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A Grammy for Atlantic City? Stories behind the GRAMMY nominated soundtrack of HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’ By Jeff Schwachter

f e b r u a r y 9 - 1 5 , 2 0 1 2 • A T L A N T I C C I T Y W EE K L Y 38

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ll of the attention and press Atlantic City has reaped from the overwhelming success of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, the second season of which ended last December, may pay off even more after this Sunday’s GRAMMY Awards ceremony (airing live on CBS, Feb. 12, 8pm). The series, set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, has won multiple awards since it debuted in September 2010, and its soundtrack — Boardwalk Empire: Vol. 1, Music from the HBO Original Series — released in September 2011 on Elektra Records, has been nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media. As many fans of the show will tell you, the 1920s music that appears on the show — and its soundtrack — is a very important and prized part of Boardwalk Empire. There are so many talented folks behind the music on the show — including the artists of the period such as Sophie Tucker (played by Kathy Brier) and Eddie Cantor (Stephen DeRosa) who both got a big lift in their legendary careers by starting out in Atlantic City — that the show’s creator Terry Winter, executive producer Martin Scorsese and soundtrack producers Stewart Lerman, Kevin Weaver and Randall Poster are just a few of them. The soundtrack, which includes contemporary versions of 16 songs that were around in the early ‘20s, includes performances as heard in the series. Tunes sung by Leon Redbone (“Shiek of Araby”), Regina Spektor (“My Man”), Loudon Wainwright III (“Carrickfergus”) and Catherine Russell (“Crazy Blues”) are just a sampling of the tracks on the album, which also heavily features New York’s Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks backing most of the artists and performing period instrumentals. You could say there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen with regard to the show’s music, but that’s likely why it’s so extraordinary. As the riveting season one finale ended in 2010, the last song heard was a song selected by Winter himself. “Life Is a Funny Proposition After All,” penned by George M. Cohan, also closes the soundtrack. “I was just floating around on the Internet and, you know, YouTube is just an enormous resource for this type of stuff — you just type in ‘1920s music’ or anything like that and things just keep popping up. And then one thing leads to another. You’ll see Eddie Cantor and then he’s referring to George Cohan. And you just click and listen and, you know, just thank God people just upload all this stuff.” Once Winter heard the obscure Cohan song he knew it was the song to close season one. “I said, ‘God, I’d love to do a closing montage with this song,’ and it just worked great. Really poignant and incredible lyrics ... very deep in terms of its message and the words are just really powerful.” Although Cantor didn’t sing or record the

Kathy Brier as Sophie Tucker song (which actor-singer DeRosa does as Cantor on the show) as far as we know, Winter wanted him to sing it on the show. “Well, we love Stephen and we love that character and yeah, we don’t know if he ever recorded it [but] he may have very well performed it. And Stephen did such a great rendition of it. Really beautiful. “You can take those licenses and liberties and as long as it’s not anachronistic or the song wasn’t written for five more years, you know, I’ll do it.” DeRosa tells Atlantic City Weekly that his poignant performance was a last-minute decision. “I got a phone call near the end of the [first] season and they said Eddie is going to be in the final episode, and I’m like, ‘Amazing! Can’t wait.’ And then they said, ‘Terry found a song that we’re figuring out and we want you to do, but we don’t know how we want you to do it.’ “So then I get this material and I want to do it the way Eddie would have done it, and I want to do it the way it would have been done at Babette’s [club] at midnight — a kind of ‘Old Lange Syne’ kind of feeling. And at the same time, my first instinct was to go to the sad place because we had talked about that, but that’s not what the ‘20s were about and it certainly wasn’t what Eddie was about.” The song, says DeRosa, was “about irony. It was about, ‘Yeah, things are crazy and fucked up, but we are still hopeful about the future. We have to make peace with it.’ When I got that song I was like, ‘Terry, where the hell did you find this?’ And Terry said, ‘I just knew I wanted to find a song to close out season one and I just looked around and said there it was, that’s my song.’” Another stand-out song and performance

