A weekly look at SoCal life covering news, arts and culture, and more.
Hosted by John Rabe
Arts & Entertainment

Is this Tiny Tim's final album? New Burger Records cassette orchestrates Tiny's home tape

Detail of
Detail of "Tiny Tim's America," a new collection of Tiny Tim performances from the Tin Pan Alley era.
Burger Records

Listen to story

Download this story 9MB

It's a perfect storm of anachronisms. Burger Records, the Fullerton label, just released an album from the early 1970s ... of Tinpan Alley songs ... on cassette ... recorded in the early 1970s ... by Tiny Tim.

It's called "Tiny Tim's America," and its heart is an eerie tour of obscure music Tiny Tim recorded on a cheap cassette recorder in his hotel room. "Most of these tunes," Tiny says on the tape, "You have probably never heard before." It's by musical pioneers, he says, recorded "anywhere from about 1902 to 1915 or 16." Then, before he strikes the first chord on his ukulele: "These are not imitations, but spirits as I feel they are living in me."

The tape eventually made its way to Justin Martell, author of Tiny's exhaustive biography, "Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life of Tiny Tim," who says the tape is "an assortment of songs popularized by Tiny's favorite artists from that era -- you know, Henry Burr, Billy Murray, Ada Jones, Irving Kaufman, Charles Harrison. He runs the gamut from hapa haole Hawaiian songs like "O' Brien Is Tryin' To Learn to Talk Hawaiian" to love ballads to ethnic songs," like "The Leader Of The German Band" ... some of which are not exactly polite today.

CHECK OUT the source material - UCSB has archived 10,000 wax cylinders

Tiny's old producer, Richard Barone, and Tiny's cousin, Eddie Rabin, added orchestration to make an album Martell told me he's pretty sure Tiny would have liked. (It came out first on vinyl, on Martell's Ship To Shore PhonoCo.)

Martell won't reveal who gave him the tape. But when he heard it for the first time? "I thought it was amazing, because there were some songs that I'd heard him do elsewhere, but this tape was very unique because it contained a lot of songs that I hadn't heard him do on live shows or on other demo tapes ... completely unique to this tape. Tiny is also in really fine voice; I think he sounds great."

LISTEN: Chris Greenspon reports on Burger Records' and the unlikely cassette resurgence

Tiny Tim was certainly a weird dude. He was married (twice) on national TV. He liked to wear Depends. He wrote and performed a highly offensive song about AIDS. But he was an astounding musicologist. "And it's important to recognize,' Martell says, "that in the pre-Internet age, Tiny Tim was almost a walking encyclopedia of this type of music. He had all of this information in his head about these songs that probably otherwise would have been forgotten."

Listen to the audio player for much more of my interview with Justin Martell, and to hear some of the original cassette that he helped turn into what might be Tiny Tim's final album.