Another gem by Joe Morley. This time we are on our camels as we follow the trade routes through the desert, swinging from side to side as we go. At this pace, they would have to be lively camels!

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Comment by Trapdoor2 on August 7, 2020 at 2:08

Comment by TONY BRYAN on August 7, 2020 at 14:20

Thanks to all who contributed to this discussion.  I think I can now come to a reasoned judgement, but before I do, I should mention the contribution of my wife, Cathie.  She is an Egyptology professional with a particular interest in the reception of ancient Egypt in the West, and although she has published on the subject, she has so far kept clear of ancient Egypt and the banjo.  Her vote was for Desert Trail being a deliberate piece of orientalism, though she was not able to put a finger on exactly why it was so. Back to the propositions.

It was interesting to go back to 2012 and read the comments that followed Mike Moss' rendition, particularly as regards the likeness to Albert Ketèlbey's "In a Persian Market".  The problem with that comparison was that, although the rhythms were similar in places, the 'oriental' intervals of "In a Persian Market" are totally absent in Morley's work.  On the other hand, in "Silver Heels" (see above) we get much closer to the chord combinations and intervals of "Desert Trail", but it still doesn't sound convincing.  Anyway, if Morley had intended us to think of it as a competitor to "Silver Heels", he would have given it a title that left us in no doubt ("Brass Ankles"?).  The argument for it being Western in sentiment falls flat if it does not refer to Native Americans, as there is no way this reminds anyone of cowboys. 

We have to remember that Morley was a skilled composer of a wide variety of styles, and could have introduced any sound he wanted into a composition.  He could have written something with the Middle-Eastern intervals of "In a Persian Market" and there would have been no doubt as to what he intended.  So we have to assume that what he intended was something else, and here I went back to Luigini's 1875 "Egyptian Ballet" that was used by Wilson Kepple and Betty.  In that music there are none of the intervals that would make it sound oriental to us, but there are some rhythmic repetitions of intervals that Morley also uses.  And the more I thought about it the more it sounded to me as though Desert Trail was intended as a soft-shoe sand dance, though at 108bpm it's a bit slow. 

As for the title, 'Desert' gives us the sand that is sprinkled on the stage at the start of the performance, and the "Trail" is the strip the performers have to dance on.  Anyone watching the historical YouTube videos of Wilson and Kepple (and Betty) from 1933 can easily make the connection between the dancing that is taking place on stage and a fanciful interlude on a 'desert trail', particularly with the Pyramids and the Sphinx in the background.  In general, the rationale points to the adoption of the first proposition, namely:

it is a piece of popular orientalism provoked by the rage for Egyptomania after the discovery of the tomb of King Tut in 1921.

In the process of composition, Morley has deliberately avoided the use of 'oriental' intervals in favour of a much earlier musical concept based on 'oriental' rhythms that had been adopted by an extremely popular dance team as part of their participation in the Tutmania craze. His choice looks as though it paid off as BMG records that people started playing Desert Trail in the local BMG clubs almost as soon as it was published. 



Comment by Joel Hooks on August 7, 2020 at 15:57

That could be Marc... I think I'll work on Warren Dean's "Chief Big Jaw", Thomas Allen's "Cowboy Capers", and Frank Bradbury's "Indianjo" this weekend.  Perhaps Grimshaw's "Prairie Life" and Lansing's "Western Ho!" to round things out.

Comment by Jody Stecher on August 8, 2020 at 1:01

Alton Delmore, the older and more sober half of the Alabama country duet The Delmore Brothers titled his autobiography "Truth Is Stranger Than Publicity".  That is what came to mind in reading about the "trail" of sand on the stage.  I think you must be right, Tony.    I think your explanation is likely to be true at least partially  because it seems unlikely or unexpected.

Comment by TONY BRYAN on August 8, 2020 at 11:10

Thanks for your stamp of approval, Jody.  There is one small detail that I omitted from the discussions, and it could make all the difference: the published solo says that the last four bars should be played 'accel e cresc' - faster and louder - and ending with two chord rasps.  I didn't record it that way as my vision of swaying camels didn't include them galloping off over the horizon.  But if this is a dance performance, then it would only natural for the performance to end with a bang, so to speak. Looking at the other options again, I can't make out a case for any of them ending faster and louder.  'Silver Heels' and 'In a Persian Market' would sound decidedly odd if they ended this way.  Oriental Foxtrots and the like, if anything, would slow down to a long 'hold' on the last note.  So we are back to a performance that ends with climax followed by a crash of applause.  




Comment by Shawn McSweeny on August 11, 2020 at 2:45

Late to the party. 

Wonderful performance and great tone ! 

Interesting discussion too.

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