from the show is “Some of These Days,” which was one of the iconic Sophie Tucker’s biggest hits. Singer-actress Kathy Brier portrays Tucker on the show in season one, when the song first appears. As the actual Cantor recalls in his 1963 memoir As I Remember Them, “Sophie Tucker will always remain grateful to Atlantic City. It was there, 57 years ago, that for the first time in her life she received top billing, and she’s had top billing ever since. Her output of adrenaline every day could take care of all the needs of a wholesale drug firm.” Brier says that the role fit her like a glove. “Sophie Tucker and Eddie Cantor were the premier entertainers of their time period and they sang everything, really. It’s been a joy to [play] her,” she says. Brier remembers the initial audition process as being “swift and a whirlwind.” “I think the first time, I had a day to prepare the music [for the audition]. I mean, I knew who Sophie Tucker was, but I didn’t understand the scope of her reach in terms of entertainment. “So when I got the audition it was like a cram session. I knew that they wanted her to kind of be as close historically to her as possible in terms of her sound and everything, so I got the audition one day and was called back in the next. Then I recorded ‘Some of These Days’ and ‘Don’t Put a Tax on the Beautiful Girls’ the day after that. So it was like in a span of two-and-a-half days that I had to perfect those two songs.” Brier’s third song on the soundtrack (she has the most songs aside from Giordano and his band on the album) appeared in the second season’s first episode, “21.”

“The last song I sang [in May 2011, while she was pregnant], ‘After You Get What You Want (You Don’t Want It),’ I didn’t have much time before recording it either. Actually, it was originally supposed to be sung by three chorus girls and I guess for whatever reason [the producers] decided that it wasn’t working out. So they called and were like, ‘Can you come in tomorrow and do this?’ And I was like, ‘OK!’ Brier would love to do more as Sophie Tucker, saying that “she is such a character that it makes it even more fun” to play her. “When you find a character like this that fits you like a glove, it’s kind of a shame not to take it and run with it, especially when you have the backing of a show like Boardwalk Empire. So one of my goals was to create some kind of show around her, but now with the baby, that kind of flew out the window, but hopefully it will happen; I just don’t know if or when.” Like DeRosa, Brier — ironically both have appeared on episodes of Law & Order SVU  — also envisions a show where the pair sing as Tucker and Cantor. “Stephen and I would love to do a show together where we just do songs [of Eddie Cantor and Sophie Tucker], and Vince said he would be willing to play with his band. We were thinking of possibly doing it at Feinstein’s [in Manhattan], because it’s just such fun music. And it’s some of the best music ever written.” Although Brier doesn’t appear on screen in season two — DeRosa only appears in one episode in the second season when he visits his pregnant friend Lucy Danziger (Paz de la Huerta) in Ocean City where a Victrola record player from Prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) turns out to save her and her unborn child’s lives — she hopes that because Atlantic City was so important to Tucker’s career, that she’ll be back at some point on the show. “I keep hoping for season three!” she says. “But you do hear me over the opening montage [of season two’s premiere], so it was a pretty good spot even though I wasn’t [on screen]. When they called they were like, ‘You know, you’re not on camera [for the song], is that OK?’ And I said absolutely. I love the show and the music and I just love singing with the band. I mean the band is amazing.” The “band” is Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, an 11-piece musical encyclopedia, which performs music of the 1920s and ‘30s at New York’s Sofia’s Restaurant every Monday and Tuesday (221 W. 46th Street, 212-719-5799) and which has been hailed by the New York Times as “an erupting wellspring of euphoria.” Giordano, who is represented in the Atlantic City region by Zippy Productions of Cape May, says he’s had a ball working on Boardwalk Empire and would love to bring his band to Atlantic City. No brainer, right? “Vince Giordano has the  ability to write, arrange and play music from another era and essentially have our contemporary ears  acknowledge this music in the realm of the intention it was written,” says Jeff Morgan of Zippy Productions. “He has a true gift.” Giordano has been so busy with Boardwalk Empire over the past few years that he has cut


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Atlantic City Weekly 2-9-12  

A Grammy for Atlantic City? Stories behind the soundtrack of HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire'

Atlantic City Weekly 2-9-12  

A Grammy for Atlantic City? Stories behind the soundtrack of HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire'