On a recent episode of WNYC Studios, Here’s The Thing (Elliott Gould: Mash Notes on a Long Career), Alec Baldwin shines while recounting a conversation he had with Jack Nicholson about working on Chinatown, with Roman Polanski and John Huston. (at the 19:10 mark Baldwin does a killer John Huston impression). Nicholson recals Huston turning to Polanski and saying, “Now Romannn, there are really only two directions — a little more and a little less.”
Observations (& Inspirations)
J. G. Ballard created a series of four graphically experimental text collages in the late 1950s. The work was later titled Project for a New Novel. Read more about them and see the other three images in the British Library post, Text collages by J G Ballard, c. 1958.
It’s all about them bells, pedal steel, and triumphant horns in this disrobing cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” This video is from the The Onion’s outstanding A.V. Undercover series.
The Polyphonic Spree: Legend has it that bandleader Tim DeLaughter knew he wanted to form a huge, symphonic pop band, but was stuck for a name. A fan of the old Wacky Pack stickers, he had a framed set on the wall. Staring at it, he was inspired by “Polly Dent” (parrot toothpaste). The rest of the name came to him effortlessly. For more band name origin stories see our blog post “From Lead Belly to Pussy Riot: branding lessons and inspiration from over a century of band names.”
Humphry Slocombe is a unique, “adult oriented” ice cream shop in San Francisco’s Mission District that makes quite possibly the best ice cream on the planet. If you’ve ever had their “Secret Breakfast” flavor ice cream, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Humphry Slocombe is an ice cream pioneer, mixing unusual flavors to great effect, using ingredients such as bourbon and toasted corn flakes (the aforementioned Secret Breakfast), Huckleberry Crème Fraîche, red wine and Coke (Jesus Juice), or Boccalone Prosciutto. They have over 100 flavors that rotate every day, sometimes 2-3 times throughout the day.
As incredibly good as this ice cream is, however, we wouldn’t be talking about it here if the company didn’t have an amazing name, a name that sets this shop apart from all other ice creams and magnifies their social media draw. Founder Jake Godby worked as a dessert chef at several outstanding San Francisco restaurants before opening the store, honing his craft as a crafty experimentalist. According to a profile in the New York Times (I’ll Take a Scoop of Prosciutto, Please), “With Humphry Slocombe, Godby continued pressing food buttons, beginning with the name, which is aggressively obtuse. (Mr. Humphries and Mrs. Slocombe were characters on the bawdy old British sitcom ‘Are You Being Served?’ Godby insists that if Alice Waters could name her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, after a highbrow French film, he could name his ice cream store after a lowbrow British farce.)”
In our opinion, the name Humphry Slocombe is not so much “aggressively obtuse” as it is strange, distinctive, memorable and totally original, just like their ice cream. It is a name with attitude, a name that establishes a character, with a handcrafted, old-timey feel that plays perfectly against the avant-garde nature of their ice cream. It is also similar in its construction to the name Pink Floyd, creating a new character out of the recombinant parts of old characters. As a testament to just how good and unique are Humphry Slocombe’s ice cream AND brand name, ask yourself how many small, one-store ice cream parlors are there with nearly 300,000 followers on Twitter? With an unbelievably great company name and product, and some brilliant flavor names, imagine how far they could go if only they would just address the issue of their graphically-challenged logo and website.
Humphry Slocombe is a company that has created the perfect brand name to represent the very unique thing that it does. A name with character for an “ice cream with attitude.” And that’s just aggressively brilliant.
Whatever you think about their music, past or present, the band Pink Floyd has an amazing, enduring name, with a subtle power that reveals itself gradually over time. The name was created on the spur of the moment by early member and “crazy diamond” troubled genius Syd Barrett, by combining “the given names of two blues musicians whose Piedmont blues records Barrett had in his collection, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council” (Wikipedia). The unique combinations of strangeness and familiarity, modern (“Pink”) and retro (“Floyd”), young and old, have led to this being an enduring name still vital nearly 50 years after it burst upon the London music scene in the mid-1960s. Contradiction and simplicity combine to form one of the greatest band names of all time. And it only works because “Pink” can be a name and not just a color, which is only the case because “Floyd” is a name; note, for instance, how much less interesting is the contemporary band name Pink Martini.
