15 July 2011

jitterbug – Tony Shimkin speaks about unreleased demo

Madonna goes “all the way” as Mae Mordabito, jittering her bug with co-star Eddie Mekka – A League of Their Own director, Penny Marshall’s co-star in Laverne and Shirley

Exactly five years ago, this very week, I visited the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC to listen to a number of Madonna’s rare unreleased demo tapes.

One or rather, two of the most interesting tapes on file at the LOC are what has become known in Madonna myth as “The Rain Tapes”. If you haven’t heard of them before, “The Rain Tapes” are two cassette tapes containing a number of demos from the Erotica album that were filed at the LOC by Madonna’s Erotica co-producer, Shep Pettibone – the existence of the tapes were first brought to light by my old friend, Bruce Baron in his 1999 article “Madonna – From Genesis to Revelations” in US magazine, Goldmine.

On one of the two Maxwell UD II 90 minute audio cassette tapes on which the Erotica demos are recorded (LOC reference: Pau.1.605.641/643), in between two demos of Thief of Hearts is a clip of a song called Jitterbug. The song is listed as “Jitterbug” Rough 1/17/92 on the handwritten cassette cover, spelt incorrectly with a “G” and corrected with a bold “J”. All songs on the tape are credited to S.Pettibone/M.Ciccone/T.Shimkin (Shep Pettibone, Madonna and Tony Shimkin).

When Bruce Baron visited the LOC, he was given a number of hours to listen to and review the demos. I was given permission to review the demos over a four day period, so my notes about the song differ slightly from Bruce’s original online report:

Madonna sings in a cartoonish/I’m Breathless style, “Jitter, b-b-b-b-b-bug, Get up, u-u-u-u-u-up”. The music is like a modern take on the swing music of the 1940s, but incorporates some house style piano and synth horns. The music continues and Madonna mock scolds in her best Cry Baby “Nu Yoik” voice, “That’s not how you do it!” (Do what – the jitterbug?) The music continues and Madonna says, “Is this gonna go on forever?” no less than twice and then says, “Somebody end this damn thing,” continuing, “There were some cute ideas in there”.

A few days after my trip to the LOC, I interviewed Madonna’s Erotica co-producer/songwriter, Tony Shimkin, at his office/studio in New York:

thebeatswithin: I heard a snippet of a song called Jitterbug when I visited the Library of Congress, which was on the same tape as the other Erotica demos, but sounds nothing like any of those songs.

“It was an attempt to do something for the A League of Their Own soundtrack where there was a jitterbug dance scene in the film and it was an attempt to try to do a jitterbug in somewhat of a modern way. So, it was a real, rough demo idea of how it would be and envisioning it.

Actually, if it had have been carried out, it probably would played out like the actual piece of music that was used in the movie. It was very Big Band oriented and, if it were to have been produced, I think it would have been produced with a full Big Band and a full horn section and all that.

We were trying to think conceptually was there a way to do a jitterbug in a cool kind of contemporary way and give it to her and see what kind of lyrics and melody she would come up with and it was never really explored beyond the initial demo music.
thebeatswithin: I only heard about 30 seconds of music. Was that as far as the idea went?
“Pretty much. There was just a really rough sketch – “How about something like this? Is this what you’re trying to do?” I think we were in the middle of so many other things at the time and maybe there wasn’t a necessity for it in the movie.

It was around the time we were doing This Used to Be My Playground and the Jitterbug thing was an idea then. We went to meet with her in Chicago when she was doing the movie, so that’s when that was done.”

thebeatswithin: Did you record that demo with Madonna in Chicago?

“No, we recorded This Used to Be My Playground in Los Angeles and Jitterbug, we did in New York at Shep’s house.”

Click here to watch the scene from A League of Their Own, that inspired Jitterbug. Incidentally, the scene uses the song
Flying Home, written by “The King of Swing” Benny Goodman, with Lionel Hampton, Sid Robin and Sydney Robin, and is performed by Doc’s Rhythm Cats.


Pud Whacker said...

i love it - MORE MORE MORE!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Finally a more complete understanding of the origin of Jitterbug---it makes a lot of sense, it's surprising no one made the connection with the League of Their Own before.

I really have to say this blog is a treat! It's an actual discussion of Madonna's music, not her relationships, her clothes, etc. Just her creative process. Really great stuff! Thanks so much for doing it!

Anonymous said...

Question: Shimkin said that "Jitterbug" and "This Used to Be My Playground" were done when they visited Madonna in Chicago while she was filming A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, however Madonna was in Chicago in July 1991, and those songs (per the dates on the Rain Tapes and Shep's Erotica Diaries article) were done in early 1992. Do you think he meant they simply got the ideas for them when they visited her?

Shep even said that "Playground" was the last song they did and that was right before she left to do BODY OF EVIDENDCE (April 1992).

Just curious...

I am also interested if Shimkin would know the 3 songs they brought to Madonna in Chicago (per the Erotica Diaries). I am assuming two of them were "Rain" and "Deeper and Deeper" since she recorded those immediately in the fall.

andrew said...

Excellent. I have just recently heard Jittergug and had considered an influence from A League of Their Own. Such a weird snippet of music, would have been great to hear a full version.
Secretly, I have always dreamed of M doing a big band album. Not covers though. When American Life was coming out, I'd heard murmurs of a song called Hollywood (at one point I remember talk that the album might be called Hollywood) and I had visions of a big band infused album then!

Adam Lopez said...

The only song I have ever wanted to hear from the so-called "Rain Tapes" is the track "Shame". The residual clip that's out there seems very fascinating. Madonna is long over due to release an album of unreleased songs.