Born Minneapolis, June 7, 1958
Kiss (arr. Verdery)
Composed in 1985; 2 minutes
Born Los Angeles, November 28, 1943
In Germany Before the War (arr. Verdery)
Composed in 1977; 3 minutes
OTIS BLACKWELL / ELVIS PRESLEY
Born Brooklyn, February 16, 1931; died Nashville, May 2, 2002
Born Tupelo, Mississippi, January 8, 1935; died Memphis, August 16, 1977
Don’t Be Cruel (arr. Verdery)
Composed in 1956; 3 minutes
The guitar is the original multi-cultural cross-over instrument. It brought vernacular songs and dances into the world of European art music, and it disseminated arrangements of motets and instrumental ensemble compositions to a wider audience. Benjamin Verdery’s first passion for the guitar was inspired by The Beatles, and the guitar as the frontline instrument for rock bands has now inspired several generations of stylistically omnivorous guitarists.
“Early in my career I thought I should be playing ‘folk’ music from my country and began arranging songs that I grew up with or have liked over the years,” Verdery says. “The process is generally that I write out all the parts the best I can. I use that as main material and add my own material that seems musically appropriate to form a little piece. The inspiration first comes from my love of the songwriter, and then there has to be some element about the song I think will sound great on the classical guitar.”
Prince’s “Kiss” began its still-productive life as an acoustic demo, which was reworked by the funk band Mazarati. After rehearsing that version, Prince took it back, subbing in a new lead vocal and a guitar break. “Kiss” was released in 1986, went gold in three months, won a Grammy, and became a sing-along favorite.
“In Germany Before the War” is from Randy Newman’s fourth album, Little Criminals (1977), best-known for its first track, “Short People.” “In Germany Before the War” was inspired by Fritz Lang’s film M, in which Peter Lorre played a serial child-killer, in circumstances similar to an actual killer in Dusseldorf at the time. The song can also be heard as a metaphor for the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, as the killers of innocence. Newman sets it as a somber, almost stunned reflection; a pared down piano ballad in the darkest, bleakest cabaret style.
Otis Blackwell wrote “Don’t Be Cruel,” but with 28 takes in the studio, Elvis Presley probably earned his co-writing credit. Elvis recorded it in 1956 for a single with “Hound Dog” on the other side, and the two songs dominated the pop charts, selling more than four million copies in only half a year. Scotty Moore played the jaunty lead lick that sounds just fine on classical guitar. Some of the runs in the arrangement, however, reference another one of Verdery’s guitar heroes, Jeff Beck. Verdery recorded his version for an acoustic guitar tribute album, A Guitar for Elvis.
© 2013 John Henken
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