Candlepin Swing (Bill Morrissey)

One of the things I liked about Bill Morrissey’s songwriting was how regional it was — other New England folksingers often seemed like they’d rather be from somewhere more romantic, but Bill was writing things like “Small Town on the River” about Newmarket, New Hampsire; “My Baby and Me,” about fall, love, and hunting season; and “Candlepin Swing,” the only jive jazz number ever written about candlepin bowling.

Some of you may not know what candlepin bowling is, so I should start by saying that for most of my youth I hardly knew there was any other kind of bowling. Our local emporium of the art, Lanes & Games on Route 2, did have a few duckpin lanes, but I don’t remember seeing anyone using them and certainly never was with anyone who suggested we might try that strange and foreign variant of normal bowling. Many years later, I tried it, once, using those weird balls with the three holes in them, and sprained my index finger so I couldn’t play guitar comfortably for a month… which never happened with normal-size bowling balls.

So anyway, I was charmed when I heard Bill sing this, because it was such a wonderfully ridiculous example of regional pride. Unlike me, Bill was a man of the world, familiar not only with our sport but also with what is apparently known as bowling in the  rest of the country; hence his knowledgeable reference to Carmen Salvino and Ray Bluth — names I know only from this song, and knew wrong until I researched this post, which is why I pronounce the former’s name “Carmine” in my video.

Bill always introduced this with a reference to Slim Gaillard, one of our favorite musicians. Gaillard was a fine guitarist and decent pianist who made some legendary recordings with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie — or, as he referred to them on “Slim’s Jam,” Charlie Yardbird-o-rooney and Diz MacSkivvin-vout-o-rooney — as well as Bill’s favorite nonsense number, “Cement Mixer, Putti-Putti,” and a perky track I recall mostly for Slim’s spoken introduction:

We’re going to cook up a fine dish now, real groovy: wrap up some fine grape leaves and chip up a little lamb-o-rooney; sprinkle on a little fine rice-o-rooty and a little pep-o-rooney, a little pep-o-vouty, sprinkle on a little salt-o-rooney to put the seasoning in there, make it really mellow. Then you nail an avocado seed up in the ceiling and let it vout for a while.

Bill loved Gaillard’s surreal hipsterisms and would frequently lard his speech with o-vouties and o-roonies, and Slim’s influence was palpably present in his jive masterpiece, “King Jelly’s Good Morning Irene Song.” But the song he specifically cited Gaillard on was always this baby — partly, I suppose, because the juxtaposition was so unexpected. So anyway, here it is, in honor of Lanes & Games, and Bill, and my insufficiently misspent youth.

Incidentally, Bill never recorded this, and neither did anyone else, so I have to wonder whether at this point I’m the only person alive who knows it… if so, that’s tragic and I hope others pick it up.