In the early 1960s, along with his
duties as cartoonist and world-traveller extraordinaire for Playboy
Shel Silverstein was making a name
for himself as a songwriter and hipster in the growing folk music scene.
Shel sang his own songs at clubs like the Gate of Horn in Chicago and the
Bitter End in Greenwich Village, while also collaborating with modern
influences on folk music like Bob Gibson and Bob (Hamilton) Camp.
Somehow he also managed to toss off bizarre little gems on the back of
other people's album covers. Ordinarily, these would be called liner notes,
but with Shel's unique touch, they really become something altogether
different. I don't know for sure how many of these he actually penned,
but here's a few that I've been able to dig up thus far. They run the gamut
from inscrutable to hilarious. Enjoy:
Jean Shepherd and other Foibles (1959): Shel provides a "fictional biography" on the back of the album cover.
& Camp Live at the Gate of Horn (1961): This album still
resonates today, and was actually rerecorded in its entirety for a
reunion that Gibson and Camp did in the 1990s. Shel's liner notes
are absolutely wonderful, vividly describing the atmosphere of the
original version of the club, which closed its doors soon after this
live concert. Gibson himself cracked that "the liner notes outsold
the album two to one."
Flying Bird (1963): This album was the 2nd solo album Judy
Henske recorded for Elektra records, which also released Shel's first album, Hairy Jazz. Henske is a singer who can't really be put into
any kind of category. During her heyday, the early to mid 1960's,
she was known for her incredible vocal power, her knack for comedy,
and her gift with the blues. It's fully evident in this album, which
includes the first song she ever wrote (in collaboration with Shel),
Oh, You Engineer. The liner notes here are funny as hell, as Shel
seems to mock her for refusing to marry him. Now, why he lists his
address as being from Kenosha, Wisconsin, I will never know...
EDIT: I have been informed recently by Mitch Myers, Chicago-area journalist and Shel's nephew,(November 2003) that Shel's parents had a summer home in Kenosha, and Shel would visit there often over the years.
(1963): All I know is that Shel wrote the liner notes, but I haven't read
them. Mapes was a folksinger in Chicago who performed
at the Gate of Horn and other area coffeehouses, and would have
known Shel, Gibson/Camp, Alan Ribback, etc.
Elliot (1964): Vanguard Records. Elliot, known as Ramblin'
is a traditional folk singer who accompanies himself on guitar and
mouth harp. Interesting. Shel's liner notes are very, very bizarre.