In Memoriam: The Red Back Book

Sixteen years ago today my father was killed when a truck hit his bicycle while he was riding to work. He gave me my love of music and my love of computers, but he never saw a PC and never knew the internet. This special entry is about an album that drew us closer and helped smooth things over when they weren’t otherwise smooth. Thanks, Dad.In 1973 American music was re-introduced to Scott Joplin, one of its most important sons. From Hollywood, the classic film “The Sting” featured half a dozen of Joplin’s rags, as performed and arranged by Marvin Hamlisch (who made a hysterical appearance on the ‘Tonight’ show, almost entirely because he was being attacked by a previous guest – a giant owl, which had escaped from its trainer.) Hamlisch won three Oscars in 1974; two for “The Way We Were” (Best Original Dramatic Score, Best Title Song.) The third was for the score of “The Sting.” He is often credited with ‘single-handedly reviving interest in ragtime music’ but at our house, that honor goes to Gunther Schuller.

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4 thoughts on “In Memoriam: The Red Back Book”

  1. I had seen your article on The Red Back Book some years ago but am inspired to respond to it for some reason now. As an NEC student I was one of the recording engineers on the album, went on to create my own group (The American Ragtime Ensemble), play with the NERE in their last four tours, and actually found by accident an original set of “Red Back Book” parts (actually called Standard High-Class Rags), only the 2nd complete set ever found. You can read the whole story on my site at the Oddities page. I had worked closely with Gunther while in school as both a violinist and recording/sound tech. Check out the wiki site for New England Ragtime Ensemble, which I co-edited with the flute player David Reskin (yes, very similar names).

    The album is very meaningful to me, on several levels, and I’m glad to read your story. This summer I’m giving a talk at the Joplin festival on the 40th anniversary of The Sting, all about how that soundtrack came about, and its relationship to our recording, which is close. I think you may be referring to Rod Miller at Disneyland. He was one the guests on my ragtime radio program years ago.

    I’d like to hear from you if you have time. I hope you’re still enjoying ragtime.

    1. What an amazing story, David. Welcome!

      Your story of the Red Back Book ( is marvelous.

      Yup, it was Rod Miller. I’d forgotten his name.

      Somewhere around here there’s an email Myron Romanul sent me when I first posted this. There’s a man I’d like to meet.

      I have another musician friend in the Boston area, John O’Leary. He was in a number of rock bands (for about 40 years) and has been a business consultant on Tom Peters’ team for a long long time. He writes a blog called “Business Lessons from Rock.”

      I’ll bet there are some business and life lessons in ragtime, too. Far too long since I’ve owned a copy of The Red Back Book. My vinyl copy seems to have disappeared.

      Thanks for stopping by, David. Let’s chat about ragtime, eh?

  2. I bought the Red Back Book when it first came out and wore the grooves off it. I also bought the second NERC album but I cannot remember the name. It had Peacherine Rag on it, in a wonderful arrangement. When NERC played Blossom Music Center in the Summer of 1973 or 74, I had front row seats. When they got to the second section of Peacherine the whole place erupted in cheers and applause for the great arrangement it was. I’ll never forget that.

    1. To have seen that live would be a memory of a lifetime.

      Somehow I had no idea there was another album. Off to buy that this very instant. Thanks for the heads up, Thomas, and for stopping by.

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