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At The Purple Onion
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Original 1961 album liner notes

The Songs and Comedy of The Smothers Brothers
Recorded at The Purple Onion, San Francisco


(Josef Marais)
G. Schirmer, Inc. (ASCAP)

(Tom & Dick Smothers)
MRC Music, Inc. (BMI)

(Tom & Dick Smothers)
MRC Music, Inc. (BMI)

(M. Parish, I. Miron (Michrovsky) & Julius Grossman)
Mills Music, Inc. (ASCAP)


(H. Wood, B. Rose & M. Dixon)
Bourne, Inc. (ASCAP)

(Lerner & Lowe)
Chappell & Co., Inc. (ASCAP)

(Wayne Shanklin)
Hill & Range Songs (BMI)

(Fred Brooks)
Sanga Music, Inc. (BMI)

(Tom & Dick Smothers)
MRC Music, Inc. (BMI)


More than 2,600 years have elapsed since Archilochus of Paros, the first great master of satire, fired barbs at hallowed institutions.  As an indication that the passage of centuries has not been in vain, the Smothers Brothers – Tom, 24, and Dick, 22 – take up the torch of satire and carry it to a new ground.

The legacy of the realm, from the biting insights of Gaius Lucilius (148-103 B.C.) to the comparably cunning assaults of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, is theirs for the searching.  The work of Cervantes, Donne, Moliere, Dryden, Pope, Addison, Swift, Fielding, Voltaire and Thackeray kept the flame burning.  In the care of Mencken, Twain, Benchley, Thurber, Perelman and others, the white heat of satire scorched acres of pseudo-sacred ground in our century.  In books, in drama and on stages throughout the world, satirists thrive, applying pertinent wit, irony and sarcasm to the task of exposing and attacking vice and folly.

When the young, imaginative Smothers Brothers come to grips with the world of folk music, they’re playing key roles in the perpetuation of a vivid, vital form.  Their predecessors soundly endorsed a concern for the values of satire.  In 1809, Lord Byron rhymed, “I’ll publish right or wrong; Fools are my theme, let satire be my song.”  In the 17th century, Nicholas Boileau-Despreaux contributed, “But satire, ever moral, ever new, /Delights the reader and instructs him, too. /She, if good sense refine her sterling page, /Oft shakes some rooted folly of the age.”

In satire, we see ourselves and our errors.  In one sense, satire offers truth.  “Truth, ‘tis supposed, may bear all lights; and one of those principal lights or natural mediums by which things are to be viewed in order to a thorough recognition is ridicule itself,” wrote the Earl of Shaftesbury more than 200 years ago.

Today, the Smothers Brothers carry on this illustrious tradition.  Smothers, you should know is their name.  They were born in New York, but landed in the Philippines at an early age, when their father, an Army career officer, was transferred to the islands in 1940.  When the Japanese pressed their attack in the Pacific, the brothers, one sister and their mother fled; their father, Major Thomas B. Smothers, Jr., died in a prisoner-of-war camp (an armory in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, named in his honor, was erected in 1952).  Settling in Southern California, the brothers attended Southwestern Military Academy and were graduated from Redondo Beach, California high school.  Later, they both attended San Jose State College.

In college, older brother Tom persuaded Dick to join him on the show business route, as folk song satirists.  A try-out at San Francisco’s Purple Onion led to a long engagement at that club and, inevitably, bookings at a string of other leading night spots, including the Blue Angel in New York, the Embers in Indianapolis, the Tidelands in Houston and Mister Kelly’s in Chicago.  An impressive appearance on the Jack Paar TV show led to more work on the Paar show and stints on other programs.

Dick, whose married and the father of a daughter, and Tom, a non-confirmed bachelor, both have chosen San Francisco as their home.  But these days they’re rarely home.  Most of the time, they’re on the road, blending voices and the sounds of guitar (Tom’s) and bass (Dick’s).  Their target is folk music and their arsenal is well-stocked.  As the brother who provides the inimitably naïve introductions to the songs they sing, Tom demolishes the slew of folk warblers who provide more background information than music.  In fleeting moments of seriousness, the Smothers can abandon satire and perform admirably.  Listening to this – their first long play album – provides an incomparable introduction to all facets of the duo’s unique act.

Tom’s characteristically nervous manner is evident in his introductory comments to Pretoria (“not Peoria”) and the twosome’s approach is well in evidence, too, in the variations on the tune’s lyrics they invent (“you sleep with me and I’ll sleep with you”).  Tom prefaces Dance, Boatman Dance with an eccentric comment about the seafarers who “go into town and pick up their oars.”  Down in The Valley, remembered fondly as a touching folk lament, becomes another sort of commodity in the Smothers’ hands; Tom’s narration is strikingly pointed (note his assertion that “Smothers is a stupid name”).  Tzena, Tzena, Tzena, Tzena, as the brothers sing it, has all the excitement of a one-humped camel race.

After whipping gaily through I Wish I Wuz in Peoria, the duo confronts (under the circumstances, that seems to be the most appropriate verb) They Call The Wind Maria, a ballad they attribute to the “Israeli section of Holland.”  After Tom’s classically satirical intro to Jezebel, the two pulsate firmly through the song, paying ample tribute to the woman of the title – classed by the brothers with Lolita and Betty Crocker.  In an unadorned, straight-forward interpretation, they invest I Never Will Marry with well-tempered pathos and rich meaning.  They close with the “virgin edition” of Tom Dooley, identified by Tom as a tale of an “internal triangle.”

From Tom’s opening words through the final bars of Tom Dooley, this is a recording venture filled with originality.  As folk music satirists, the Smothers are unmatched on the contemporary scene.  They bring a freshness to entertainment that is distinctly rare in our often intense world.  Tucked neatly in all they do are an astute sense of humor and a penetrating insight into today’s life.  Their casual air, never pretentious or artificial, communicates instantly with all audiences, establishing and sustaining a meaningful rapport.  They besiege the bastions of pomposity and pedantry and unflatteringly demolish them.

Their presence on the scene is both refreshing and stimulating.  The pillars of satire who paved the way for their success would be proud of their efforts to carry on the essential fray.

A special note about the Purple Onion, San Francisco
A celebrated cellar in San Francisco’s North Beach area reached the imagination of all American show business by spawning such greats as the Kingston Trio, Phillis Diller and now, The Smothers Brothers.  It plays to the intelligentsia of San Francisco but its acts reach the hearts of the nation.  The Purple Onion, secluded, hidden away, and small, is true show business in its largest sense.

Additional notes about this album:
Additional segments recorded at the Tidelands Motel, Houston, Texas.
Edited by Carole Schreier.


SR 60611 / MG 20611


This MERCURY record is the result of the most modern recording techniques in the phonograph industry.

In STEREO – The 15° cutter slant angle is utilized, the latest development in the art of disc recording.  The vertical-tracking-angle between cartridge and groove greatly reduces intermodulation distortion and gives the utmost reproduction of the original sound through its dynamic depth control and reliable stylus tracking.  To protect your stereo recording, play only on a phonograph with stereo reproducing cartridge according to the RIAA standards.

In MONO – The master tapes are transferred directly through the finest Ampex 300 series tape machine to a specially designed power amplifier which drives the BBC Grampian Feedback Cutting Head.  Because of the simplicity of our new recording techniques, quality listening on either stereo or monaural phonographs is assured.

In monaural or stereo, your MERCURY record will give you the truest possible reproduction of the original sound.

Mercury Record Corporation

SR 60611

Printed in U.S.A.

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