Archive for the ‘MUSIC’ Category

CHRIS MONTEZ – CAROLE KING – BOBBY “BORIS” PICKETT & THE CRYPT KICKERS – STAX RECORDS – BOOKER T AND THE MG’S – RUFUS THOMAS – OTIS REDDING – AND OF COURSE, ELVIS PRESLEY

by Robert Seoane

THE MISSILES, AND HITS, OF OCTOBER

For thirteen days in 1962, between October 16th and 28th, the world was bracing itself for a possible nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. After the Kennedy Administration discovered that the USSR was responsible for the buildup of medium-range ballistic missiles in Cuba just 90 miles away from American shores, President John F. Kennedy delivered an ultimatum: dismantle the missiles or face war.

“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” –President John F. Kennedy, October 16, 1962

As Russian bluster clashed with American determination, the world held its breath. Cuban Premier Fidel Castro, expecting another US invasion at any moment after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, encouraged Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev to launch an attack. Kruschev wasn’t so sure, and delivered a personal letter to Kennedy on October 26th. Attorney General Robert Kennedy described the letter as “very long and emotional”. Kruschev proposed that the United States take away the Jupiter missiles aimed at the USSR in Turkey and Italy, which ironically enough were nearly obsolete anyway, and the USSR would take away the missiles aimed at the US in Cuba. They also asked for one more thing. To never invade Cuba again.

“I propose: we, for our part, will declare that our ships bound for Cuba are not carrying any armaments. You will declare that the United States will not invade Cuba with its troops and will not support any other forces which might intend to invade Cuba. Then the necessity of the presence of our military specialists in Cuba will disappear.” –Nikita Kruschev

By the 28th, the two leaders arrived at an agreement. The United States withdrew the Italian and Turkish missiles, and Kennedy promised that the United States would never attempt to invade Cuba again.

Admittedly, the American and Soviet governments did indeed avoid nuclear conflict, but the approximation this world had to a nuclear winter was not just prevented by the highest echelons of government. Nuclear annihilation was deterred at one point by one Soviet commander with common sense.

On October 27, an American spy plane was shot down over Cuba by a Soviet missile. The same day, a Soviet submarine armed with nuclear missiles was discovered near American shores. A small depth charge was deployed by a U.S. Navy missile near the sub trying to signal it to come up, but the submarine was down too deep to have the ability to signal to the Navy ship, so they assumed war had begun. The personnel in the Soviet sub immediately prepared to launch a nuclear torpedo. The decision to launch had to be made unanimously by the three commanding officers on the submarine. The Captain and the political officer authorized the launch, but Second Officer Vasili Arkhipov refused. As a result, the torpedo never launched. Yes, it took one man to prevent the world from blowing up, and had he not made that decision, we could very well not be here reading this blog today.

In the meantime, life went on as usual. Except for regular news broadcasts on the crisis, all other media ignored the event. Rock ‘n’ roll music, still its infancy in 1962, was completely apolitical. The only political commentary heard in song came from folk music. Political folk songs were heard on the radio in the 1930’s and 1940’s by folk groups like the Weavers to protest World War Two. It wasn’t until Bob Dylan recorded his original work in 1963 that folk music returned to political commentary, and it wasn’t until 1965 that Dylan single-handedly melded folk protest with rock ‘n’ roll simply by walking on stage at the Newport Folk Festival with an electric guitar in hand, much to the horror of folk purists. That day alone marked the advent of political commentary in rock music and opened the door to many a protest song during the Vietnam War and many other causes. But in October of 1962, the top songs on the charts were mostly fluff, comprised of dance music, love tunes and a timeless “novelty” song.

 

LET’S DANCE – CHRIS MONTEZ


Chris Montez

Still years away from Carlos Santana’s fusion of Latin rhythms with rock music, there was barely a smattering of Hispanic-American musicians playing rock ‘n’ roll in 1962. The first and most famous of them all at the time was Ritchie Valens, but his sudden, shocking death at age nineteen with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper in the infamous plane crash on February 4, 1959, halted any further blending of the two genres. It wasn’t until the early part of the Sixties that another Hispanic musician managed to make it to the higher echelons of the Billboard Pop chart with a song of his own, a fun little rock ‘n’ roll ditty called “Let’s Dance.”

Ezekiel Christopher Montañez was born in Los Angeles, California and grew up in Hawthorne, the same hometown as the Beach Boys. Born of Mexican immigrants, Chris was raised in a musical family, often singing falsetto on Mexican “rancheras” with his brothers as a pastime. They taught him to play guitar, and by the time he reached his junior year in Hawthorne High School, he had formed his own band. Inspired by Richie Valens, Chris shortened his last name from Montañez to Montez, just like Valens shortened his from Valenzuela, and with his high school group, they managed to record a few of Chris’ own original songs.

A representative from a local label named Monogram Records heard the recordings and released “All You Had To Do Was Tell Me” a slow, steamy burner ideal for slow dancing at the high school hop. It became a local hit but didn’t make a dent in the national charts.

In 1962, Montez recorded his first and only national Top Ten hit. It was an insanely catchy song that begins with a war drum-like percussion before an organ comes in to fill in Montez’ vocals. It was one of the first records to showcase an organ, a musical instrument that would become ubiquitous in many classic Sixties recordings. Like so many other songs of the day, its simple lyrics enumerate the dance crazes that were sweeping through teenage America at the time.

“Hey baby, won’t you take a chance? Say that you’ll let me have this dance, well, let’s dance, well, let’s dance… We’ll do the twist, the stomp, the mashed potato too, any old dance that you wanna do but let’s dance, well, let’s dance…” –Chris Montez, “Let’s Dance”

“Let’s Dance” is also featured in “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978) to showcase John Belushi’s character instigating a food fight in the University cafeteria.

The song made it to Number Four in the Billboard Pop chart on October 6, 1962 and Number Two in the UK. The success of the song made Montez a headliner and he toured for the next year with Clyde McPhatter, Sam Cooke, the Platters and Smokey Robinson. In a tour of Liverpool in 1963 with co-headliner Tommy Roe, Montez’ opening act were the Beatles.

“Who are these guys The Beatles? I try to keep up with the British scene, but I don’t know their work.” –Chris Montez

Unlike that opening act, Chris Montez never cracked the Top Ten again. His early music didn’t much reflect his Hispanic roots either. When he signed with A&M Records in 1965, he was determined to capture his earlier success by singing rock ‘n’ roll songs, but A&M label owner Herb Alpert suggested he tone down his style to sing soft ballads instead. The result was a recording originally sung by Petula Clark, called “Call Me” that, although only reached Number 22 in the Pop chart, made it to Number Two in the Easy Listening chart and has become more popular over the ensuing years, having been used in many movies, most notably, Harrison Ford’s “Frantic”.

Chris Montez’ popularity waned throughout the rest of the Sixties. By 1972, he finally tapped into his Latin roots and began to record songs in Spanish, which did quite well internationally, but never managed to break through in the United States. He recorded his final album in 1983, “Cartas de Amor”, exclusively Spanish language material.

As of 2017, 74-year-old Chris Montez continues to tour occasionally in the US and the UK as part of the Solid Silver 60s show, a nostalgia tour showcasing various performers from the decade that was to change music forever.

 

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IT MIGHT AS WELL RAIN UNTIL SEPTEMBER – CAROLE KING


Carole King

By 1962, Carol Joan Klein had changed her name to Carole King and was already a songwriter with a few Number One hits under her belt. The Shirelles became the first girl group in the rock ‘n’ roll era to make it to Number One with King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” on January, 1961. The song was written along with her husband Gerry Goffin when they both worked for famed record producer Don Kirshner in New York’s Brill Building, where young, up-and-coming talented artists such as Neil Sedaka and Burt Bacharach, along with King, were writing for Kirshner to supplement the pop stars of the day with original material.

Each week, Kirschner would hold a meeting to listen to all his songwriters’ newest compositions, and the best songs would be assigned to any of a long list of recording artists in need of material. King and Goffin had already composed “The Loco-Motion” a dance song written for their baby sitter, who would record the song under the name Little Eva and make it to Number One Pop on August 25, 1962, and “Chains” for Little Eva’s backup vocalists called the Cookies who took it to Number 17 on December 29, 1962, and was later covered definitively by the Beatles on their debut album “Please Please Me” in 1963.

During that time, King had written another song that Kirshner liked called “It Might As Well Rain Until September”. KIrshner gave King’s song to Bobby Vee, who had had a hit the year before with another King Number One, “Take Good Care of my Baby”. Carole recorded a demo version of the song for Vee, but Kirshner liked her demo recording so much that he decided to release it as a single. Other Kirshner artists, particularly Sedaka, were both songwriters and performers of their own work, so releasing the demo with King performing it was nothing new, but because it was a demo and never intended for release as a proper single, there is no master tape but only an acetate, and therefore the quality of the song is inferior. Still, “…September” managed to climb to Number 22 on October 6, 1962. In the meantime, Bobby Vee buried his recording of the song in his 1963 album and didn’t release it as a single because King’s version was already out.

“IMAWRUS” was Carole King’s first self-performed single. She wouldn’t record herself again until nine years later, in 1971, when she released her landmark solo album “Tapestry” and paved the way for future female songwriters to do the same.

Part of the reason it took Carole King nine years to record her own songs again can be traced back to her 1962 singing debut on TV’s American Bandstand when she first performed “It Might As Well Rain Until September”. King never fancied herself to be a pop star. She considered herself much too plain looking and boring for that. Besides, she already had two kids to take care of and had no interest in going on tour for the record, so going on TV was her best alternative.

King lip-synced the song just like everyone else did on the show, but because it was a demo, it sounded muffled. At the end of the program, the studio audience graded her performance as being the poorest that week and gave her a 42 rating out of 100. Although the record sold well, the disappointing reaction to her AB appearance could have had a lot to do with King’s reticence to record her own voice again. But the audience could very well had also been responding to the poor quality of what they were hearing and because of that, gave the overall performance a bad rating.