The band wouldn’t have been in the pink without the influence of Syd Barrett, however, as a look at the names of their previous, pre-Barrett incarnations reveals: Sigma 6, The Meggadeaths, The (Screaming) Abdabs, Leonard’s Lodgers, The Spectrum Five and, finally, The Tea Set, a name they would have stuck with had there not been another local London band with that exact name. A great example of viewing a name or trademark conflict not as a problem, but as a blessing in disguise if it leads to a much stronger name.
In a world where too many bands try too hard with their name to be different, the name Pink Floyd is one that, with seemingly little effort, stands out clearly from the pack. Shine on.
Many are familiar with the composer and artist Brian Eno. But did you know that Brian has a younger brother, Roger Eno, who is also an accomplished composer, musician, and sound installation artist? Here is a beautiful piece, “Fleeting Smile,” by Roger Eno, from the Brian Eno compilation album of various composers’ work, Music For Films III (1988). It evokes for me a mashup of Erik Satie and Nino Rota, and is wistfully beautiful, like a fleeting smile.
“Overall, Zinzin was very easy to work with and collaborative, which I’ve found is not common in this space. … We were very pleased with the process and the result. We’re very happy with the name. I feel like I developed a friendship with Jay and the rest of his team. We definitely stay in touch, and we’re inviting them to our launch party.”
—CEO, Éclair Naturals (case study here)
In case you have not yet heard of it, Clutch, a company that we named (case study here), identifies leading software and professional services firms that deliver results for their clients, through the process of conducting extensive research interviews with the clients of said professional services firms.
Seven of our fantastic clients have been interviewed so far by Clutch researchers for reviews about their experience working with Zinzin, which you can read in full on our Clutch profile page, or download a nicely-formatted PDF of all our client Clutch reviews on our Resources page.
Peter Greenaway. John Cage. Indeterminacy. What more could you want? Not the greatest video quality here in YouTube video form, but still. Not easy (impossible) to find this film series of films on an American format DVD, so this will have to do. Enjoy.
This project began with modest ambitions: a casual examination of some band names that have inspired us over the years and their origins or creation myths. As we dove into this treasure trove of nomenclature, however, the scope escalated into an deep investigation of over a hundred years’ worth of band name etymologies. The first dozen or so entries are not band names per se, but stage names, nicknames, and pseudonyms of seminal artists that have shaped the course of music and the manner in which bands and musicians are branded.
Our goal here is not to be exhaustive and include every famous band you’ve ever heard of, but rather to be definitive without being overly obvious, and keep the emphasis on interesting and intriguing band names, or bands with name origin stories that illuminate different aspects of the naming process. See the bottom of the article for a postscript identifying some of the trends in band naming over the years, along with a list of links to sources we consulted during this project.
So let us introduce to you, the acts you’ve never known for all these years…
1900s — Blind Lemon Jefferson: The stage name for bluesman Lemon Henry Jefferson.
1900 — Jelly Roll Morton: Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton, was an American ragtime and early jazz pianist, bandleader and composer. His composition “Jelly Roll Blues” was the first published jazz composition, in 1915. At the age of fourteen, Morton began working as a piano player in a brothel (or, as it was referred to then, a “sporting house”). While working there, he was living with his religious, church-going great-grandmother; he had her convinced that he worked as a night watchman in a barrel factory. In that atmosphere, he often sang smutty lyrics; and took the nickname “Jelly Roll,” which was slang for female genitalia.
1903 — Lead Belly: Born Huddie William Ledbetter, there are several conflicting stories about how Ledbetter acquired the nickname “Lead Belly,” though it was probably while in prison. Some claim his fellow inmates called him “Lead Belly” as a play on his family name and his physical toughness. Others say he earned the name after being wounded in the stomach with buckshot. Another theory is that the name refers to his ability to drink moonshine. Or it may be simply a corruption of his last name pronounced with a southern accent. Whatever its origin, he adopted the nickname as a pseudonym while performing.
1918 — Fats Waller: Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was an American jazz pianist, organist, composer, and singer. Andy Razaf described his partner as “the soul of melody…a man who made the piano sing…both big in body and in mind…known for his generosity…a bubbling bundle of joy.”
