David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 37: Mongo Santamaria (Yeh Yeh)

June 2, 2020

Now begins the dancing about architecture part of the program.

At some point in this series, I knew I would want to include some instrumentals, but without lyrics, I feel handcuffed in what to say. As 36 previous entries have shown, the lyrics provide some kind of framework.

Still, I proceed on because I waltz about colonnades.

When I was growing up, I didn't necessarily have a lot of clear musical influences in my life. My mother had dabbled a little in piano playing when younger, and she was the reason we even had the beautiful piano in our living room. My sisters had their Monkees' records and later moved on to slightly cooler strands of popular music, whether it be Jethro Tull, Boz Scaggs, or The Beach Boys. My father . . . well, I have no clue what my father felt about music. His stepfather was a piano player in dinner halls and nightclubs, and his mother was the one who first taught my mother piano. However, he was mostly estranged from them all through my childhood. He listened, patiently, to me talking about music for years, but I really can't remember one conversation where he talked about anything he listened to.

So, when I saw their collection of albums and 78's boxed up in the storage area next to my bedroom in the basement, I was fascinated. The fact that these were boxed up in the basement probably should have told me everything I needed to know. I knew the Tom Lehrer comedy albums were "my dad's" (as much as marriage allows for individual ownership) because my dad talked of going to college with Lehrer. The only other albums that appealed to me were by Herb Albert & The Tijuana Brass. I think it's also fair to say that the covers drew me in more than than the recordings. (If you are not sure what I mean, I offer two words: "whipped cream.") Still, I did really love the beats, whether they were jazz, calypso, swing, mariachi, or whatever old big band style I had no clue about. Since by the time I was listening to records, I knew my dad's hearing was going, I just assumed he was the big fan of these Herb Albert records. There would be no vocals for him to mishear.

On one of the free Mojo albums I received in the 90's, there was an instrumental from 1963 that immediately sucked me in, Mongo Santamaria's "Yeh Yeh," which sounded like an even cooler version of Herb Albert. It featured a groove that made you want to shake your hips, replete with drums and percussion that sounded as if delivered straight from a street side musician in New Orleans, as well as pulsating, sparkling brass interlaced with a lively, hoppy piano line. If Santamaria is the only drummer on the song, he is a virtuoso, between what seems to be bongos, timbale, steel drum, who knows. The drumming is contagious, the song overall intoxicating.

My Mojo version has a female singing "Yeh Yeh" near the end, but the link below is sans the singer.  Not sure why there are two versions, but both are guaranteed to make you want to dance. However, the true instrumental version seems best to post here, because I go back to my father, who may or may not have been the Herb Albert fan in the household. (If you know the "whipped cream" reference above, you will understand why the 11-yr old boy never wanted to ask his parents about it.) "Yeh Yeh" was a pretty popular hit in 1963. I would have been no more than 1-year old, my sisters would have been about 5. Did Dad know this song? Was he listening to radio, music at all, as he transitioned from grad student to young teacher/researcher at West Virginia University?

I kind of hoped he did. We had a fairly flamboyant occasional babysitter through some of those years in the 60's, a woman I remember as of Latin descent. In retrospect, she could have been Aleutian; what would I know at such a young age? If she was of Latin background, maybe she would have "Yeh Yeh" on when my parents returned home late in the day, Mom from her classes at West Virginia University, Dad from work. After they both were home, once they had excused the provocative babysitter, and my sisters and I were in bad, would Dad have put on Mongo Santamaria, grabbed Mom and cha-cha'd or salsa'd around the living room?

For the sake of my need for romantic backstory, I will assume "yeh yeh."  Maybe I should be glad that the song came out in 1963. If it had come out two years earlier, I might now be Dr. Mongo William Fleming. But, damn, I would have been cool.

"Yeh Yeh." Mongo Santamaria. Watermelon Man! Battle. 1963. Link here.

Day 36: Neil Young "Powderfinger."

Day 38: The Triffids "Stolen Property."

See complete list here.