Sunday, March 22, 2015

Santa Rosa Rose

Santa Rosa Rose
Words by Jeff Branan
Music Lyons & Yosco
Key: Bb Major

I may or may not simply record all the songs in order. As long as there is a moderate chance of me playing it at a good tempo then It's possible to record the entire dusty music box.

Santa Rosa Rose reminded me of the city north of San Francisco that was the gateway to Humboldt County when I was bumbling through my music degree. Humboldt is isolated by distance and the last civilized city one passes through before entering the Redwood Marijuana Kingdom is Santa Rosa. Because a bus trip took about 8 hours and reduced me to tears, I hitchhiked this Route 101 numerous times when I visited San Francisco for Mozart operas and Beethoven symphonies and Red Sox playoffs games against Oakland. Trivially, 1918 is the last year of the Red Sox first dynasty. It would've been a cruel thing to find a song from No, No, Nanette in this Dusty Music Box because the legend is that Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth to the Yankees to fund that musical. Well, No, No, Nanette was actually a musical based on a non-musical play called My Lady Friends  which was really the play that Harry Frazee needed money to produce in 1919. No, No, Nanette took another 6 years to develop. Furthermore, it was Red Sox management in general, a lackadaisical approach to baseball talent, poor pitching and some bad luck that led to an 86 year championship drought, not the singular loss of Babe Ruth, although the balance of power definitely shifted to New York as the Bronx Bombers collected a roster of players whose dominance was unequaled. By 1927, The Yankees would have the greatest team ever in baseball, they won 110 games en route to a world Championship, Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs while the Red Sox won 51 game, not even half as many games as the Yankees won. And the Championship drought was far from over. Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago would all get a piece of the action. There were 8 teams in the American League and 8 teams in the National League at that time and there were no divisions. Win leaders in each League would face one another in the World Series so it was very hard to fake your way into the World Series, or win miraculous wild card playoff games like is common today. You could say the playoffs started in April and ended in October and the best team would advance. But enough about baseball as the season is about to start again.

Again, Oggy must write in the chords to play it fakebook style

 As far as I know there is no "Saint Rose", which is what Santa Rosa means in Spanish, though it could refer to Rose of Lima's sainthood.. I think the city was named after a nearby ranch. Roses grow all over California and this city was on the El Camino Real, "The Royal Street" connecting New Spain and the heathen Pomo and Ohlone Indians living along the coast of what would become California. It might be the northern-most city on that road. There was no Golden Gate Bridge until 1937, which raises an Oggy eyebrow because there's a lyric in the song, "You told me you would wait out there near the Golden Gate." Well, how is she waiting near the Golden Gate in 1918 when that bridge wouldn't exist for another 20 years? Because, dear reader, the bridge is named for the two points of land that almost touch between S.F. and Marin county. The "Gate" existed before the "Bridge". Before the bridge, folks took ferries, and some commuters still take ferries today. This area is not only the location of the lengthy meeting of the Pacific Oceanic plate and the North American continental plates, but it was once subjected to geologic forces from the subduction of the Juan De Fuca plate ( an independent miniature plate creating volcanoes in the North West) which has crept north for a few hundred million years and now spans the distance from the S.F. Bay to Vancouver as it is being pushed by the continental creep of the Pacific plate. Furthermore, the most recent ice age caused intense scouring of all the terrain of this area either from glacial drift (creating Yosemite Valley) or from runoff erosion (creating San Francisco Bay). So, the heroine of the song was going to wait some 60 miles south because meeting this songwriter is so important on a global scale.

1918 illustration on torn newsprint sheet music

 Jeff Branen had a modest career in the years around WWI writing polyanna tunes like Santa Rosa Rose. He didn't write anything as magnificent as Tiptoe Through The Tulips, but he produced some respectable songs. Many of Branen's songs are in the library of congress as they are in the public domain now. What I like about this specific song is that it features the west coast though is not a cowboy song, not idealizing gold or westward expansion. This song is historical evidence in the cultural shifts of The United States because a western city is being treated no differently than an eastern city. Santa Rosa, California is no longer an exotic place. What I like is that a California city is being represented almost casually as a place that was no different than Philadelphia or St. Louis. Normal things happened in this far away city that even today is not a travel hub and most Californians don't really have a reason to drive through Santa Rosa. Its pretty name, I expect, is why it was used. Branen appears to be a farmboy from west of Chicago, Illinois who dreams were too big for that city so he went directly to New York to write for the theater. That's my conclusion after finding mention of Branen in a digitized 1915 Illinois newspaper article from the town of Sycamore. Even in 1915, three years before Santa Rosa Rose, Branen was being celebrated for his success in New York and with popular songs such as In The Valley of The Moon (which he also composed) and You're An Indian. All the songs on the Library of Congress predate Santa Rosa Rose. The little research I could do on Branen led me to a web site dedicated to parlor songs (that interestingly started with a dusty box of music). This designation of parlor songs is one that appeals to me as there's no other way to describe songs that would neither be performed on stage or played on the radio. Either you played them live on a parlor piano or you had a cranking Victrola record player, which was also in the parlor. So either way, this was a parlor song.

Woolworth, Kresege, Krees, McCrory are stores that have faded into the past

I also like sharing pictures of advertising featured on the sheet music itself. It's all music related, usually saying "Hey Music Lover! Send us a quarter for every song you want then we'll send it to you."
Looks like J.J. Newberry

George Lyons (harpist) and Bob Yosco (mandolin player) were responsible for the music of Santa Rosa Rose and there isn't much I can find about these cats either. The problem with researching songwriters from a century ago is that it's not easy. Whatever music survived for 100 years doesn't mean biographies will also survive. Lyons & Yosco were such a team that they are the only composers in this box who don't even publish their first names. I have a hard time imagining an era when a vaudeville harpist and mandolin player would not be immediately arrested for playing music, let alone have some success. If I traveled across North America in my van today with another gypsy playing mandolin and strummed dulcimer, tap dancing on the sidewalk, we would instantly be imprisoned. The police would do anything it took to get us out of town or in jail for whatever murder they couldn't solve. But in 1907 vaudeville music was entirely permitted.

The interesting thing about public domain music is that there will be a slow revival of parlor songs and ragtime as the songs become available to re-record for free. Lyons & Yosco are not going to rise from the dead to sue Pharrell and Thicke for stealing their harmonies. Heck, I could write different lyrics for Santa Rosa Rose and even list Jeff Branen as cowriter, and it wouldn't matter. He still isn't going to share the royalties. Lyons & Yosco had a handful of compositions that survive today. They appear to have been popular from the turn of the century, mid Ragtime era up until WWI, when the popularity of harps and mandolins fell as fast as anyone with a slightly foreign sounding name.

The composition itself is, in a word, charming. I found myself humming this song even after I was done with it. I like the rhyme scheme of the chorus,

"Santa Rosa Rose, you're waiting, I suppose, 
You're alone tonight, I know. 
I miss you so, Oh, I want to go, 
strolling the valley...where the river flows
There I'll carve your name, my hear is all aflame, 
you're the sweetest rose that grows
Soon I'll trail trail trail, through the lonesome vale 
with my Santa Rosa Rose.

The lines flow into one another effortlessly and there's a classic crescendo on the word "Grows" where I know singers had everyone getting ready for the finish. If I could sing like Al Jolson everything would be much easier in life. This rhyming scheme is characteristic of this era, with lots of long vowels and the words "aflame" which is seldom used. And the repetitive 'trail, trail, trial' which isn't even a verb, but it rhymes with 'vale' so it works. I don't recognize any previous or future song here. It's wholly original.

This song is one of the few in this box that recognizes a world west of the Mississippi. Other than the war songs, the localities of the songwriters dramatically limited their world view so even through I suspect none of the three writers involved ever visited Santa Rosa, CA, I'm relieved to encounter a song from 1918 that treats this western region so casually. I think the line, "Santa Rosa Rose, you're waiting I suppose..." started the whole song off and the city itself is a coincidental device that involved forcing the term "Golden Gate" into the song although it makes no sense that someone from Santa Rosa would wait near San Francisco in 1918 for any reason. It's a generic topic but the lilt and lyrics are a step above the monotony of a waltz 'down by the old orange orchard'. I'd like to say that the subject was chosen to lift the spirits of a war weary audience but these three songwriters, Branen and Lyons & Yosco were writing identical songs before the war so my suspicion is that the war didn't influence this song topic much.

Some geographic details
I also want to point out that the book East of Eden, by John Steinbeck is based in the Salinas valley near the Monterrey Bay on the California coast, but the time period is this exact moment in history, 1918. Recall that the Caleb, the son of Adam Trask planted beans and sold them on the futures market for a big profit because the war spiked food values. Music is not featured in that book but Santa Rosa Rose would fit perfectly in the parlor of the Hamilton's urban folk.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.