1920s — Son House: Eddie James “Son” House, Jr. was a blues singer and guitarist.
1920s — Roosevelt Sykes: An American blues musician, also known as “The Honeydripper.”
1920s — Tampa Red: Born Hudson Woodbridge, he moved to Chicago and adopted the stage name from his childhood home and light colored skin.
1924 — Bix Beiderbecke: Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke was an American jazz cornetist, jazz pianist, and composer. His father was nicknamed “Bix,” as, for a time, was his older brother, Charles Burnette “Burnie” Beiderbecke. Burnie Beiderbecke claimed that the boy was named Leon Bix and subsequent biographers have reproduced birth certificates to that effect. However, more recent research—which takes into account church and school records in addition to the will of a relative—has suggested that he was originally named Leon Bismark. Regardless, his parents called him Bix, which seems to have been his preference.
1928 — Count Basie: The stage name for William James “Count” Basie.
1928 — Mississippi John Hurt: The great blues singer and guitarist was born John Smith Hurt in Teoc, Missisippi, and raised in Avalon, Mississippi. He learned to play guitar at age nine.
1928 — T-Bone Walker: Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker was a critically acclaimed American blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Walker made his recording debut with Columbia Records billed as Oak Cliff T-Bone, releasing the single “Wichita Falls Blues” / “Trinity River Blues.” Oak Cliff was the community he lived in at the time and T-Bone a corruption of his middle name.
1929 — Memphis Minnie: Lizzie Douglas, known as Memphis Minnie, was a blues guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. In 1929 she and Kansas Joe McCoy, her second husband, began to perform together. They were discovered by a talent scout of Columbia Records in front of a barber shop where they were playing for dimes. When she and McCoy went to record in New York, they were given the names Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie by a Columbia A&R man.
1930s — Lightnin’ Hopkins: The stage name country blues singer Sam John Hopkins.
1931 — Skip James: Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James was an American Delta blues singer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter.
1935 — Dizzy Gillespie: John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was a jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer and occasional singer. Dizzy was christened John Gillespie, earning his nickname later in life when he was known for his sense of humor and practical jokes.
1937 — Sonny Boy Williamson I & Sonny Boy Williamson II: The recordings made by John Lee Williamson between 1937 and his death in 1948, and those made later by “Rice” Miller, were all originally issued under the name Sonny Boy Williamson. It is believed that Miller adopted the name to suggest to audiences, and his first record label, that he was the “original” Sonny Boy. In order to differentiate between the two musicians, many later scholars and biographers now refer to Williamson (1914-1948) as “Sonny Boy Williamson I,” and Miller (c.1912-1965) as “Sonny Boy Williamson II”
1939 — The Squadronaires: A British Royal Air Force band which began and performed in during World War II.
1940s — Howlin’ Wolf: Chester Arthur Burnett was a great Chicago blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player, from Mississippi. He explained the origin of the name Howlin’ Wolf: “I got that from my grandfather,” who would often tell him stories about the wolves in that part of the country and warn him that if he misbehaved, the “howling wolves” would get him. Paul Oliver wrote that Burnett once claimed to have been given his nickname by his idol Jimmie Rodgers.
1940s — Muddy Waters: The stage name of Chicago bluesman McKinley Morganfield. Waters’ grandmother, Della Grant, raised him after his mother died shortly following his birth. Della gave the boy the nickname “Muddy” at an early age because he loved to play in the muddy water of nearby Deer Creek. Waters later changed it to “Muddy Water” and finally “Muddy Waters.”
The NFL recently announced that it has suspended Tom Brady for four games for his “243-page, more probable than not” role in the Deflategate (AKA Ballghazi) scandal. The Patriots will also be fined $1 million and lose their first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft and their fourth round pick in the 2017 NFL draft. And so concludes yet another chapter in America’s long running love affair with gatesuffixing every scandal du jour, which originated in 1974 with two politically motivated burglaries at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, then located at the Watergate Hotel and Office Building. Ever since we have been awash in gates, or what sociologist John Thompson calls, “scandal syndrome.”
America, however, already enjoyed a deep and rich history of promoting, hawking and branding various forms of misconduct, long before Nixon’s bumbling henchmen had a chance to immeasurably disfigure the lexicon of scandal, going all the way back to our formative years as a country. Here is an abbreviated list of some of the more the noteworthy from a naming perspective:
1797 – The XYZ Affair: A confrontation between the United States and Republican France that led to an undeclared war called the Quasi-War. The name derives from the substitution of the letters X, Y and Z for the names of French diplomats in documents released by the Adams administration.
1801 – The Burr Conspiracy: U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr’s goal was to create an independent nation in the center of North America and parts of present-day Mexico.
1804 – The Pickering Affair: Federal Judge John Pickering was impeached and convicted in absentia by the U.S. Senate for drunkenness and use of profanity on the bench in spite of the fact neither act was a high crime or misdemeanor.
1831 – The Petticoat Affair: The husband of Margaret “Peggy” O’Neale was alleged to have been driven to suicide because of her affair with Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War, John Henry Eaton.
1872 – Crédit Mobilier Scandal: The scandal involved the Union Pacific Railroad and the Crédit Mobilier of America construction company in the building of the eastern portion of the First Transcontinental Railroad.
1875 – Whiskey Ring: Massive corruption of Ulysses S. Grant’s administration involving whiskey taxes, bribery and kickbacks ending with 110 convictions.
1919 – Black Sox Scandal: The Chicago White Sox lost the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, and eight White Sox players were later accused of intentionally losing games in exchange for money from gamblers. The players were acquitted in court, but nevertheless, they were all banned for life from baseball.
1919 – Newport Sex Scandal: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated an investigation into allegations of “immoral conduct” (homosexuality) at the Naval base in Newport, Rhode Island. After the report, which revealed nothing, the investigators themselves were also accused of homosexuality.
1923 – The Makropulos Affair: The Makropulos Affair is a play written by Karel Čapek and first performed in 1922 at the Vinohrady Theatre in Prague.
1924 – Teapot Dome Scandal: A bribery incident that took place in the United States during the administration of President Warren G. Harding. Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall had leased Navy petroleum reserves at Teapot Dome in Wyoming and two other locations in California to private oil companies at low rates without competitive bidding.
For no rational reason, I stumbled upon this particular Robert Frank photograph from his famous 1955 book, The Americans. Ordinary Americans drinking soda at a Detroit drugstore soda fountain in the mid-1950s. But I was struck by the incredible display of advertising overkill going on for a drink called “Orange Whip” — only ten cents a glass! The air is thick with Orange Whip signs, and the man in the foreground seems to be enjoying a glass of this marvelous elixir.
Wikipedia provides an succinct overview of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of Orange Whip:
An Orange Whip is a sweet cocktail, made with rum and vodka, containing the base alcohols mixed with cream and orange juice. It is typically blended to a froth like a milkshake, and poured over ice in a Collins glass.
“Orange Whip” has also been used as brand name for non-alcoholic drinks. In the 1950s, the Tropical Fruit Company marketed an “Orange Whip” concentrate to be served as a fountain beverage. Jeanne Carmen, an actress and pinup model from that period, was once dubbed “Miss Orange Whip”. The US Patent and Trademark Office lists various applications for the “Orange Whip” trademark to be applied to drinks and a chain of juice stores.
Jeanne Carmen (1930-2007) was known as the “Queen of the B-movies” back in the day. Here’s a picture of her, ostensibly in her official capacity as “Miss Orange Whip”:
Apparently Miss Carmen was also a virtuoso foot pianist. Who knew?
The non-alcoholic version of Orange Whip enjoyed one last hurrah in the Blues Brothers movie of 1980. Again, I’ll let Wikipedia tell the story:
The drink had a resurgence after the release of The Blues Brothers. In that movie, John Candy’s character, Jake’s parole officer, attends the film’s pivotal fund-raising concert in order to arrest the performing band, but decides he wants to see them perform first and orders drinks for himself and the uniformed state troopers he is with, saying: “Who wants an orange whip? Orange whip? Orange whip? Three orange whips!”
The drink was not in the original script. The costumer on the film, Sue Dugan, is the daughter of the late Kenny Dugan, Director of Sales for the Orange Whip Corporation. Mr. Dugan had been providing refreshments for the cast and asked if “Orange Whip” (the non-alcoholic beverage product) could be mentioned in the film. John Landis, the director, mentioned this to Candy, who improvised the exchange.
