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Throwback Thursday: Blue Tobin, Part Two

Continued from Part One.

Besides composing music for written poems, there was an even more challenging assignment for which the payment was twice as much ($5/each!): transcribing a song from a cassette of the client singing. The quality of the recordings was often very poor, the pitch of the person’s singing less than stellar, and their rhythm sense often barely discernable. But for ear-training practice, it was peerless. After writing down my best approximation of the composer’s intentions for melody, I added chords, often embellishing the structure and trying to create a complete song from the scraps of melody on the noisy cassette recording.

Working for Five Star Music Masters was never a full-time job for me, just one of the odd jobs along with taxi driving, house painting and flower delivery that I did to keep starvation at bay while trying to land more music performance gigs. If my memory serves me well, my singing partner, Elliot, didn't last more than a week or two on the whole enterprise. He was much more of a purist about music than I and couldn't relate to the job at all. I tried to make the best of it, gathering what skills I could from the work and trying to write the best songs I could for perfect strangers whom I would never meet. Although these "song-poets" often lacked skill, many of their lyrics were heartfelt and I tried to do the best I could with them.

When I finally quit writing for Five Star for good, sometime in 1976 or 1977, I mentioned to the CEO, Lew Tobin that I was playing with my band on The Jazzboat, a popular live concert cruise on Boston Harbor. He showed up to one of our shows with his wife.


The title for the two posts in this series, “Blue Tobin,” came from my daughter Jessie, who used to accompany me once a week from our home in Somerville to the downtown Boston Five Star Music Masters offices. We would drive down to the Boston Garden, park along the edge, and walk though the garden to Tremont Street. There I would submit my completed work for the week, pick up my check and sheaf of new assignments. Afterwords, I would take Jessie to a restaurant in the area and we’d have a little lunch. It was a very pleasant outing for father and daughter. Jessie loved it. However, being only 3 or 4 years old at the time, when she heard me refer to the owner, Lew Tobin, filtered through her young ears, she thought I was saying, Blue Tobin. It stuck.