It’s a good thing for music fans everywhere that she ultimately overcame her initial setback because “Tapestry” is a fine album, filled with classics such as “I Feel The Earth Move”, It’s Too Late”, “So Far Away”, “You’ve Got A Friend”, “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman”, and her own, slowed-down version of the song that first made her a songwriter to be reckoned with, the way she meant to have it performed, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”.

 

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THE MONSTER MASH – BOBBY “BORIS” PICKETT

Riding the tide of Sixties dance songs was a novelty record that’s still heard to this day, particularly around Halloween. Its popularity made a career out of one Robert George Pickett, the tune’s author, whose abilities to imitate the voices of Frankenstein’s Boris Karloff and Dracula’s Bela Lugosi, made famous by their respective Universal movie releases in the 1930’s and 40’s, made for an affectionately funny nod to the macabre world of the undead.

Pickett, a horror movie fan since childhood, was a struggling actor by day and lead vocalist for a band called the Cordials by night. One evening, he decided to satirize the Diamonds hit single “Little Darlin’” by singing it like Boris Karloff. The audience loved it, and fellow band member Leonard Capizzi noticed. Capizzi urged Bobby to capitalize on the impersonation. In May 1962, they sat down to write a novelty song incorporating Bobby Pickett’s talent for mimic. Much like rock ‘n’ roll itself, Pickett and Capizzi took two different genres, horror movie monsters and the current dance crazes, the Twist and the Mashed Potato, and blended them together. Due in large part to alliteration, they chose the Mashed Potato as opposed to the Twist to spinoff a dance reserved for creatures of the night, and called it “The Monster Mash”.

“I was working in the lab late one night when my eyes beheld an eerie sight. For my monster from his slab began to rise and suddenly to my surprise he did the mash, he did the monster mash, the monster mash, it was a graveyard smash, he did the mash, it caught on in a flash, he did the mash, he did the monster mash…” – Monster Mash – Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt Kickers

Every major record label passed on the song except for one producer by the name of Gary S. Paxton. Paxton had already scored a Number One Pop novelty hit in 1960 called “Alley-Oop” with his group, the Hollywood Argyles. He also had modest chart success in 1959 with a Top Twenty single called “It Was I” when he was part of a singing duo named Skip and Flip. When Paxton heard Pickett perform “Monster Mash”, he saw another novelty hit, so he agreed to produce and engineer the recording. Paxton quickly put together a back-up band that included twenty-year-old pianist and future star in his own right, Leon Russell, and called them the Crypt Kickers. “The Monster Mash” was released through Paxton’s Garpax Records on August 25, 1962.

Paxton added special effects to the recording, reminiscent of the old Universal horror movies. The single opens with what sounds like a creaky coffin lid slowly opening, but is actually the sound of a nail being pulled out of a wooden board. The sound of a cauldron bubbling was simply Paxton blowing bubbles through a straw into a glass of water, and the rattling chains were actual chains being dropped on the studio floor. Amidst it all, Bobby spoke/sang the tune in his best Karloff impersonation, and gave us a smattering of his Lugosi impersonation for good measure.

“Out from his coffin, Drac’s voice did ring, seems he was troubled by just one thing, he opened the lid and shook his fist and said ‘Whatever happened to the Transylvania Twist?’”

“The Monster Mash” remained in the Number One position on Billboard’s pop chart from October 13th through October 27th, 1962, smack dab in the midst of the aforementioned Cuban Missile Crisis, and soon became a million seller. That wouldn’t be the end of the song’s chart success, however. In fact, it was only the beginning of a cottage industry that would sustain Pickett for the rest of his life. “Monster Mash” was re-released in August, 1970 and again in May, 1973 where it climbed to Number Ten and sold another million records. It was then released that same year for the first time in the UK where it reached Number Three, having been censored back in 1962 because it was deemed “too morbid”. It re-entered the UK charts again in 2008 where it climbed up to Number 60.

To capitalize on “Monster Mash”, Pickett recorded a follow-up Christmas single called “Monster’s Holiday”, reaching Number 30 during the 1962 holiday season. An album filled with monster-themed novelty tunes like “Me and My Mummy” and “Irresistible Igor” soon followed. The album had to be called “The Original Monster Mash” to distinguish it from another version of “Monster Mash” that had been quickly recorded by a singer named John Zacherle for the Cameo-Parkway record label.

In 1967, Pickett took his song concept to the stage and wrote a musical play with TV author Sheldon Allman called “I’m Sorry the Bridge Is Out, You’ll Have to Spend the Night”, which was produced in a smattering of local theaters around the US, then followed it up a few years later with another musical called “Frankenstein Unbound”. In 1995, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, who had just written “Toy Story” for Disney, produced a movie version of “Frankenstein Unbound” and called it various titles, including “Frankenstein Sings” and “Monster Mash: The Movie”, starring Pickett himself.

When Rap music became popular in the Eighties, Pickett recorded “Monster Rap” in 1983, a worthy successor to “Monster Mash”, and found cult popularity on a national radio show hosted by a DJ named Barry Hansen, better known as Dr.Demento, whose show can still be heard online.

In 1993, Pickett wrote yet another “…Mash” spinoff and called it “It’s Alive” which also played regularly on Dr. Demento’s radio show.

He dusted off his novelty songwriting pen yet again in 2005 when he wrote “Climate Mash” in protest of the American government’s inaction towards global warming. That same year, Pickett released his autobiography called “Monster Mash: Half Dead in Hollywood”.

“Monster Mash” has been re-recorded and sampled by other artists throughout the years, from the Canadian arena rock group Rush, incorporating bits of it in their instrumental track, “Limbo” off their 1996 album, “Test for Echo” to the Misfits, a horror punk band who released a music video of them performing “Monster Mash” live in 1997, then recorded it twice, in 1999 for release as a single and again in 2003 for their album “Project 1950”.

Bobby Pickett died on April 25, 2007 of leukemia at age 69. The Dr. Demento show paid tribute to him two weeks later on May 13 with a retrospective of his work. Although most of his songs are only known by a small cult following, his “Monster Mash” has become the most played song during Halloween. It’s interesting to note that the two fads the song was inspired from, Universal monster movies and Sixties dance fads, are now lost in the cobwebs of nostalgia, but their offshoot child, “The Monster Mash” lives on.

 

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STAX RECORDS AND THE BIRTH OF MEMPHIS SOUL

The refurbished Capitol Theater located at 926 East McLemore Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee became Stax Records in 1961.

Besides Detroit’s special brand of R&B coming out of Motown Records, there was another city that came to the fore in 1962 playing host to a unique sound that was to become known as Memphis Soul. It was comprised of music legends that could have otherwise been ignored had it not been for one record label in particular that was born out of Memphis thanks to a forward-thinking pair of siblings named Jim and Estelle.

Until then, Memphis had been not only known for its C&W music but also for pioneering rock ‘n’ roll in the Fifties, thanks to Sam Phillips’ Sun Records and his golden boy, Elvis Presley. But it took a handful of young producers and entrepreneurs to lead the way during the subsequent decade in defining and releasing classic soul records that represented the new Memphis sound of the Sixties through a record label called Stax. Stax Records would become one of the most popular soul music record labels during the Sixties and Seventies, second only to Motown in sales with its raw, gritty, un-Motown-like sound. The two competitor labels paralleled themselves even in slogans. While Motown dubbed their headquarters the all-encompassing “Hitsville USA”, Stax retorted with their more urban “Soulsville USA”.

Undiscovered until the label’s advent, renowned musical legends soon blossomed over the ensuing years. People like Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Booker T. Jones, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Johnnie Taylor, Albert King, Wilson Pickett, Bobby Womack, the Box Tops, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, the Dramatics, The Bar-Kays, Delaney & Bonnie, the Delfonics, Eddie Floyd, the Spinners, Joe Tex, Rufus Thomas, and his daughter Carla, all got their start with Stax, and it all began when a twenty-seven-year-old young man decided to indulge himself in his love for music.


Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton

Inspired by Sun Records’ owner Sam Phillips, Tennessean Jim Stewart wanted to start a record label, so in 1957 he founded Satellite Records in Memphis. Over the next two years, the label’s recording output would consist of country & western and rockabilly music. In 1959, he hired a twenty-one-year-old recording engineer named Lincoln Wayne “Chips” Moman to be Satellite Record’s staff producer.


Chips Moman

Moman, not content with just recording C&W artists, introduced Stewart to R&B music and suggested he scout local R&B talent to record, whetting Stewart’s interest in this uniquely ethnic but delightfully catchy new sound. By the summer of that same year, Satellite Records would release its first R&B single called “Fool In Love”, written by Moman and performed by their first, newly discovered doo-wop group called the Veltones.

The early Satellite recordings were sub-par and Stewart knew this, but he needed money to buy his own recording equipment. Like him, his sister, bank clerk Estelle Axton, was also a music lover. Wanting to become totally self-sufficient and improve the quality of his recording output, Stewart asked his sister to invest in Satellite Records with him by helping him purchase recording equipment for the label. Estelle persuaded her husband to mortgage their home and they used the funds to purchase an Ampex 300 tape recorder for $2500 (approximately $21,000 in 2017 dollars). By 1959, Estelle quit her job and the siblings joined forces. Moman helped them find the former Capitol Theater at 926 East McLemore Avenue in Memphis and together they turned it into a recording studio. The stage was the control room and the auditorium was converted into studio space. The size and various floor levels of the auditorium were left intact, creating interesting acoustics and adding a unique sound to the recordings.

“The studio wasn’t designed like studios are today,” Cropper recalls. “I mean, we took this old theatre and pulled the seats out of it. We had to go and hammer all of the screws down into the concrete before we could put carpet down. And we were all there helping to do that, making burlap baffles and so on, without any knowledge at all of what we were doing.” –Steve Cropper

One of the first jobs at hand for the fledgling record label was to find session musicians who could play C&W as well as R&B to back up their artists in the recording studio. Estelle’s son and Jim’s nephew, Charles “Packy” Axton had that ability. Packy was an aspiring tenor sax musician who played in a high school group named the Royal Spades. Besides Packy, the Royal Spades consisted of Wayne Jackson on trumpet, Jerry Lee Smith on keyboards, Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass and legendary guitarist, then seventeen-year-old Steve Cropper. In 1958, Estelle and Jim offered the Royal Spades the opportunity to play back up for their artists as session musicians for Satellite Records. The teenage boys eagerly agreed and worked for them from that moment forward in various incarnations. It wasn’t always harmonious however, as Packy had a penchant for alcohol and could become overbearing. During one session, he actually came to blows with his guitarist Cropper, who briefly quit the band after the fight. Packy’s alcoholism never abated after that incident, and he ultimately died in January of 1974 at age 32 of cirrhosis of the liver.


The Royal Spades; left to right, Don Nix, Steve Cropper, Packy Axton, Duck Dunn, Terry Johnson, Ronnie Dtoots and Wayne Jackson

In order to make ends meet as they struggled to record hits, Estelle and Jim turned the Capitol Theater’s foyer into a record store, which would ultimately prove more valuable than just being a center of profit at the time. Estelle stocked the store with the best in R&B records of the day, inadvertently expanding her knowledge of the competition and influencing the music Stax recorded, and encouraged young folk attracted to her inventory to use the store as a meeting place while they listened to their favorite songs. She would often play the acetates of their own latest recordings for the store visitors to gauge the song’s popularity. Sixteen-year-old Booker T. Jones was a frequent visitor, and he would often spend hours there listening to records and chatting with Estelle and Cropper, who Estelle hired to work at the store part time.

“She just loved music, loved people. She was always bringing us up there (the record shop), having us listen to records. She kept us in touch with the music industry. I doubt there would have been a Stax Records without Estelle Axton. She encouraged the entire Stax roster from her little perch behind the counter.”–Booker T. Jones

 

RUFUS THOMAS


Second row, from left, Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, unknown man, Andrew Jackson. Front row, from left, unknown couple, Cara & Rufus Thomas, Janis Joplin and Sam Andrew

“Rufus Thomas embodied the spirit of Memphis music perhaps more than any other artist, and from the early 1940s until his death… occupied many important roles in the local scene.” –The Mississippi Blues Commission

One of the first African-American artists to record in the new Stax studio was Rufus Thomas, with his daughter Carla sharing lead and her brother Marvell on keyboards on an R&B wailer called “’Cause I Love You”.

Booker T. Jones began his musical career there playing baritone sax on the recording. The record caught the ear of Atlantic Records co-founder Jerry Wexler. The song gave Stewart the opportunity to work out a deal with Atlantic Records to distribute Satellite’s output nationally. One of the artists Atlantic wanted Stax to keep as part of their agreement was Rufus Thomas’ daughter, Carla who had a hit in 1961 with her debut single, “Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes).”

Rufus Thomas enjoyed a long career with Stax, particularly during the Sixties and Seventies, with popular novelty singles like “Walking the Dog” (1963) and “Do the Funky Chicken” (1969).

 

BOOKER T & THE MGs

Stewart attributed his new-found love for R&B music as being “a blind man who suddenly gained his sight.” From then on, Jim and Estelle agreed to record exclusively R&B music, but they had an image problem, since for the last four years, Satellite Records was known as a C&W record label. He and Estelle soon realized that they needed to re-invent themselves. By September of 1961 they had changed the name of the record label from Satellite to Stax Records, deriving “Stax” from a portmanteau of their surnames, Stewart and Axton. From then on, with Moman sharing the helm, Stax Records would come to define Memphis Soul.


Booker T & the MGs; from left to right, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Al Jackson

Witnessing all this change, the label’s young session musicians wanted to also record a single of their own. Packy bugged his mom for years, along with the rest of the group, until Estelle ultimately agreed in 1961, but on the condition that they changed what she considered to be a dreadful name, “The Royal Spades”, to the Mar-Keys, referring to the old Capitol Theater’s marquee outside Stax. They agreed to the name change if it meant recording a song on their own. The result, “Last Night”, was written by Packy Axton, Chips Moman, Floyd Newman, Gilbert Caple and Jerry Lee Smith. The instrumental would climb to Number Three Pop and Number Two R&B on the national Billboard charts that year. The young group was thrilled and it marked the beginning of a varied musical career for them.

“Jerry Lee ‘Smoochy’ Smith came up with the piano riff that was played on organ. Since [producer Chips] Moman didn’t want a guitar on it for whatever reason, I wound up playing the hold-down on the organ on the root note. It hurts me in the Mar-Keys history when people say I wasn’t in the Mar-Keys because there’s no guitar on ‘Last Night’ but I have to differ with them.” –Steve Cropper

By 1962, shake-ups within the label had already begun. Moman left Stax towards the end of the year before due to a disagreement over song royalties. Stewart then turned to Cropper, who admired the young man’s maturity and talent, and offered him Moman’s vacated position as A&R director. Cropper immediately took to the job, working as writer, producer and session lead guitarist for scores of Stax singles. In one of his first recording sessions under this new configuration, Steve was backing former Sun Records artist Billie Lee Riley on a song with Booker T. Jones on keyboards, bassist Lewis Steinberg, and drummer Al Jackson. During downtime, the four session musicians would play around with a bluesy organ riff. Jim Stewart was in the control room at the time and liked what he heard, so he suggested they record the riff. Soon after that, they laid down another instrumental track and before they knew it, they had themselves an impromptu single.

GREEN ONIONS – BOOKER T & THE MGs

The resulting recordings were titled “Behave Yourself” and the profoundly funky “Green Onions”. Stewart wanted to release “Behave Yourself” as the A-side of the single but Cropper begged to differ. DJs who had heard the two tracks mostly agreed that “Green Onions” had a subversive rhythm that got under your skin and never let go, so Jim relented and released it as the A-side of Booker T & the MGs’ debut single.

“We were all real excited about this thing. The next morning I called Scotty Moore over at Sun and I said: ‘We got a hot one, can you make me a dub on it?’ So I ran over and he says, ‘Man, that’s funky!’ Then I took the dub over to Reuben Washington at WLOK and he just threw it on live, played it four times in a row. And I’m tellin’ you, the phones lit up.” –Steve Cropper

With Booker T. Jones handling the insanely funky keyboard, Steve Cropper adding his tasty, brief bursts of Fender Telecaster licks to the mix and Steinberg’s steadily unnerving bass, the sudden new group had to scramble for a name once the song hit the airwaves and settled on Booker T & The MGs. By September of 1962, “Green Onions” had climbed to its peak Number Three position on Billboard’s Pop chart.

Booker T. & The MGs would go on to be considered the Greatest Backing Band in the History of Soul, cooking up the funkiest rhythms for the artists they backed during their tenure at Stax. By 1964, Donald “Duck” Dunn replaced Steinberg on bass and along with the rest of the group, played on songs such as Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”, Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”, Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood”, Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” and Sam & Dave’s “Hold on I’m Coming” among scores more.

“I like to pat ourselves on the back. When you hear Booker T & the MGs, you can pick one instrument and there’s a separation there. It’s not cluttered. It’s just like it was written, but it was all done off the top of the head. It was just a lucky marriage of us four, I think.” –Donald “Duck” Dunn

 

OTIS REDDING


Otis Redding

A promo man for Stax’ distribution label, Atlantic Records, by the name of Joe Galkin was so taken by “Green Onions” that he made it a point to send his Macon-based Johnny Jenkins & the Pinetoppers to the Stax recording studios to record with Booker T & the MGs, who were soon get the distinction of being the best backing band in the South. The session unfortunately, proved unproductive. At the end of it all, with hours of recording time spent and nothing to show for it, they begrudgingly allowed one of the members of the group, a 21-year-old singer/songwriter named Otis Ray Redding, to lay down a ballad he had written called “These Arms of Mine”.

“The cat sang about two lines and everybody’s eyes just went like this – Jesus Christ, this guy’s incredible!” –Steve Cropper

THESE ARMS OF MINE – OTIS REDDING

“These Arms Of Mine” was released through Stax’ subsidiary label, Volt, in October 1962 and charted the following year, ultimately selling over 800,000 copies and becoming Stax’ most popular record to date. It marked the beginning of the first chapter of the Stax Records legacy, the Otis Redding period, when the rising star would lead the label to unparalleled success until Redding’s tragic plane crash in 1967 ground everything to a halt.

CLICK BELOW TO GO TO ELVIS PRESLEY

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by Robert Seoane

1959 FALL TELEVISION – THE QUARRYMEN BREAK UP – WILBERT HARRISON – THE FLAMINGOS – FREDDY CANNON – EDD BYRNES – CONNIE STEVENS – FRANKIE FORD – PHIL PHILLIPS – HUEY ‘PIANO’ SMITH – SANTO & JOHNNY – THE DRIFTERS – CLYDE McPHATTER – BEN E. KING

The year 1959 had some notable milestones occurring within its 365 days. The United States had 48 states until both Alaska and Hawaii were given official statehood status that year. Alaska had been purchased by the US from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867 for $7.2 million ($121 million in 2015, still a bargain for a land where you can see Russia from your house). It then became a territory of the USA on May 11, 1912 and finally became the 49th state on January 3rd, 1959. Hawaii followed suit as the 50th state on August 21, 1959 after having been a territory since August 12, 1898.


These two new states were ratified just in time to enjoy the creation of the first Barbie doll manufactured in 1959.

It was also a year in which the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States began in earnest… and the USSR was winning, by sending the first man-made object to reach a celestial body when the unmanned Luna 2 spacecraft crash landed on the moon on September 14, 1959.

And in music history, the first ever Grammy Awards were introduced in 1959, hosted by Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra was busy that year. Besides releasing two classic albums, “Come Dance With Me” and “No One Cares”, and appearing on television on a regular basis, he also got involved in politics. On November 2, 1959 in Los Angeles, he introduced Democratic Senator from Massachussetts, John Fitzgerald Kennedy at a fundraising dinner to a host of supporters where JFK hinted at his interest of running for President.

“It seems to me that in the 1960 election…that we should take into that election words which were spoken by Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. …. In that speech he said…’Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in the spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.’ It seems to me in the United States in the last seven years, we have come very close to a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference, and I do not look with pleasure upon going through another decade of it…and therefore I think this election is most important.” — Senator John F. Kennedy; November 2, 1959.

Meanwhile, television was now in its eleventh year of existence, and the three networks ABC, CBS and NBC unveiled a host of new TV shows with names like “Hawaiian Eye” a detective adventure series with a young Robert Conrad; the 1959-1973 TV cowboy western series “Bonanza”, filmed in color but still broadcast in black and white since TV did not yet have the technology to broadcast color developed fully; “The Price Is Right”, still airing today but totally different from its first episode; a new Hanna-Barbera cartoon character named Huckleberry Hound, also in color… and “The Twilight Zone”.




Of all these television debuts, “The Twilight Zone”, premiering on October 2, 1959, was the most unique. Created by screenwriter and playwright Rod Serling and coming off his classic Playhouse 90 teleplay “Requiem For A Heavyweight”(1956), Serling introduced an anthology series of the unexplained and creepy, writing most of the episodes and famously introducing them, always with a cigarette in his hand. He was the only consistent face in the series, as each week a different story was told by then unknown actors such as Robert Duvall, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Redford, Dennis Hopper, Lee Marvin and Burt Reynolds to name a few. Its famous theme music however, would not be introduced until the second season. Its first season’s score was written by the renowned Bernard Herrmann, who had composed soundtracks for many Alfred Hitchcock movies as well as the classic score for Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976). The iconic theme song however, was written by Romanian-born French composer Marius Constant.


Serling was quite simply a brilliant writer, having written 92 of the 156 “Twilight Zone” episodes during its five-year run. Aside from this iconic, landmark series, he also wrote with Michael Wilson, an adaptation of the 1963 French novel “La Planete des Singes” by Pierre Boulle, author of “Bridge On The River Kwai” and translated the title to “Planet Of The Apes”. After the film’s release in 1968, it became so popular that four sequels, were produced through 1973, as well as a television show, an animated series and comic books. The franchise was resurrected in 2001 by Director Tim Burton to dismal reviews, but then was rebooted ten years later in 2011 with probably the best version in the series since the original, “The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes”.

 

THE QUARRYMEN BREAK UP

Many believe that the break up of the Beatles lays squarely on the lap of Yoko Ono, who met John Lennon in 1966. This is an extremely simplistic point of view, because as in most every rock ‘n’ roll disbanding, several factors contributed to the break up of the greatest band in the world. To begin with, it was Paul McCartney, not John, who announced that the Beatles had officially broken up in March 1970. Also, George Harrison had become increasingly unhappy because of the fact that he had a backlog of music that had no room in Beatle albums.

John and Paul were always the principal songwriters, while George was usually granted two tracks per album. George complained that whenever they got to his compositions, they rushed through the recording, while John and Paul always took their sweet time with theirs. Ringo Starr, who wasn’t a songwriter, was given one track to sing for every album release. The only exception occurred during the recording of the double disc “The Beatles” (1968) more popularly known as The White Album. Ringo was given two tracks to sing, “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Good Night”. George was given the unprecedented number of four tracks in The White Album: “Piggies”, “Long, Long, Long”, “Savoy Truffle” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

By the time the group got around to recording “Abbey Road” (1969), Harrison’s songwriting could no longer be overlooked, having written the classics “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun”. Still, between 1968 and 1970, George had written so many songs that when the group broke up, Harrison was the first Beatle to release a solo album (not including his 1968 film soundtrack “Wonderwall”) on November 27, 1970. “All Things Must Pass” was a three record set with two of the records filled with original music and the third a compilation of informal jams, and was nominated by the Grammys for Album Of The Year.

Quarreling was beginning to be more commonplace after 1968. Paul, a demanding sort, was a perfectionist and knew exactly how he wanted his tracks to be recorded, much to George’s dismay, whose ideas for Paul’s tunes would usually be rejected (just one notable exception is the beautiful guitar in “And I Love Her”; totally George’s contribution). Even Ringo, who went along with everything, got fed up in 1968 and quit for two weeks, only to be begged back by the other three and adorning his drum kit with dozens of colorful flowers upon his return.

So Yoko Ono was not the reason for the break up of the Beatles. It may have not been helpful that John insisted on her company in the recording studio, a place where no one but the Beatles were ever allowed in, but it was not the sole contributing factor.

The temporary break up of the Quarrymen was due to totally different dynamics.

Before the beginning, when John, Paul and George still called themselves the Quarrymen, (the name was taken from a line of their school song at Quarry Bank High), the Beatles almost never came to be due to persistent lineup changes and drunken rows that at one point broke the Quarrymen up for seven months.

Between 1956 and 1959, the Quarrymen’s line-up would change considerably, making it very difficult for John to form a permanent band. Some of the band members never took playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band seriously, and others just weren’t very good musicians. Only Paul McCartney and George Harrison passed musical muster and shared the same desire to carve a rock ‘n’ roll career for themselves with John.

Difficulties were common. The Quarrymen had to alternate rehearsals at their respective parents’ homes, not always successfully. They liked playing at George’s house because his mom would serve them shots. Pete Shotton’s mom however wasn’t as forthcoming and ordered them to play in a cold corrugated air raid shelter in their backyard to hold in the noise. They also rehearsed at drummer Colin Hanton’s home as well as Eric Griffiths’. Griffiths’ father had died in WWII and his mother worked in the daytime, giving them plenty of time to rehearse without bothering anyone. But their best rehearsal location was at John’s mom’s house, Julia, the coolest mother of them all without a doubt, because she actually had a collection of rock ‘n’ roll songs like Shirley & Lee’s “Let The Good Times Roll” and Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop A Lula”. The Quarrymen would play the songs over and over until they had it down pat. As a result, the group was getting really good, especially John, Paul and George.

Another difficulty was obtaining the proper musical instruments. When the Quarrymen were still a skiffle group, they needed a tea chest bass, a standard instrument for the genre. Schoolmate Bill Smith had one so he was in, but he never really showed up to rehearsals, so he was out. One particular evening, John and Eric Griffiths couldn’t locate Smith for a gig they were booked in that night so they took it upon themselves to break into Smith’s parents’ garage to retrieve it. They handed the tea chest bass to another schoolmate, Len Garry, but he couldn’t always be available either, so they would call on yet another schoolmate, Ivan Vaughan, to play with them when Garry wasn’t available. A third friend, Nigel Walley also stood in at the tea chest bass but that was soon over when he forgot the bass at a bus station on his way home. It was just as well, because by then they were all deeply immersed into the amazing new sound of rock ‘n’ roll so they didn’t need a tea chest bass anyway. Walley then took it upon himself to be their manager, to some success. Most of the gigs were free, but hey, they had gigs.

One of the gigs Nigel Walley scored was a skiffle amateur contest organized by one Carroll Levis in which each competing band would be given three minutes to perform. The Quarrymen finished to thunderous applause, but it was a competing band, the Sunnyside Skiffle Group, that beat them with their onstage antics. John Lennon complained bitterly to Levis, stating that the contest had been rigged because the other group had brought “ringers” to cheer for them, so Levis gave them both another chance and this time used a “clap-o-meter”. The Quarrymen lost by a hair.

Walley also managed to get the Quarrymen a gig at the Cavern Club in 1957 as a skiffle group. He had met the father of the Cavern Club owner, Dr. Joseph Sytner at the Lee Park Golf Club where Walley was an apprentice golf professional. He managed to convince Sytner to get his son to book the Quarrymen. Sytner Sr. suggested they play at the golf club first so he could hear and see them for himself, and was duly impressed when the Quarrymen had a following, filling up the venue with around 100 supporters. The performance was such a success, despite the fact that band mate Rod Davis broke his zipper and had to play the banjo covering it, that they were able to raise up to 15 pounds in audience donations, much more than other groups were normally paid.

The Quarrymen were then booked at the Cavern for the first time. There was one little problem, however. John and his fellow band members were leaning more towards playing rock ‘n’ roll, but the Cavern was, back then, a jazz club. Still, they did allow skiffle music so they agreed to only play that. After their second song however, John started to play Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel”. Soon, they received a hastily written note from Sytner as he waded through the packed crowd to hand it to John. It read “cut out the bloody rock and roll”. Nobody in 1957 could have guessed that John would return to the Cavern four years later as the Beatles to play “the bloody rock and roll” when their fan base had grown to such a point that they couldn’t be ignored.

Cracks in the Quarrymen lineup were already beginning to show as early as ’57 when John’s friend Pete Shotton told John he was no longer interested in playing with the group. John responded by taking the washboard Shotton used for percussion and smashing it over his head. After dusting him off, John proceeded to plead with Pete to stay on for a couple more performances. Their next gig would be the one where Pete brought Paul McCartney at St. Paul’s Church fete on July 6, 1957.

