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Jim Copp and Ed Brown
Jim and his partner Ed Brown churned out nine albums, approximately one a year, during their heyday. They did all the writing, all the music, all the voices, all the gimmicks, all the recording, all the packaging, all the time. When you listen to the recordings, remember: They did this without a multitrack tape recorder. The entire house became a living, breathing recording studio — voices in the kitchen, piano in the living room, pump organ in the bathroom with the sound effects in the bathtub, and so on. The recordings are strange, unique—and as clever as can be. Copp recorded his voice 90 times to replicate a crowd, and used a variety of voices to create an entire fourth grade classroom singing hopelessly off-key. His animal parades and barnyard animals are a real hoot.
I'm so glad I ran into Jim Copp the other day — I might have missed out on meeting a true pioneer and innovator. The songs' plot lines and character voices remind listeners of the Firesign Theatre or even Monty Python, while the illustrations (also by Copp) are interplanetary and reminiscent of Shel Silverstein or John Lennon.
As we travel into the heartland of the Copp imagination, we find a literate, magical world comparable to Oz, Pooh Corner and Wonderland. You will search far and wide to find such words as "precipice," "velocipede" and "vituperative" in any lyrics — ;not just those written for kids. In other words, not a condescending tone to be found. But the stories don't always wrap up neat and pretty with a cute little bow, sometimes the oddball characters get eaten by cannibals, thrown off cliffs, fired from jobs and lost in storms. Yet they always hold our attention as Jim Copp's precise baritone guides us through unfamiliar landscapes and labyrinths — and somehow we know that all is fun and forgiven.
In "Cloudy Afternoon," Copp relates a baby-sitting trek to the park that goes awry with a nanny named Zella: She waddling and in the lead/ Me on my velocipede./ The clouds were fleecy white that day./ The month was March or was it May?/ And was I three? Or was I four?/ Or was I two? Or was I more?/ I pedaled on, and up ahead/ I saw the pond and Zella said,/ "You must be tired, pedaling that,/ And here's a bench. Let's sit." She sat.
After Zella falls asleep, the clouds turn ominous and the young boy continues on through a variety of hazards before being rescued by the timely nanny. Everyone learns a lesson in a non-preachy way. Cassette titles, "for small fry and sophisticated adults," include Jim Copp Tales, Fable Forest, Thimble Corner, East of Flumdiddle, A Fidgety Frolic, Gumdrop Follies, Schoolmates, and The Sea of Glup. The three available CDs are Agnes Mouthwash and Friends, Flibbergibbets on Parade, and A Journey to San Francisco with The Glups. P.S. — LPs are available for vinyl-loving friends!
The musical, theatrical legacy of Copp and Brown is nourished by Ted and Laura Leyhe, who now own and operate Playhouse Records, the house that James and Ed built. Ted used to listen to the albums as a child. When he called to trace the out-of-print music, the voice at the other end of the line was James Copp himself. They became friends and partners and the rest, they say, is history. . .and history for generations to come.
Yes, I met James Copp the other day. While browsing through the obituaries, I ran smack into one that grabbed my attention: James Copp Dies; 'Unsung Genius' of Children's Records. Nice to meet you James Copp, and thanks for the memories to come. Catch you on the flip side.
The recordings of James Copp and Ed Brown are available through Playhouse Records; $12.00 CD, $9.00 cassette. Call
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