Today, local SF label Secret Seven Records releases Tiny Tim: Lost and Found, a collection of rarities! To celebrate, we've got an interview with one of the country's foremost experts on Mr. Tiny Tim, Justin Martell, who is in the process of writing an authorized biography of the musician, which will hopefully be out by Christmas, 2011. He has also been a consultant on and contributed liner notes to two posthumous Tiny Tim releases, I've Never Seen a Straight Banana (Collector's Choice Records, 2009) and this latest release to be discussed in the interview below. Basically, when it comes to Tiny Tim, he's the man.
Read on to learn much more about Tiny Tim's life and career, as well as the special stuff on Tiny Tim: Lost and Found!
Also, you can hear "If I Had a Talking Picture of You" from the new release right here!
How did Lost & Found come about?
Lost & Found came about after my friend and fellow Tiny Tim enthusiast Ernie Clark, who is the webmaster at tinytim.org, mentioned that Greg Gardner, a relative of Tiny's widow, Miss Sue, was looking to put out a Tiny Tim record on his label, Secret Seven Records. After assisting musician and author Richard Barone on I've Never Seen a Straight Banana, I had had the idea of trying to put together a release of some rare Tiny Tim singles that have been compiled by and circulating among a small network of die hard Tiny Tim fans for a few years, but would be virtually impossible for anyone outside of that network to ever hear. I sent Mr. Gardner a few CDs worth of material and he narrowed down the tracks to the 16 that appear on appear on the release. Needless to say, I believe the final track list is fantastic.
How obscure are the songs on Lost & Found? Are there many recordings on the record that even hard core Tiny Tim fan’s won’t know?
I am under the opinion that this will be the widest release that all of the tracks on this album have ever seen. Some of them were never commercially pressed and others saw extremely limited releases on small, independent labels and were buried shortly thereafter, as they either come from a time before Tiny Tim was a household name or after Tiny Tim's star had fizzled out with the end of the sixties.
I consider the song “Me and the Man on the Moon” to be the most obscure of the entire collection. After paying a pretty hefty sum, I personally obtained what is probably the only existing acetate of the song, which was found in the estate of the late novelty producer Tash Howard. Howard produced four tracks for Tiny Tim that were released: "The Happy Wanderer," "My Nose Always Gets in the Way," "Juanita Banana," and Lie Down with the Dogs." These tracks were released in 1973 and 1974 in Europe by Bellaphon and Polydor Records. "Me and the Man on the Moon" is a song that Tiny was performing live during that era (see his November 12, 1974 appearance on the Tonight Show). Accordingly, it is believed that this track was produced by Tash Howard at the same time as the songs that were released on Polydor and Bellaphon, but not released. So far, a commercial pressing of this record has not been found.
With that said, I had been reserving sharing the track with anyone, including Tiny Tim collectors, in hopes that I could contribute it to a future release. I am very pleased that it has now found a home on Lost & Found.
It is said that Tiny Tim had an encyclopedic knowledge of popular songs from the early 20th century. On Lost & Found, Tiny does a handful of early popular classics (“If I Had A Talking Picture Of You,” “April Showers,” etc.). Do you have any idea what some of the people Tiny admired, like Rudee Vallee or Bing Crosby, thought of Tiny’s interpretations of early 20th century songs?
I do, in fact, have a pretty good idea of what these people thought of Tiny Tim. When Tiny hit the big-time, Rudy Vallee invited Tiny to visit him at his home and later sent him a telegram when he opened at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in August of 1968 wishing Tiny a “happy and successful engagement” and referring to him as a “very fine and real person.” As 1968 drew to a close, Vallee was in full support of the idea becoming Tiny Tim's opening act for a series of shows. Though Tiny also liked the idea, his management team allegedly squashed the idea, as they were nervous about Vallee's sometimes abrasive behavior. According to Tiny, Vallee was very much put off by this and made several negative comments to the press with regard to both Tiny's talent and his 1969 marriage to Miss Vicki on the Tonight Show. Nevertheless, the two appeared together on the Joe Franklin Show in 1977 and, also according to Tiny, Vallee was visibly moved when Tiny performed, in Vallee's own style, a song he had made famous years prior called “I'm Still Caring.”
As for Crosby, the opportunity for Tiny to meet this idol of his came when he was invited to perform on the television program the Hollywood Palace. Tiny had said he would do the show with either Elvis Presley or Crosby. Ultimately, Crosby was selected and the episode was taped in late 1968 and aired in early January of 1969.
“We're very proud to have here a young fella who represents one of the most phenomenal success stories in show business,” Crosby told the crowd as he introduced Tiny. “For the first time on the Hollywood Palace, the man who made tulips the national flower...Tiny Tim!” When Tiny took to the stage and performed a few songs from the then-recently released Tiny Tim's Second Album, "Come to the Ball,” My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time,” and “Great Balls of Fire,” he received a lively reaction from a clearly amused live audience.“Verrrry interesting,” said Crosby as he approached Tiny, inciting laughter from the audience. “You have quite a style there. I don't know how to characterize it. Well, it's spirited!”
What followed was later described by Tiny one of the best moments in show business. Though not devoid of humorous moments, such as Crosby addressing Tiny as “TT” and Tiny, despite Crosby's insistence, refusing to call him Bing, but rather, “Mr. Bing,” it was made clear in the segment that Crosby genuinely appreciated what Tiny had to offer as an entertainer. Playing on Tiny's encyclopedic knowledge of vintage music, Crosby quizzed Tiny by singing songs from films he had starred in and then asked Tiny to name the film and then sing another song from the same movie. Tiny, true to form, nailed all of Crosby's trivia questions and the segment closed with Tiny, Crosby, and, oddly, Bobbie Gentry singing a rendition of “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening.”
In the years that followed, Crosby appeared on the Tonight Show in 1973, when Tiny had all but faded from the public eye, and asked, “Whatever happened to Tiny Tim?” Also, according to Tiny, he met with Crosby's widow, who told him, “Tiny, Bing always got a kick out of you!”
How did Tiny Tim become so well versed in songs from the early 20th century?
When Tiny was five years-old, his father, Butros, brought home a wind up gramophone and a 78 rpm Columbia record containing Henry Burr's 1905 version of “Beautiful Ohio.” This sparked Tiny's musical obsession and he spent many long hours with his head stuck literally inside the gramophone horn. This began Tiny's initial interest in music and while he enjoyed popular music he felt a “rapport with the past.”
After an attack of appendicitis a few years later, Tiny decided to limit his the amount of physical strain he would put on his body. This ultimately led to him spending more and more time in his room listening to his growing collection of 78's. As the years went by he delved deeper and deeper into the history of recorded music, spending hours in the New York Public Library reading up on stars of the past like Henry Burr, Irving Kaufman, Billy Murray, Gene Austin, Byron G. Harlan, and many others, and then scouring antique stores for their records. Like a “vampire sucking blood,” as he once described it, he absorbed the forgotten songs and performing styles of early 20th century and transfused them all into a brilliantly bizarre and original performing style.
Four of the songs on Lost & Found come from a 1964 session that was produced by Milton Glaser –the graphic artist that designed the “I (heart) NY” logo, all the Townes Van Zandt album covers on Poppy Records, the poster that came with the LP version of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, and a million other things. How did Mr. Glaser stumble upon Tiny?
Glaser caught Tiny's act in at a popular lesbian night club in Greenwich Village called The Page Three. Glaser was apparently very amused and moved by Tiny's performance. “He's too much!” Glaser told an associate. “You've got to see him!” Shortly thereafter, Glaser arranged a recording session in a studio on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. There, they recorded an hour-long session in which Tiny performed everything from his 78's classics to Rudy Vallee songs and even an Elvis Presley number. Glaser released five of the songs on a very scarce flexi-disc that was included with an issue of Push Pin Graphic, the newsletter of his company.
I’ve heard that Milton Glaser was not the only “big name” that was an early admirer of Tiny Tim-- people like Lenny Bruce and Peter Yarrow also championed Tiny in his early years. Were there any other well-known folks that were drawn to Tiny Tim back then?
Many, many celebrities met and took a liking to Tiny Tim, especially during 1966 and 1967 when Tiny was essentially the one-man house band of Steve Paul's posh discotheque, The Scene. He met Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Tommy James, and once described himself as having been “very close” with Jim Morrison, or, as he called him, “Mr. Morrison.” Donovan, in his autobiography, mentioned a time when Allen Ginsberg brought him to see Tiny perform Greenwich Village. Wavy Gravy was responsible for first bringing Tiny out to California, where he performed at the Hog Farm and even had a run-in with the acid-test school bus, “Further.” Though they had almost nothing in common, Tiny was very much liked by his contemporaries. This was still true when Tiny hit the big-time in 1968, as his years at the top are filled with encounters with the likes of George Harrison and Frank Sinatra. The list of encounters and entertaining moments between Tiny and other celebrities is quite extensive.
I understand that Tiny Tim recorded a few songs with The Band around the same time period that Bob Dylan & The Band were recording the songs in Big Pink that became known as The Basement Tapes. Were the Tiny Tim & The Band's songs also recorded in Big Pink?
The songs that Tiny recorded with The Band for the soundtrack of Peter Yarrow's You Are What You Eat were not recorded in Big Pink, but in another night club. The exact night club has not been identified, but it has been confirmed that it was not Big Pink.
Did Tiny Tim and Bob Dylan hang out back then?
As Dylan mentioned in his memoirs, they split hamburgers and french fries when they were both struggling in the Greenwich Village scene in the early-sixties. In 1967, Dylan invited Tiny to visit him in Woodstock. Tiny often retold the story of their meeting throughout his career. For an excellent version of this tale, check out the 2009 Tiny Tim release, I've Never Seen a Straight Banana: Rare Moments Vol. 1.
Several of the recordings on Lost & Found were recorded years before Tiny became famous. How long had Tiny been playing music before he made it big?
Tiny had been performing regularly since 1950 before he made it big. By the time he made it, virtually everyone he knew had tried everything in their power to convince him to give up his seemingly impossible dream. It's just like the lyric goes in “Me and the Man on the Moon:”
Years ago they said I'd never make it,
They tried to stick a pin in my balloon,
They said I was too strange,
That my dreams were all in vain,
But they said the same about,
The man on the moon...
Where was Tiny Tim performing in the early ‘60’s?
In the early-sixties, Tiny was mainly performing in Greenwich Village night clubs like The Page Three, the Fat Black Pussycat, and in Hugh Romney (Wavy Gravy before assuming his alias)'s Phantom Cabaret at the Living Theater. His salary in those days was usually only a few dollars a night, which he was contractually obligated to split 50/50 with his manager.
What were some of the other aliases that Tiny used in his early days, and how did he settle on the name Tiny Tim?
Tiny had many different names before landing on Tiny Tim: Emmett Swink, Vernon Castle, Texacali Tex, Judas K. Foxglove, Rollie Dell, Larry Love, and Darry Dover.
The name Tiny Tim was given to him in 1963 by a manager he had during that era named George King. Though the exact reason is muddled, King later told Harry Stein that he had originally changed Tiny's name to Sir Timothy Tims and in an attempt to make him seem British (given that King was a hustler and that the popularity of British musical acts were on the rise, this makes sense to me). When Tiny couldn't pull off the British accent, King cut the name down Tiny Tim. "The name had nothing to do with Dickens or any of that shit,” King told Harry Stein. “It just happened to be close to Sir Timothy Tims. It made him easier to book.”
Since he had garnered a bit of a following as Darry Dover, the switch to Tiny Tim was not immediate, and during early 1963, Tiny bounced back and forth between the two names. For instance, two 78 RPM records he recorded during this time, each featuring different versions of two songs he'd written, “My True Love” (which appears on Lost & Found) and “Whispering Voices,” bear the name “Tiny Tim” on the label, but have “Darry Dover” written underneath and in parentheses. It seems as though Tiny stuck with the name because it was the name he happened to be using as he became more and more of an attraction as the sixties progressed.
Were Tiny’s peers and family supportive of his dreams of becoming a star?
On the whole, I would say that Tiny's family and peers were not particularly supportive of his show business aspirations. A few of his neighborhood friends and family members expressed some encouragement, but it doesn't appear as though Tiny had any sort of support system he relied on outside of his devout belief in Jesus Christ.
His mother, Tillie, was the dominant figure in the household and was very vocal about the fact that she felt was frustrated that her son was not like the other boys in the neighborhood and cousins his age. For many years, Tiny's father, who also had an often volatile relationship with Tillie, stuck up for his son. He rejected Tillie's tendency to address their son as “dope” and would often say, “One day, my son will be a genius!”
However, as the years wore on and the idea of Tiny actually becoming famous became more and more remote, his father, too, became less and less supportive. According to Tiny, he had many, many arguments with his parents during his pre-fame years, some of which even became violent. By 1965, it was incomprehensible that in three short years, their son would suddenly become, for a period of time, the most famous person on the planet. When interviewed by Rolling Stone in 1968, Tiny related his parents' 1965 sentiments:
“I'm sorry to say,” said Tillie, “in all fairness, you'll never be anything.”
“You'll never get anywhere singing in that sissy voice,” Butros added.
Nevertheless, perhaps if only for the fact that they didn't throw him out onto the street, Tiny was sure to thank his parents at the end of God Bless Tiny Tim and even featured them on the front cover of Tiny Tim's Second Album. Another interesting fact is that after her son's success, Tillie suddenly became very vocal about the son, whom she'd practically disowned, and kept extensive scrapbooks on him. In my opinion, though they had a contentious relationship, there was a tough love that existed between Tiny and his parents.
How and where was Tiny “discovered?"
Tiny was discovered in the fall of 1967. He had been feeling down and felt as though another slump was coming on. One night, however, using a few old baseball slogans like, 'Never lose, never quit,' Tiny psyched himself up for his nightly performance at The Scene. He went onstage and performed his usual set: a few falsetto numbers and a duet with himself.