But in January 1959, it was down to just John, Paul, George and drummer Colin Hanton. Pete Shotton was tired of the rock ‘n’ roll life, telling John just before his washboard became his neck adornment, “I hate this, John, it’s not for me”. Eric Griffiths was forgotten about when George joined the band as lead guitarist, so Griffiths, insulted, quit and joined the Merchant Marines not long afterwards. Len Garry came down with tubercular meningitis, went to the hospital and never played with the group again. In the meantime, John and Paul began to write songs together and apart, inspired by Buddy Holly because he wrote his own music. Together, they wrote “One After 909” an early rocker the Beatles recorded as a demo in 1963 and was then re-recorded on January 20, 1969 when they played it live on the Apple rooftop where they were almost arrested for disturbing the peace. The song ultimately wound up on the Beatles’ final album release, “Let It Be” (1970).

The other two early Quarrymen songs were John and Paul’s “Like Dreamers Do”, which was recorded by the Applejacks in 1964, and John’s “Hello, Little Girl”. Their music was developing slowly but surely.

One thing that could be said, even early on in their careers, was that they were a bunch of clowns. That was part of the Beatles’ incredible charm. Besides writing songs that would endure for generations, they never took themselves seriously and were happy to make faces and joke around onstage, something most pop stars today simply don’t do.




By January of 1959, John Lennon had temporarily lost interest in playing music, still mourning the death of his mother Julia after being hit and killed by a car just six short months earlier. They did however manage to perform at two venues that month. They played on New Year’s Day 1959 at the Speke Bus Depot social club that had been organized by George Harrison’s father, then at a party at Woolton Village Club three weeks later. After those two performances, they had an opportunity to play at the Pavillion Theater in Lodge Lane, where the management was looking for a band to play thirty-minute sets between bingo games. The job was theirs for the taking, having played their first set quite well. But before the next set, John, Paul and Colin had a few beers (George was underage and not allowed to take part) and then switched to “Poor Man’s Black Velvets”, a mix of Guinness and cider, and got summarily drunk on their collective asses. Their second set, as a result, was a disaster, and having lost the opportunity for a steady gig, got into a great drunken row on their way home, with Paul telling Colin Hanton that he sucked at drumming, even sober. Pete Shotton had come to hear them play that night and had joined the four afterwards and had to pry Colin and Paul apart as fists began to fly. After that night, the Quarrymen had no drummer.

The Quarrymen found themselves without any more gigs after that. John and Paul however, continued writing songs together, but George Harrison went his own way and joined another group, the Les Stewart Quartet. It wasn’t until eight months later, on August 29, 1959, that the Quarrymen reunited. The Les Stewart Quartet had a gig playing at Mona Best’s Casbah Coffee Club but Stewart refused to play when guitarist Ken Brown missed rehearsals. George quickly called John and Paul to sub. As a result, the Quarrymen name was resurrected one last time and the group, John, Paul, George and Ken, played seven Saturdays in a row from August to October of that year, earning fifteen shillings a week. It was always a packed house, despite the fact that they had no drummer. Their gig at the Casbah ended badly when Brown arrived at one of the shows but couldn’t play because he had fallen ill. Mona Best insisted that Brown should still get paid for showing up, but John and Paul loudly voiced their objection, insisting that they should all receive Ken’s pay to be distributed among the three for playing anyway. That disagreement led to the group walking away from their first steady gig.

On October 18, 1959, John, Paul and George had another opportunity to play in one of Carroll Levis’ talent shows. This time, they decided to drop the Quarrymen name once and for all and called themselves Johnny and the Moondogs for that one performance. They passed the audition, but when they arrived to play again on November 15, 1959, the registration line seemed endless. Waiting for hours to play, not having a drummer, having only two guitars among the three of them and only just enough money to take the last bus to Liverpool at 9:47PM, they gave up and went home, but not before John saw a cutaway electric guitar by the stage door and pilfered it.

 

STUART SUTCLIFFE

“I looked up to Stu. I depended on him to tell me the truth…Stu would tell me if something was good and I’d believe him” -John Lennon

John enrolled in the Liverpool College of Art in 1957. Stuart Sutcliffe had enrolled the year before and they soon became good friends. John admired Stu’s artistic talent as a painter, and Stu admired John’s musical ability. Stu was an intuitive soul, able to see through John’s tough exterior, acting like a “teddy boy”. Teddy boys were the 1950’s version of today’s gangstas and John fit the part well, always wearing leather and developing a chip on his shoulder to hide his vulnerabilities. This fraudulent façade of John’s was made more impactful after the death of his mother.

“Paul and I got to know Stuart Sutcliffe through going into the art college. Stuart was a thin, arty guy with glasses and a little Van Gogh beard; a good painter. John really liked Stuart as an artist. Stuart obviously liked John because he played the guitar and was a big Ted. Stuart was cool. He was great looking and had a great vibe about him, and was a very friendly bloke. I liked Stuart a lot; he was always very gentle. John had a slight superiority complex at times, but Stuart didn’t discriminate against Paul and me because we weren’t from the art school. He started to come and watch us when we played at parties and he became a fan of ours. He actually got some parties for John, Paul and me to play at.” – George Harrison

Stu Sutcliffe was an aspiring, talented artist and in 1959, sold one of his first works, which in comparison to his other brilliant paintings, doesn’t do his art justice. “Summer Painting” was sold for £65 (£1135 in 2015, which translates to approximately $1750 today). It was a tidy sum, and Stu was planning to use it to invest in his artwork. But John, Paul and George were continuing to struggle in forming a permanent group, now nameless, and they needed a bass guitarist.

“What do you do with £65? We all reminded him over a coffee: ‘Funny you should have got that amount, Stuart – it is very near the cost of a Hofner bass.’ He said, ‘No, I can’t just spend all that.’ It was a fortune in those days, like an inheritance. He said he had to buy canvases or paint. We said, ‘Stu, see reason, love. A Hofner, a big ace group… fame!’ He gave in and bought this big Hofner bass that dwarfed him. The trouble was he couldn’t play well. This was a bit of a drawback, but it looked good, so it wasn’t too much of a problem. When he came into the band, around Christmas of 1959, we were a little jealous of him; it was something I didn’t deal with very well. We were always slightly jealous of John’s other friendships. He was the older fellow; it was just the way it was. When Stuart came in, it felt as if he was taking the position away from George and me. We had to take a bit of a back seat. Stuart was John’s age, went to art college, was a very good painter and had all the cred that we didn’t.” -Paul McCartney


Stuart Sutcliffe’s “Summer Painting” circa 1959

 

 

1959 CLASSICS

“A one-hit wonder can make a more powerful impact than a recording star who’s got 20 or 30 hits behind him.” – Bob Dylan accepting his induction as MusicCares Person of the Year on February 6, 2015

KANSAS CITY – JERRY LIEBER & MIKE STOLLER

One of the more popular and enduring songs of 1959 is Lieber & Stoller’s “Kansas City”, sung by Wilbert Harrison. Its laid back groove tells the story of a young man hitting the town to look for “crazy little women”. It was a laid back groove and instantly catchy, never mind that Lieber & Stoller had never really been to Kansas City. Its popularity was undeniable as it rocketed up the Billboard Pop chart to Number One in the Spring of 1959, selling over one million copies and receiving a gold disc.

“I’m going to Kansas City… Kansas City here I come (2x), they got some crazy little women there and I’m gonna get me one…” ”Kansas City” – Wilbert Harrison

“Kansas City” was originally written in 1952 and it was one of Lieber & Stoller’s first compositions, recorded that year by Little Willie Littlefield. Littlefield’s version is a bit more upbeat and showcases a sexy tenor sax. The lyrics are also a bit more risqué. Instead of singing “they got some crazy little women there and I’m gonna get me one”, he sings “they got a crazy way of lovin’ and I’m gonna get me some”. If they were trying to tame it by changing the lyrics, it wasn’t by much. After all, what else would a young man want to do with crazy little women?

Since its success with Harrison, there have been over three hundred cover versions of the song.

Little Richard recorded two versions of “Kansas City” in 1955. The first version, traditional to the original version of “Kansas City”, wasn’t released until 1970. Little Richard’s second version was released at around the same time as Wilbert Harrison’s and was the version that was recorded by the Beatles and released on their “Beatles For Sale” UK album and “The Beatles VI” US album, both in late 1964. Little Richard added the “hey hey hey hey” lyrics to the song and then got the idea to record a stand alone version of just that section in 1956, calling it “Hey Hey Hey Hey (Going Back To Birmingham)” so he can collect co-songwriting royalties off his “Kansas City” version.

Although Little Richard must be credited for adding a great groove to “Kansas City” and changing the lyrics around, The Beatles, led by Paul McCartney’s vocals, kicks serious ass.



Other versions of “Kansas City” were then subsequently recorded by James Brown, Bill Haley & His Comets, Peggy Lee, Dion, Jan & Dean, Fats Domino, Sammy Davis Jr., The Everly Brothers, Tom Jones and Muddy Waters to name a few.

The city of Kansas City adopted the song and made it their state song, so I suppose there really are “crazy little women” there. Although 12th Street and Vine no longer exists, a park was designed in the shape of a grand piano, and a path in the shape of a treble clef in the very location where 12th Street and Vine used to be.

Wilbert Harrison died of a stroke at a nursing home in 1994 at age 65. Jerry Lieber died on August 28, 2011 at age 78 from cardio-pulmonary failure. Mike Stoller is 82 years old in 2015.

 

I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU – THE FLAMINGOS

One of the most popular doo-wop groups of the Fifties was the Flamingos. The Flamingos were a family act. Formed in 1952 in Chicago, Illinois by brothers Jacob and Ezekial Carey, they recruited their two cousins, baritone Paul Wilson and first tenor Johnny Carter to join the group and soon added the only non-family member Earl Lewis. They seemed to have an obsession with naming their group for feathered friends because they had previously called themselves the Swallows, El Flamingos and the Five Flamingos until they finally settled on just the Flamingos.

After some personnel changes, Jake and Zeke Carrey (who returned to the group in 1958 after a brief stint in the military) were joined by Nate Nelson, Tommy Hunt, Terry Johnson and Paul Wilson.

The Flamingos scored their first hit, “I’ll Be Home” when they signed with Checker Records, the Chess Records subsidiary. A slow, uneventful song, it reached Number Five in the R&B Billboard chart in 1955. Pat Boone released it a year later and his version made it to Number Six in the Billboard Pop chart. Both versions are forgettable.

“I Only Have Eyes For You” is quite a different story. Written by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin in 1934 for a movie called “Dames”. The Flamingos contemporized it, giving it the doo-wop spin with their “de-bop, sh-bop” chirping that makes it distinctively a Fifties pop hit. When listening to both versions, it’s pretty striking to hear the difference in style, which is why the Flamingos song endures to this day.


In 2001, The Flamingos were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Today in 2015, all the members of the Flamingos except for Tommy Hunt, are deceased.

 

TALLAHASSEE LASSIE – FREDDY CANNON

Rock ‘n’ roll in 1959 seemed to enjoy travel, since two Top Ten songs with city names were big hits that year. Besides “Kansas City”, “Tallahassee Lassie”, although quite simplistic, rocked itself up to Number Six on Billboard’s Top 100.

Its composer Frederic Anthony Picariello, born in Massachusetts and establishing a fan base in Boston, was a fan of rhythm & blues and an ardent admirer of both Chuck Berry and Little Richard. He formed a group and called themselves Freddy Karmon and the Hurricanes. Having formed his band, he took to songwriting, using lyrics his mother wrote to compose a song called “Rock and Roll Baby”. His manager, Boston disc jockey Jack McDermott, took the song to two producers he knew, Bob Crewe and Frank Slay. The duo liked the song, and offered to rearrange and produce it if they could re-write the lyrics and receive two-thirds of the songwriting credit. Recognizing an opportunity when he saw it, Piciarello took them up on the deal. The result was “Tallahassee Lassie”.

Dick Clark of American Bandstand saw potential in the song, even though it was rejected by every record company that heard it. Clark was part owner of Swan Records in Philadelphia and offered to distribute the song as long as they allowed him to make some important changes. He wanted the bass drum sound highlighted as well as Piciarello’s “whoo”, which were both buried in the original recording. They agreed and Clark suggested adding hand claps as well. Subsequently, right before its release, Swan Records President Bernie Binnick suggested that Piciarello change his stage name to Freddy Cannon. The result was a winner, and Dick Clark showcased it on his show.

“Well, she comes from Tallahassee, she got a hi-fi chassis, maybe looks a little sassy, but to me, she’s real classy, yeah, my Tallahassee Lassie down in F-L-A” “Tallahassee Lassie” – Freddy Cannon

Cannon released his next single with a title of another Florida town, “Okeefenokee”, but it didn’t even make it into the Top Forty, stalling at Number 43. He was only able to reach the Top Ten two more times, later in 1959 with “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” (again with the town titles) and then again in 1962 with “Palisades Park”. His song titles were sounding like travelogues. Both songs made it to Number Three in the Billboard Hot 100, and both songs were nothing to write home about.

Freddy Cannon, now 74 years old, continues to appear in concert venues throughout the country.

 

KOOKIE, LEND ME YOUR COMB – EDD BYRNES AND CONNIE STEVENS

“Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb”, despite being a Top Ten hit, is an annoying song. Its origin comes from the television show “77 Sunset Strip”, a major hit that lasted for six years, from 1958 to 1964.

Edward Byrne Breitenberger, known professionally as Edd Byrnes, plays the cool, hip private eye, inspired by James Dean’s attitude and the blueprint for the character of Henry Winkler’s Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli from the TV show “Happy Days” (1974-1984).

Kookie’s comb was his trademark, combing his hair at the beginning of every single episode so often that one was tempted to take the comb from his hand and break it to pieces. Henry Winkler’s Fonz would goof on that, as he would begin to comb his hair but never really did, reacting at his reflection in the mirror with his own trademark “aaayyy”, secure in the knowledge that he looked perfect already.

Byrne’s Kookie character also consistently spoke in “jive talk” indicative of the era, and pretty damn funny to hear today.

An interesting footnote is that in the pilot episode, Edd Byrnes plays Kookie as a serial killer, but after it was picked up as a weekly series on ABC, Byrnes received such acclaim from female teens everywhere, so principal Sunset Strip actor Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. narrated a disclaimer just before its premiere to explain away why Edd Byrnes’ character “Kookie” was still in the show.

“We previewed this show, and because Edd Byrnes was such a hit we decided that Kookie and his comb had to be in our series. So this week, we’ll just forget that in the pilot he went off to prison to be executed.” –Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

Connie Stevens, borrowed from another detective series that had debuted in 1959, “Hawaiian Eye”, was tapped to sing on “Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb” with Byrnes. The tune was obviously written to capitalize on the popularity of both “77 Sunset Strip” and “Hawaiian Eye”, as well as on the crush teenage fans had for Byrnes, as proved by the ear shattering screams heard ‘round the world when they both appeared on “American Bandstand”. The novelty song made it to Number Four on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1959. But it’s still an annoying song.

Connie Stevens enjoyed a busy career during the Sixties and Seventies, releasing records that made it to the Top Ten in 1960 and appearing on TV series such as “Maverick” with James Garner and sharing co-star credit with George Burns in the one season sitcom “Wendy and Me” (1964-1965). She played on Broadway in Neil Simon’s “The Star Spangled Girl” in 1966 and continued making television appearances during the Seventies in shows such as “Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roast”, “The Muppet Show” and a few Bob Hope specials.


After “77 Sunset Strip” got canceled in 1964, Edd Byrnes played minor roles in television programs until 1978, when he was cast as a horn dog Dick Clark type in “Grease” during a sequence that showcased a variation of Johnny Otis’ “Willie and the Hand Jive”(1958).

As of this writing in February 2015, both Byrnes and Stevens are alive and well.

 

SEA CRUISE – FRANKIE FORD/HUEY “PIANO” SMITH

Called the “New Orleans Dynamo”, Francis Guzzo aka Frankie Ford still tours 200 days a year, even at 75 years old in 2015, despite the fact that he only had one hit song, released in 1959, called “Sea Cruise”.

“Sea Cruise” was originally written and recorded by another New Orleans resident, Huey “Piano” Smith with Bobby Marchan doing vocals. But the record company decided to erase Marchan’s vocals and replace it with Ford’s, then adding some foghorns and bells as an intro.

Ford released only two more singles in 1960, both of which sank into obscurity.

Huey Smith’s piano playing style defined the New Orleans sound of the Fifties, headed by Fats Domino, one of Smith’s biggest influences. Smith began his career touring at age eighteen in the early Fifties with his friend Eddie Jones, otherwise known professionally as “Guitar Slim”. By 1953, Smith had signed to Savoy Records, recording his first single “You Made Me Cry”. Since that single wasn’t a success, he also worked as session musician and played piano for Little Richard and Lloyd Price.

He formed Huey “Piano” Smith and his Clowns in 1957 and enlisted Marchan to sing lead, achieving gold record status and selling over one million singles with his first hit, the classic “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” remade in 1972 by Johnny Rivers.


Smith’s biggest hit however, was neither “Sea Cruise” nor “Rockin’…”, but a funny song with an irresistibly catchy hook called “Don’t You Just Know It” released in 1958. It made it to Number Nine on the Billboard Pop chart and Number Four on the R&B chart, becoming their second million seller.

“I can’t lose with the stuff I use (Don’t you just know it) Baby, don’t believe I wear two left shoes (Don’t you just know it) Ah ha ha ha (Ah ha ha ha) Ey eh, oh (Ey eh, oh) Gooba, gooba, gooba, gooba (Gooba, gooba, gooba, gooba) Ah ha ha ha (Ah ha ha ha)…” “Don’t You Just Know It” – Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and his Clowns

After that song, Smith spent several years making comebacks in other names and guises. He’s 81 years old, today in 2015.

 

SEA OF LOVE – PHIL PHILLIPS

Philip Batiste from Louisiana, who changed his name to Phil Philips (no relation to Phillip Philllips who won on “American Idol” in 2012) when he embarked on his singing career, is one of those unfortunate musicians who never saw a dime of royalties for his song that has been remade many times. In fact, all he ever received for recording his composition and sole hit “Sea Of Love” was exactly $6800 in 1959, roughly $55,000 in 2015 dollars. An album he recorded to back the single was also never released.

“Because I decided to fight for what was rightfully and legally mine, a full album that I recorded was never released. I’m not being paid, nor have I ever been paid, as an artist for ‘Sea of Love’. I never received justice and to this day have not received justice.” –Phil Phillips

“Sea Of Love” made it to Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and Number One on the R&B chart. It was a million seller and received a gold disc. The composition was resurrected in 1984 by Robert Plant when he formed a group after Led Zeppelin broke up called The Honeydrippers. This updated version made it to Number Three that year. Plant’s version eliminated the dated doo-wop background vocals and, along with a laid back guitar solo, added strings to give it a more lush, traditional feel. It worked marvelously.

An excellent suspense thriller called “Sea of Love” was released in 1989 with Al Pacino, John Goodman and Ellen Barkin. The film showcased Phillips’ original recording, as well as a darker interpretation of the song by Tom Waits and released in his 2006 collection, “Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards”.

Phillips could have made millions off his own composition what with the amount of times the song has been re-recorded. Waits added his version on his album. Del Shannon recorded a version in 1981, the same year Iggy Pop also recorded it. Besides the movie “Sea Of Love”, it was also showcased in “Juno” (2007) performed by a group called “Cat Power”. It was even in an episode of “The Simpsons” called “Future-Drama” in 2005.

To date, Phil Phillips still hasn’t received any satisfaction for the monies owed him. His last performance of the song was in New Orleans in 2005, a few months before Katrina devastated the city. Despite it all, Phil Phillips is still alive and is 88 years young.

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by Robert Seoane

THE REAL FUTURE OF ROCK N ROLL: LEGENDARY BLUES ARTISTS SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON I AND II – HOWLIN’ WOLF – WILLIE DIXON AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON CLASSIC ROCK LEGENDS THE ROLLING STONES – ERIC CLAPTON – THE DOORS – LED ZEPPELIN – AEROSMITH AND MORE

 

CHANGING MUSICAL TASTES

Two compilation albums were released in 1959, one by Sonny Boy Williamson and the other by Howlin’ Wolf, that pointed the direction to the real future of rock ‘n’ roll. Every other artist that had a hit in the Billboard Top Forty that year, every Number One single and album, had nothing on them. Decades from now, these charted pop hits would be listened to as a nostalgic trip to another era, but these blues musicians who didn’t chart any pop hits, barely made any money on their success and were relegated to the shadows, deemed lesser men because of the color of their skin, have made music that has remained vital and as beautiful to listen to today in 2015 as they were all those years ago.

1959 was a year of contrasts between the music of yesterday and the music of tomorrow.

Most emerging artists of the late Fifties and early Sixties were in the impending danger of extinction by 1964, when the Beatles were to arrive in the US with a sound that blew away everything from its musical path. Slowly but surely, most of the Fifties pop and rock ‘n’ roll stars would be doomed to suffer a sudden and fiery decline into obscurity after that fateful day on February 9 when the “Fab Four” made their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show to 70 million American viewers, at the time a historic record. The only few artists to survive the onslaught of new product from across the pond were older, established superstars like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. In fact, Martin knocked The Beatles’ seven-week debut chart topper “I Want To Hold Your Hand” off the Number One slot in the Spring of 1964 with his old-fashioned but still popular-among-the-parents hit, “Everybody Loves Somebody”. Sinatra still managed to top the charts or enter the Top Ten during the mid-Sixties with releases such as “That’s Life” and “Strangers In The Night”. The only other unstoppable force was Motown, delivering an assortment of R&B artists into the Top Forty that paralleled in popularity and quality of the music of the British Invasion. Indeed, rock ‘n’ roll was thriving in the Sixties for those who had their own sound. Anything that even remotely smacked of the previous decade was forgotten.

Case in point: The Fleetwoods.

 

THE MUSIC OF YESTERDAY – THE FLEETWOODS

The Fleetwoods were a good group. Their songs were pretty and they had good voices. The only problem was that their style was doomed to obscurity. Their vocalizations predated rock ‘n’ roll, heralding the jazz style ballads of the Forties crooned by Bing Crosby, and mixed with Fifties doo-wop to contemporize it. The Fleetwoods’ vocal delivery can only be called gentle. They sang as if they were trying to put you to sleep, not out of boredom, but because their recordings were all softly sung pretty little lullaby tunes.

COME SOFTLY TO ME – THE FLEETWOODS

The Fleetwoods’ first single release was written by the trio, comprised of male lead vocalist Gary Troxel and the two female background vocalists Gretchen Christopher and Barbara Ellis. Titled “Come Softly To Me”, they never actually sing the title because it was originally called just “Come Softly”. Bob Reisdorf, owner of Dolphin Records, the label the Fleetwoods were signed to, thought that was a little risque, so he added “…To Me” to the title. It’s silly to think that anyone would have been offended by such a subtle connotation in light of today’s pop lyrics. But throughout the Sixties, lyrics were, for the most part, clean.

“Come Softly To Me” topped Billboard’s Hot One Hundred in April of 1959.

MR. BLUE – THE FLEETWOODS

Their second Number One was “Mr. Blue”, released in November 1959. Very much like “Come Softly To Me”, there’s a short vocal intro before its sweet melody, and also like “CSTM”, it’s a gently sung tune that’s guaranteed to help you drift into the land of Morpheus with a smile on your face.

The Fleetwoods wouldn’t enter the national Top Ten again until 1961 with a song called “Tragedy” climbing to Number Ten. It didn’t have the same catchy melody as their previous Number Ones but their next single “(He’s The) Great Impostor” was more memorable, even though it only managed to make it up to Number 30.

Although the Fleetwoods continued to release singles in 1962 and 1963, only two of them made it into the Hot One Hundred at Numbers 36 and 32. But after 1964, as they continued to release sporadic songs for the subsequent two years, The Fleetwoods would be nowhere to be seen in the pop charts again.

 

THE MUSIC OF TOMORROW – THE FUTURE OF ROCK & ROLL

In 1959, rock ‘n’ roll was mostly comprised of either doo-wop groups, who weren’t really singing rock ‘n’ roll, or pop stars who sang songs with a rock ‘n’ roll beat. All the real rock ‘n’ roll stars had been sidelined. With Elvis in the Army, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper dead, Jerry Lee Lewis’ recording career destroyed for marrying his thirteen year old cousin and Little Richard renouncing the rock ‘n’ roll life for the ministry, the only true rock ‘n’ rollers left were Chuck Berry and Duane Eddy. Everyone else in 1959, although some were immensely talented, was made into pop stars by an industry desperately searching for the new Elvis. Neil Sedaka was singing about having a different girl every calendar year and wishing his sixteen-year-old girlfriend a happy birthday. Frankie Avalon was singing to the planet Venus to grant him his girlfriend’s love. The Platters were reviving an old standard, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”, and turning it into a huge hit by making it sound contemporary, and the biggest hit of 1959 wasn’t even a rock ‘n’ roll song. It was a song from a 1930s German play called “The Threepenny Opera” that had been re-hauled into a dynamic jazz number called “Mack The Knife”, its definitive version sung by another up and coming pop star, Bobby Darin. “MTK” spent the last two and a half months of the Fifties in the Number One position, twelve weeks in a row, a sure sign that the rock ‘n’ roll music that had combusted so spontaneously five years earlier was flaming out.

But blues music was a different story. The blues are always only about the blues, usually as a lament for something that was lost, whether it be a lover or a job. The lyrics were often repeated in pairs, and the lament was usually backed by amazing musicianship where each note sounded like it came from the essence of their soul. It wasn’t just the dexterity of the playing but the persistence of the beat that fueled these songs and brought the listener into its musical ride and, if properly appreciated, irresistibly persuaded you to groove along.

Looking back at 1959 now, it’s obvious that the path rock ‘n’ roll was taking was a bleached, tamped down version of its original firepower. All the teen pop idols that surfaced during this period may have had talent and some of their songs were indeed very good, but it wasn’t the future. While the record labels were grooming them, promoting them and serving them to the pubescent teen market as The Next Big Thing, the real future of rock ‘n’ roll remained under the radar. Blues musicians such as Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley to name a handful, were playing and composing music that would greatly influence legendary rock groups and artists that include The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Eric Clapton, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, George Thorogood, Jonny Lang, The Police and Sting.

The following is a collection of these amazing blues musicians’ songs that the megastars of 20th Century rock played, loved and emulated.

Sonny Boy Williamson made a lasting impact on rock ‘n’ roll as well as on the rock giants who admired his music. But in actuality, there were two musicians who called themselves Sonny Boy Williamson. Not because they were related at all, but because the second SBW took it upon himself to take the name. Blues purists refer to them today as I and II.

 

SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON I

John Lee Curtis Williamson, born in Jackson, Tennessee in 1914, was the original Sonny Boy. Christened the father of modern blues harp, Williamson was the first to use the harmonica as a lead instrument for the blues. In 1934 he settled in Chicago and as a result, pioneered Chicago blues. At age 23 in 1937, he recorded his first single for Bluebird Records, called “Good Morning, Schoolgirl”. With the simple accompaniment of a harmonica and guitar, the song became popular among the black community and established his reputation as a master harp player right from the start.

A Texas bluesman by the name of Smokey Hogg released his own version of “Good Morning Schoolgirl”, adding a piano to the tune. His version made it into Billboard’s R&B chart at Number Five. Other blues artists like John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters and Junior Wells with Buddy Guy recorded their own versions of the song. For the most part, each of those recordings used similar, sparse instrumentation, but no white artist had ever touched the song until the British Yardbirds with Eric Clapton released it as a single in the UK in 1964. The Yardbirds’ version is a well-produced, well-played version revved up to the rock ‘n’ roll sound of the day, with more than a passing resemblance to the style of the Beatles.

Once the Yardbirds released the single, then a flood of white artists began to record it over the ensuing decades, including Paul Butterfield, the Grateful Dead, Jonny Lang, Huey Lewis and the News, Van Morrison, Paul Rodgers with Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ten Years After, The Derek Trucks Band, Johnny Winter, and The Allman Brothers Band. Like so many other blues compositions redone by these and other legendary artists, they turned the blues into dynamic rock music.

SBW I continued to cut records for the next ten years, all of them just as well received as the previous release. In 1947, “Shake The Boogie” made it into Billboard’s “Race” chart (that was the name they called music from African Americans before Jerry Wexler coined the term rhythm and blues) and reached Number Four.

Sometime in the early 1940s, another musician by the name of Alex “Rice” Miller out of Mississippi started to also call himself Sonny Boy Williamson. The original Williamson was aware of this but did nothing, perhaps because SBW II confined himself to playing in the Mississippi region and didn’t release any recordings during SBW I’s lifetime. SBW I did confront SBW II personally once but not much was settled.

“Big Sonny Boy [Miller] chased Little Sonny Boy [Williamson] away from there. He couldn’t play with Rice. Rice Miller could play Sonny Boy’s stuff better than he could play it!” –Robert Lockwood, guitarist who witnessed the confrontation

On June 1, 1948, SBW I had completed a performance at the Plantation Club and was walking home. A block and a half away from the club, he unwittingly found himself in the middle of a robbery and took a bullet that killed him. He was 37 years old.

