there weren’t more tunes recorded, meaning there are no songs to post from that day. However this was so good, I have no choice but to try and convince everyone to get together again soon and make some more music. Hopefully they all enjoyed playing together as much as we like listening to them.
Part 3 of my video Namibia: The Big Empty has some nice aerials of something called, Fairy Circles,” a rather unique feature of the Namibia landscape that looks as if it were painted by space aliens using the desert as their canvas. We also fly along the skeleton coast and get a good sense of how it got its name. In this video we also land at the Cape Cross Fur Seal colony, the world’s largest fur seal colony. You’ll see and hear some 100,000 seals on the beach, but since this is a video you will be spared having to smell the pungent ordor of 100,000 marine mammals.
Part 2 of my Namibia video features deadviei and sossusviei, perhaps the most photographed spot in Namibia. The deadviei is a beautiful but eerie sculpture garden created by mother nature’s extreme mood swings. Here she’s turned a former lake into a dead pan of white clay surrounded by giant red sand dunes. And scattered around the former lake bed are the remains of trees, starved to death by drought, their skeletal remains left to bake in the sun for hundreds of years, the dryness of the climate making it impossible for them to decompose.
You’ve heard the expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees,” meaning you sometimes need to step back and look at the big picture. Well that statement certainly applies to the country of Namibi in Southern Africa. Since there aren’t a lot of trees in Namibia’s huge, mostly desert landscape, maybe the phrase should be slightly altered to read, “You can’t see the desert for the sand.”
Bottom line, to fully appreciate the texture, color, variety, and the grand scale of Namibia’s landscape a view from above is essential. Once that perspective is understood, then you can move in for the closeups to complete the picture of the country. I recently went to Namibia with a group of friends trying to capture as much of the country as possible from both the air and the ground.
My home movies contain a lot of this duel perspective and the images are so strong on their own that even my camera work couldn’t ruin them. So although I put the pictures or home movies together for the friends who were on the trip with me, I thought I’d share some some of the video with anyone else who might be interested in seeing pictures from this most visually spectactular country. This is part one of what I call, Namibia: The Big Empty.
I went to the home of musician Giba Conceicao in Salvador, Brazil to get a percussion lesson so I could more fully join in the festivities of Carnival this year. What I got was yet another lesson in humility. Because it seems as if everyone is beating a drum or shaking a rattle or simply shaking their body to the beat of the Samba at carnival time, I thought with some help from Giba I would soon be able to blend right in to the rhythm of the locals.
Giba gave me a quick demonstration of what sounds could be made on several of his different percussion instruments so I could get an idea of which ones I might want to try. Let me admit up front that for me they were all harder to play than they looked. I began the session thinking, “Really how hard can it be to just shake a rattle or beat a drum with one stick or with your hands. These are like the first instruments ever played by humans. Surely I can match musical chops with my Neanderthal ancestors.” Wrong. Or at least wrong if Neanderthals ever mastered the Samba.
The Samba is the driving force of Carnival, but it soon became apparent that I should not be allowed behind the wheel of the Samba car. I need to use a designated driver. Or if I can’t resist the music and insist on shaking something, then it is essential I get fully into the spirit of Carnival and wear one of the elaborate masks. With a mask there is always plausible deniability.
I tell the story of Carnival in Brazil and my attempts to learn the rhythm of the Samba this week on my radio show National Geographic Weekend, but this video has some of the highlights of my musical adventure in Brazil.