Stories behind the GRAMMY-winning soundtrack of HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’
UPDATE: Boardwalk Empire: Vol. 1, Music from the HBO Original Series won a GRAMMY award on Sunday, Feb. 12, in the Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.
All 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 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 (pictured, Macall B. Polay/HBO) 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 (pictured, Abbot Genser/HBO) 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!’
“So it’s been interesting because I didn’t have a tremendous amount of time, but I have been singing as long as I can remember, and have studied for years so it wasn’t that difficult for me to try to latch on to the style and the period.”
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.
It’s no surprise that Diana Krall — whose sultry voice, good looks and evocative piano playing made her an instant star in the jazz world beginning in the 1990s — has always had one foot in the past and one foot in the present.
Among the genres of music A Night at the Speakeasy embodies are country (catapulted into popularity in the mid-1920s by the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast, which originates from Tinnon’s home town of Nashville, Tennessee) and gospel, also made widely popular by radio in the 1920s.
The fifth annual AC Cinefest, presented by the Downbeach Film Festival, will feature Robert Downey Sr. in addition to Terry Winter, award-winning creator of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, and actor Peter Dobson.
"The game has changed quite a bit. Things have gotten a lot more violent, a lot more competitive, and Nucky has sort of had to up his game as well in order to survive. "
"It’s almost foreshadowed in the pilot when Jimmy tells Nucky: 'You can’t be half a gangster anymore,' and I knew that at one point Nucky would cross that line and fully become a gangster."
From Nelson Johnson and the original book to the Grammy-winning soundtrack, interviews with the cast and executives of the HBO show set in Atlantic City and the real stories behind the drama series.
The Atlantic City Ballet’s two newest productions, 'Caught Up in the Swing' and '7 Sins.' will be featured as double-header productions at three southern New Jersey locations — Rowan University’s Wilson Hall’s Pfleeger Theater (Saturday, March 17, starting 7pm); the Ocean First Theater in Manahawkin (Saturday, March 31, 7pm); and at Richard Stockton College’s Performing Arts Center (Thursday, April 19, 7pm). Both productions are family friendly and appropriate for all ages.
"The ending caught me by surprise even though I know the history to which it's adhering. I thought it was such a bold and dramatic move. You sort of figured the series was going to be about these two characters and then one of them dies suddenly at the end of season two."
Plus Atlantic City Restaurant Week preview, Drew Toonz and bandleader Vince Giordano on 'Boardwalk Empire' soundtrack winning a Grammy.
Justified and True Blood actor Stephen Root will appear on Boardwalk Empire starting in season three as "recurring lawman," according to Hollywood Reporter. Root will play "Gaston Means, a former swindler and murder suspect who now works for the Department of Justice."
'The whole world now will start listening and really finding out how great the music of the 1920s is. It brings it up to the forefront.'
New York big-band leader Vince Giordano talks to Atlantic City Weekly about working on HBO's Boardwalk Empire and its GRAMMY-nominated soundtrack.
"Eddie lived in a kind of musically optimistic 1920s place even though he had a shitty childhood. His parents died when he was young but his grandmother raised him and he was little and scrawny so he got beaten up a lot. He learned to make jokes so he could avoid getting beaten up, so from then on he realized this singing and dancing thing could work."
"When I recorded the first two songs I got to record with the band, which I prefer — in the same room, we did it live. Coming from a musical theater background, I prefer to sing live because there's just this synergy when you have a band playing behind you."
Plus DrewToonz, the Album of the Week (The Roots), and music history exhibit at WheatonArts in Millville.
Rothstein’s precise role in the matter has been argued for decades, as the related legal proceedings (plus actions taken by Major League Baseball) served more to obfuscate than clarify.
"I wasn’t the only critic that wrote that there is nothing new on broadcast TV that’s as good as Boardwalk Empire. It used to be that cable wouldn’t counter-program against broadcast TV, but in the last few years they’ve gotten stronger and tougher and more arrogant."
In real life, Nucky Johnson, Atlantic City’s Boardwalk emperor during the 1920s, did eventually marry a former showgirl and actress, a local woman named Flossie Osbeck. But that didn’t happen until one day before Johnson began serving a four-year prison term for tax fraud in 1941. There’s little historical evidence to support the fact that Lucy is patterned after Osbeck.
The famed seaside resort that is portrayed in HBO's hit drama series Boardwalk Empire celebrated the show's second season premiere on Sunday, Sept. 25, in a number of ways over the weekend.
“[Empire’s] helped remind people of what a colorful history we’ve had as a city, and helped bring these things back into focus for some people. And I think the fact that the series is very well regarded only helps.”
Plus Atlantic City Ballet set to celebrate 30 years; DrewToonz on 'Livin' de Life' and the Album of the Week.
After retiring as a professional opera singer, Anthony Laciura figured he’d channel his energies into helping budding operatic stars hone their craft ... Then came a call from the office of the director of the planned HBO series 'Boardwalk Empire'
Boardwalk Empire picked up a couple more awards last night from the Screen Actors Guild. The SAGs are the most prestigious awards next to the Oscars, since the SAGs are voted on by a performer’s peers.
In a “news” box on the upper right side of the Archeophone Records home page, there’s a list of the songs played thus far in the first two episodes of HBO’s 'Boardwalk Empire,' set in 1920s Atlantic City.
Early in the premiere episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a crowd of dapper Atlantic City movers and shakers, partying well into the night in a spiffy supper club, make a familiar countdown, cocktail glasses held high...
“So she sings it the way Sophie Tucker would have sang it? That’s good. It was the most unusual style [of singing] that she had. She had a staggered style of singing."
Best Albums of 2012
Rap Legends Return to House of Blues