Here’s the “Orange Whip” clip from The Blues Brothers movie:
Sadly for fans of the soft drink, that particular Orange Whip is no more. But now you can groove to “a bounty of booty-shakin’ bliss” by the Minnesota cover band Orange Whip — who may or may not have recorded at Orange Whip Recording — while working out with your Orange Whip golf swing trainer. Another example of namevolution, I suppose, with new Orange Whips taking the place of the vanished Orange Whip soft drink brand that was.
- Road Show: The journey of Robert Frank’s “The Americans,” by Anthony Lane. The New Yorker, September 14, 2009
Brand Mascots 100
No.97: Procter & Gamble’s Mr. Clean (AKA Don Limpio, Maestro Limpio, Monsieur Net)
CREATORS: Harry Barnhart (concept), Ernie Allen (art direction)
AGENCY: Tatham-Laird & Kudner, Chicago
CORPORATE OVERSEER: Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati
AD SPEAK / SPIEL: “Mr. Clean leaves a sheen where you clean”
TAGLINE: “When it comes to clean, there’s only one Mr.”
A Cleaning Solution: “Mr. Clean was created by Linwood Burton, a marine ship cleaning businessman with accounts throughout the east coast of the United States. In the past, ships had to be cleaned using abrasives or solvents that were able to cut successfully through embedded grease and grime; however, past solvents were so dangerous to workers that Burton was motivated to finding a solution that was effective and less caustic. Burton, with fundamental knowledge in chemistry, developed Mr. Clean in an effort to clean ships without having to pay significant premiums in disability claims for his workers. He later sold the product to Procter & Gamble in 1958.” (SOURCE: Wikipedia-Mr.Clean)
Birth Of A Mascot: “The product’s mascot is the character Mr. Clean. In 1957, Harry Barnhart conceived the idea and Ernie Allen in the art department at the advertising agency Tatham-Laird & Kudner in Chicago, Illinois, drew Mr. Clean as a muscular, tanned, bald man who cleans things very well.” (SOURCE: Wikipedia-Mr.Clean)
Cultural Precursor: It would appear that Mr.Barnhart and Mr. Allen’s 1957 conception of a “muscular, tanned, bald man” standing arms akimbo might have been influenced by Yul Brynner’s character of The King from Rodgers and Hammerstein 1951 production of The King and I, which was based on the 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. Which was in turn derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of the actual fourth monarch of Siam, King Mongkut — AKA Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramenthra Maha Mongkut Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua — in the early 1860s.
Make A Wish: “According to Procter & Gamble, the original model for the image of Mr. Clean was a United States Navy sailor from the city of Pensacola, Florida, although some people may think he is a genie based on his earring, folded arms, and tendency to appear magically at the appropriate time. Hal Mason, the head animator at Cascade Pictures in Hollywood, California modified the existing artwork in print advertising to be more readily used for the television commercials written, produced, and directed by Thomas Scott Cadden. The first actor to portray Mr. Clean in live action television commercials was House Peters, Jr.” (SOURCE: Wikipedia-Mr.Clean)
Just One Word–Plastics: The Graduate by Charles Webb was published in 1963. That summer Mr. Clean became the first liquid household cleaner sold in a plastic bottle. Coincidence? Or conspiracy Hmm…
Obligatory Apocalypse Now Reference: Larry Fishburne was cast at age 14 to play Tyrone “Clean” Miller in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now alongside Albert Hall, Dennis Hopper, Frederic Forrest, Harrison Ford, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Sam Bottoms and a very Mr. Clean looking Marlon Brando.
International Aliases: Bulgaria: Mister Proper; France: Monsieur Propre; French Canada: Monsieur Net; Germany: Meister Proper; Holland: Meneer Proper; Italy: Mastro Lindo; Mexico: Maestro Limpio; Poland: Pan Proper; and Spain: Don Limpio.
Jingle: Original lyrics by Thomas Scott Cadden
Mr. Clean gets rid of dirt and grime
And grease in just a minute
Mr. Clean will clean your whole house
And everything that’s in it
More Brand Mascots 100: