During the 1990s, labor day meant attending Seattle‘s Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival for my friends and I. Back then, the tickets were cheap as fuck — around $7 – $12 tops — and we still sneaked in every single year. We were young and there was always an incredible mix on the bill full of acts worth discovering. Looking up those old lineups now, there are definitely things that I wish that I would have known enough to check out and other performances that I can’t even remember whether I got the chance to catch or not. What I do remember is seeing artists like The Ramones or fiddle-master Vassar Clements, who are no longer with us, and hearing Maceo Parker reflecting in a Q&A session about when he first met and joined James Brown. This year/weekend, I don’t plan to attend, because it looks kind of bunk, for the most part, which means that I don’t feel like covering it and am even less interested in paying $60 a day to attend as an average joe — I’m hoping that next year will be more to my liking. The good news is that a one-of-a-kind new release has just been announced from a late artist that brought me one of the most memorable experiences that I ever had at the festival: the inimitable, Tiny Tim.
For those that are unfamiliar, Tim ( born Herbert Buckingham Khaury ) was a sizable 6′ 1″ figure with long stringy hair, dapper (often plaid) suits, pasty white makeup, and a prominent hooked nose, who’s appearance might best be described as something akin to a much more welcoming version of Danny Devito‘s portrayal of the Penguin in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns stretched in a taffy puller. Viewed overwhelmingly as a novelty act, he gained short-lived, albeit widespread, fame in the late-60s, first on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, and then with regular appearance on The Tonigh Show With Johnny Carson, for which he’s best known for playing ukulele and singing the 1929 tune, “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” in his trademark high-pitched warbling falsetto. On December 17, 1969, Khaury married his first wife, a 17-year-old by the name of “Miss Vicki,” live on Carson‘s program, a spectacle which drew a massive 40 million viewers. Prior to that, he had built somewhat of a cult following in the Greenwich Village scene. Lesser known is the fact that he was a brilliant historian that, as his bio on Billboard.com describes it, “possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of vintage American pop and vaudeville songs.” They also go on to explain that “he was an avid collector of 78 rpm records and sheet music, and often scoured the New York Public Library’s musical archives for material.”
This knowledge is something that I was lucky enough to discover first hand in 1996 when I opted to check out Bumbershoot‘s wildcard stage, unaware of who the mystery performer would be. I doubt that most teenager’s at that point would have been aware of Khaury, but I was always a little left-field with my interests and did have somewhat of a peripheral knowledge of him doing “Tiptoe...” and knew of his marriage live on Carson. I was obviously a different person 21 years ago and may have been less likely to make a concerted effort to attend one of his sets, but was pleased to see him appear the experience was mind opening. The tunes that he performed operated more as breaks between segments of him expounding upon his endless historical knowledge and anecdotes regarding the instruments and song origins, rather than the other way around. I happened to be at that show with my sister and I remember us commenting to each other that, whenever Tim passed away, all of that remarkable knowledge would sadly die with him. Tragically, by the end of the month, Tiny Tim would suffer a heart attack, resulting in him being instructed to refrain from performing anymore, due to complications brought on by his weight and dietary issues pertaining to diabetes. He chose not to heed the warning and, two months later, he collapsed in the middle of a gig, during his set closer of “Tiptoe Through The Tulips,” and passed on November 30th of that year.
Earlier today, the small limited-run independent Dallas label, Dead Red Queen Records, announced what promises to be a fascinating new Tiny Tim release, which consists of the late entertainer providing a previously unheard dramatic reading straight to cassette in a Denton, TX hotel room 27 years ago. The announcement of the project began with the following description:
Dead Red Queen Records & 14 Records would like to take a moment to present a special, unheard dramatic reading by TINY TIM of “The Boxlers ~ A Family History”. This limited CD is the first & only Tiny Tim reading known to exist. Who are The Boxlers? We may never know. But here, Tiny brings The Boxlers to life in this once in a lifetime recording. #tinytim #mrboxler
It then goes on to provide a much more in-depth explanation and background of the project from the man who recorded it.
“I met Tiny Tim in Dallas in 1982, and by 1984 I was running his fan club, booking his Dallas area appearances, and producing recording sessions in Dallas and Denton, Texas. Tiny would always call me his manager, a title that I only recently have come to grips with.
I produced two of his final CD releases, Songs Of An Impotent Troubadour, and Girl. This release, a dramatic reading of The Boxlers : A Family History, is the third album I created. During his 1990 visit to Denton, Texas, I recorded directly to a handheld cassette recorder what would be the only dramatic reading of Tiny’s career, in his Holiday Inn hotel room, in the presence of Miss Barley Vogel and Miss Stephanie Bohn.
Without ever having seen the material, in one take Tiny read this 42 page letter from the mysterious Mr. Boxler (one letter of 78 that I received from 1986-87), and instinctively brought the charcters in the letter to life, using different voices and even supplying the occasional sound effect.
The result is a very compelling listen, and shows another side to his amazing gifts; this is his debut as a spoken word artist. There are simply no other recordings of this nature known to exist. Each time I listen to this album, I have the same conclusion; he may have missed his calling. He could have made a fortune as a voice over artist, or ruled the 80’s throwing down stream of conciousness ad libs from the stage.
The scope of his talent was endless in my opinion. I wish very much that there were more recordings of this nature. There is only this. And if you are wondering who Mr. Boxler is, we have something in common. I can verify that he was a great admirer of Mr. Tim. Maybe the family history will answer all of your questions about The Boxlers. That was its stated purpose.”
August 20, 2017
Here are additional images of the CD art for the album
There is no doubt in my mind that this is going to be a special one and something that you’re definitely going to want to snag for yourself. The CD release is strictly limited to only 99 copies and can be ordered exclusively through Dead Red Queen Records.