As he performed, he noticed that a gentleman in the audience was really cracking up. After his set, Tiny discovered that the gentleman was none other than Mo Ostin, the President of Warner Bros./Reprise Records. Ostin, hot off of signing Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival, signed Tiny on the spot. Tiny was soon relocated to California where he was reunited with his old friend who had also just been hired by Warner Bros./Reprise Records as a producer, Richard Perry. With the backing of a major studio, the two went to work on God Bless Tiny Tim.
In Harry Stein’s book Tiny Tim, Tiny mentions one of the songs that is on Lost & Found that he originally recorded as a single for his own label, Toilet Records: “I…Did a couple of things I like for Toilet, especially “Alice Blue Gown,” though it didn’t do anything commercially. I guess the name of the label didn’t help.” Do you think that Tiny would be glad to know that this song has been resurrected and pressed onto vinyl again? Do you think Tiny would still be proud of the other songs that are on Lost & Found?
I think that Tiny would absolutely be happy with the fact that a single of his that he, himself, believed to have been buried, forgotten, and lost decades ago was finally receiving some attention. As for the other songs, I also believe that Tiny would remain proud of them, as many of his pre and post-fame recordings are representative of periods where Tiny was able to record what he wanted without pressure from a studio. For example, during the Milton Glaser sessions, Glaser gave Tiny no direction. He literally stepped into the studio and performed for the microphone as if it were an audience. Also, during the Vic-Tim era, Tiny produced those records himself and selected the songs. So, again, I believe he would be very happy with the song selection as they are truly Tiny just being able to be Tiny.
I understand that Tiny had a protégé that he signed to Toilet Records—can you tell us about him?
Gladly! The other artist signed to Toilet Records was a man named Isadore Fertel. Born in Lousiana, Fertel later moved to New York where he became a male activist for the Woman's Liberation Movement.
Described by one person I interviewed for my book as looking like the 'ultimate accountant,' with his coke bottle glasses, nasally singing voice, and receding hairline. Fertel hoped to make enough money in show business to get a sex change. Fertel also dabbled in song-writing. His songs are mostly tributes to figures whom he admired, such as “Susan B.” in honor of Susan B. Anthony, “The Reagan-Begin Song,” in honor of President Reagan and Prime Minister Begin of Isreal, and a tribute to Donny and Marie Osmond.
Tiny Tim met Isadore Fertel in the early 1970's and was “impressed with his songwriting.” Tiny featured Fertel as his opening act at many shows and promoted Fertel with what resources he was able to muster during that period. Though their relationship was sometimes strained due to Tiny's conventional views on the role of women in society and Fertel's involvement with Women's Lib, the two became close friends. Some have suggested that it comforted Tiny to be friends with someone who was, by normal standards, more strange than he was. Sadly, Fertel passed away last May.
Justin, how did you first become interested in Tiny Tim?
I was first exposed to Tiny Tim at the age of eight when my father brought me Spooky World, a Halloween theme park in Massachusetts that was very popular at that time. As I stood in line with my father, we watched the proceedings on a nearby stage that were intended to entertain the crowd as they waited. As I recall, at some point during the show, Tiny Tim came out onto the stage and performed. I can remember nothing of his performance, but his figure and presence are something that stand out to me still. However, being so young and more interested in hoping to catch a glimpse of the Toxic Avenger in the recently added Tromaville section of the haunted hayride, I did not think of Tiny again for the rest of the evening.
In fact, I didn't think of Tiny Tim again until I was 15 years old and over a friend's house. A relative of my friend was poking fun at our voices, which had not yet cracked, and claimed that we “sounded like Tiny Tim.” The relative then began to sing “Tip-Toe Thru' the Tulips.” Unsure of what he was talking about, my friend and I logged onto Napster, before it was wrongly (in my opinion) shut down, and downloaded Tiny Tim's rendition of the song.
To this day, I honestly cannot describe my reaction upon first hearing the song and was further shocked when someone confirmed for me that the person singing on the recording was, in fact, a man. I acted outraged and was not yet prepared to admit that I liked the song, though I knew that I did. I was intrigued enough to begin researching Tiny Tim and upon seeing his picture, remembered that night at Spooky World when I was eight years old.
Shortly thereafter, ignoring the discouragement I received from most of my friend and family, I began to collect anything and anything I could get my hands on that had any relation to Tiny Tim. My collection grew to contain virtually every official Tiny Tim release I could find, videos and memorabilia. Once I had absorbed everything I could get through official channels, I turned to bootlegs and unreleased material. All I have to say is that it was definitely not cool to be a Tiny Tim fan in high school circa 2001-2005. Luckily, most of my classmates spared me any serious humiliation!
In 2008, as a junior in college, after amassing a Tiny Tim collection far exceeding that of probably every other college student in the world, I began conducting interviews for my forthcoming Tiny Tim biography.
Best of luck with it and thank you for your time!