Odd this day

Coates
2 min readMar 29, 2023

This one’s a bit of a fudge, because I can’t find the actual date it happened on, but it was late March, apparently, so it’s… roughly the anniversary of lapsed aristocrat Jessica Mitford releasing a cover version of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, featuring a band of kazoo and cowbell players and an accordion.

(They called themselves Decca and the Dectones because ‘Decca’ was this particular Mitford sister’s favoured diminutive of Jessica.)

The story begins, according to the New Yorker (and they’ve got fact-checkers, which is more than can be said for me), a year or so earlier

at the fortieth-anniversary party for The Paris Review, in San Francisco. She was one of a bevy of writers singing at the celebration.

Apparently, author, producer and musician Kathi Kamen Goldmark first called Maya Angelou, who turned her down, but Dr A was famously mates with Mitford…

The CD Baby website (no, me neither) said Angelou responded to the invitation with the words

I can’t, but Decca will do it! … [She] picked up the phone, dialed a number, and grandly announced, ‘Decca, you’re going to be in a show!’

Decca “thought it sounded rather fun”, and

her performance was so well-received that she repeated it a year later during the San Francisco Bay Area Book Festival, at Kathi’s Rock Bottom All-Star Review, under the name Decca & the Dectones, and brought down the house.

Kathi

decided the song had to be recorded for posterity, booked some studio time, and arranged to record Maxwell and Grace Darling.

Here is that cover of Grace Darling, incidentally:

Some of the proceeds went to a charity called Send a Piana to Havana.

Angelou said of her friend’s singing voice:

She doesn’t have a lot of musical acumen. But on the other hand, she has the courage, the concentration, of somebody about to be executed in the next half-hour.

And if all that wasn’t preposterous enough, Maya Angelou did not let that prevent her from eventually being persuaded to sing in public — with her mate Decca:

Yes, Maya Angelou and Jessica Mitford covered Bernard Cribbins.

…on an album on which Stephen King did Bo Diddley.

No, really.

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Coates

Purveyor of niche drivel; marker of odd anniversaries