Songs in the Key of Z
by Irwin Chusid
Chusid’s name may not be sound familiar outside certain circles, but within those bizzarrely-shaped sets, his voice and knowledge define entire genres. Chusid is a record producer (esp. notable is his work with Esquivel and Raymond Scott), WFMU radio personality and overall fountain of wisdom on the creepy crawlier side of the musical log. With a practiced (but hardly clinical) eye, Chusid recounts the backgrounds and contributions of some of the most out-there musicians yet, known and unknown. Names like Syd Barett, Captain Beefheart and Tiny Tim are fairly familiar these days, and Wesley Willis, Joe Meek, the Shaggs and Daniel Johnston have all gained some notoriety for their unique approach to sound and song. Most interesting though are the underground gems that Chusid uncovers, like Shooby Taylor the Human Horn, a wildly scatting mystery man who unabashedly raw-shaw-poppy-doppy’d over records he brought with him to the studio. To this day, nobody knows who Shooby was or where he is.
This comprehensive guide to outsider music is indispensable if you’ve ever found yourself drawn to something that should be termed “unlistenable” by popular music standards. Twenty in-depth case studies, a set of brief synopses of over 50 others, great illustrations and artwork, a discography spanning a dozen pages, bibliography and online links, and — heavens! — an index at the end. If you really want to go whole hog, latch on to the companion CD (reviewed in last month’s Ink 19 for a live demonstration of these wild talents. You’ll never hear music the same way again.
A Capella Books, 814 N. Franklin St., Chicago, IL 60610; http://www.keyofz.com/