 

SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON II

“Those British boys want to play the blues real bad, and they do”. – Sonny Boy Williamson II

Alex “Rice” Miller, nicknamed so because of his penchant for rice and milk as a child, was born in 1912, two years before John Williamson. Miller claimed to be born in 1899, perhaps as part of his conspiracy to own the original Sonny Boy’s name. His gravestone says he was born in 1908, but Dr. David Evans, professor of music at the University of Memphis, claimed to have found census records evidence claiming Miller to be eight years old in the year 1920.

Miller’s name change came about in 1941 when the sponsor of The King Biscuit radio show in which he performed regularly started to inexplicably refer to him as Sonny Boy Williamson.

His career began back in the 1930s when he toured and played in his home state of Mississippi and Arkansas. During his travels, he met and played with two other blues greats that would form the foundation of Mississippi blues as it’s known today, Elmore James and Robert Johnson. It was a tightly knit group; his sister was even married to Howlin’ Wolf. During those years, SBW II developed his onstage persona and entertained the audience with his banter and his abilities on the harmonica. Miller was indeed a master bluesman and incredibly talented, able to play harmonica by inserting it halfway into his mouth and not using his hands.

“Sonny Boy Williamson is the Jimi Hendrix of the Blues Harp.” John Mayall

“If you are gonna play a note, play the hell out of that goddamn note! You can take one note and upset a house. Play that damn note; don’t let the note play you.”- Sonny Boy Williamson II to Little Sonny in Detroit MI in 1955 (as reported in Living Blues Issue #207)

In 1941, SBW II started playing for “King Biscuit Time” a radio show out of Helena, Arkansas, where he garnered local fame for his performances. As his reputation grew and indeed became a superior musician over the original SBW I, Miller had no recording contract and continued to play locally. It wasn’t until SBW I’s murder in 1948 that Miller’s star began to ascend. He signed with Trumpet Records in 1951, calling himself “the one and only Sonny Boy Williamson”. By 1953, he was part of Elmore James’ band, and after the label folded in 1955, Miller’s contract was taken by the label’s creditors and sold to Checker Records, a subsidiary of Chess. It was then that Miller began recording his own compositions. His records made it to the United Kingdom and ignited a blues craze. There, in contrast to his home country, he became a huge star and hero to many young, future musicians like Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton.

SBW II’s first LP, “Down & Out Blues”, was released in 1959. Consisting of songs he had recorded during that decade, the record’s grooves contained the future of rock ‘n’ roll. Muddy Waters, Otis Spann and legendary songwriter Willie Dixon backed him up on many of these recordings.

In direct contrast to the happy, bright, white young faces adorning pop releases of the day, the “Down & Out Blues” album cover showed a black homeless man laying down on the street, conveying a gritty reality nowhere to be found in 1959 rock ‘n’ roll.

DON’T START ME TO TALKIN’ – SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON

“Don’t Start Me To Talkin” was the new Sonny Boy’s first single and his biggest hit, climbing up to Number Three in Billboard’s R&B chart after its September 1955 release. It’s a standard blues song, essentially a blueprint of how the blues should be played and sung, and a quality recording. Over the years it was re-recorded and played by Dion, the Yardbirds, Bob Dylan, The Doobie Brothers and The New York Dolls to name a few. Each version by these artists shows a tremendous love and appreciation for the song, sung with an energy and exuberance that betrays the joy felt in all these musicians’ souls for the blues.


I DON’T KNOW – SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON

The second track on “Down & Out Blues” was originally released as the flip side of the “Fattenin’ Frogs for Snakes” 45rpm record released on February 6, 1957. It’s another classic blues song filled with wit and carried on by a wicked beat. The lyrics also reaffirm Miller’s constant need to tell everyone he is Sonny Boy Williamson.

“At eleven forty-five the phone began to ring, I heard someone say Sonny Boy and I know that was my name, who call you? I don`t know, I don`t know, but I`m trying to get in touch my baby to find out why she disappoint me so.” – “I Don’t Know” – Sonny Boy Williamson

Every track of the album is a classic and more than worth a listen, with lyrics that had nothing to do with innocent love. Quite the contrary, each tune had a different way of conveying the jealousy and trials of falling in love and was filled with humorous and original perspectives that just couldn’t be found in 1959 mainstream rock ‘n’ roll.

FATTENIN’ FROGS FOR SNAKES – SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON

The song that opens Side Two is about a repentant man who uses the analogy of feeding amphibians to reptiles with the bad choices he made in his lifetime.

“Whoa man, nineteen and fifty-seven, I’ve got to correct all of my mistakes, I’m tellin’ my friends includin’ my wife and everybody else, not fattenin’ no more frogs for snakes” – Fattenin’ Frogs for Snakes – Sonny Boy Williamson

YOUR FUNERAL AND MY TRIAL – SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON

“Your Funeral and My Trial”, recorded in March 1958, was a song about jealousy with lyrics that once again put a spin on the green-eyed monster by implying a violent end for his girlfriend if he continues her philandering ways.

Please come home to your daddy, and explain yourself to me, because I and you are man and wife, tryin’ to start a family, I’m beggin’ you baby, cut out that off the wall jive, If you can’t treat me no better, it gotta be your funeral and my trial.” – Your Funeral and My Trial – Sonny Boy Williamson


Sonny Boy Williamson didn’t just influence rock ‘n’ roll musically, he also inspired legendary artists with his lyrics as well. When John Lennon was with the Beatles, he wrote several songs that dealt with jealousy and veiled threats of violence in retribution for disloyalty much like Dixon’s “Your Funeral and My Trial” in theme. As the years progressed, Lennon’s lyrics also became more honest and even a little confessional.

“That boy took my love away, Oh, he’ll regret it someday, but this boy wants you back again.” – This Boy – The Beatles

“Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man, you better keep your head, little girl or I won’t know where I am, you better run for your life if you can, little girl, hide your head in the sand little girl, catch you with another man, that’s the end, little girl.” – Run For Your Life – The Beatles

“I used to be cruel to my woman I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved. Man, I was mean but I’m changing my scene and I’m doing the best that I can…” Getting Better – The Beatles

The remaining songs on SBW II’s album, such as “Cross My Heart”, don’t let up in quality and feeling. In 2007, the album was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

SBW II continued releasing singles between 1960 and 1965, each of them classic blues songs that were aurally devoured by the future leaders of Sixties rock. Other notable songs include “Little Village”, a recording prefaced with hilariously obscene banter between Sonny Boy and his producer Leonard Chess.


EYESIGHT TO THE BLIND – SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON

“Eyesight To The Blind” recorded by SBW II in 1951, was subsequently recorded by The Who and was the only song in their groundbreaking 1969 album “Tommy” that had been written by another artist.


In 1975, the Who released “Tommy” as a film where Eric Clapton was showcased as a preacher performing SBW II’s “Eyesight to the Blind” in a bizarre scene filmed in St. Andrews Church in Southsea, England, where paraplegics were being taken to touch a large statue of Marilyn Monroe in the hopes of being “saved”, while a crazed priest (Arthur Brown) baptizes everyone with pills and liquor. That’s rock ‘n’ roll for ya.

NINE BELOW ZERO – SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON

Yet another song with lyrics that put a humorous slant on being left by a woman, this time in the dead of winter, is “Nine Below Zero”. The title of the song was later taken to be used by the rock group of the same name.

“Yeah, ain’t that a pity people, ain’t that a cryin’ shame, ain’t that a pity, I declare it’s a cryin’ shame, she wait till it got nine below zero, and put me down for another man.” – Nine Below Zero – Sonny Boy Williamson

SBW II toured Europe in the early Sixties when the United Kingdom was still in the clutches of a blues craze and even recorded with the Yardbirds and the Animals. Recorded live at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, Surrey on December 8, 1963, SBW II and the Yardbirds with Eric Clapton on lead guitar created a classic blues album.


That same month of December in 1963, Williamson recorded eleven live tracks with the Animals that were subsequently released over the years among various rock compilation albums. One of the highlights is their rendition of Willie Dixon’s “My Babe”.


Sonny Boy Williamson II’s penchant for lying and twisting the truth backfired on him when he returned to the States because none of his friends believed he went to Europe, although he had completely changed his wardrobe style due to British influence, opting for a suit complete with bowler hat and umbrella.

HELP ME – SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON

“Help Me”, released in 1963 and climbing up to Number 23 in the Billboard R&B chart, is the only song SBW II released that he didn’t write the music for, taking the melody from a rock ‘n’ roll song that had been released in 1960 called “Green Onions” by Booker T and the MGs. Willie Dixon is also credited along with SBW II in the song.


CHECKIN’ UP ON MY BABY – SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON

“Checkin’ Up On My Baby” has been called “the most accomplished masterpiece of the postwar blues” and is a favorite of the Rolling Stones, having been performed more than once by Mick Jagger and a long list of others.


Upon SBW II’s return from Europe, he resumed playing on the “King Biscuit Time” radio show. On May 25, 1965, he was late for work, a very unusual occurrence for him. Fellow musician Peck Curtis had been waiting for his arrival along with his backup musicians and decided to go to his rooming house to see why he was delayed. He found him lifeless on his bed from a heart attack. Alex Miller aka Sonny Boy Williamson was 53 years old.

 

HOWLIN’ WOLF

A compilation album was released in 1959 that contained a decade’s worth of blues recordings by an artist who essentially was one of the architects of rock ‘n’ roll.

Chester Arthur Burnett, named after the 21st President of the United States Chester A. Arthur and better known by his stage name, Howlin’ Wolf, nicknamed ‘Wolf’ as a child by his grandfather for his brusque behavior, was a blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player born in White Station, Mississippi in 1910.

This collection of a dozen songs that made up the contents of the compilation album “Moanin’At Midnight” and released in August of 1959, captured the essence of blues, and served as an aural barometer of how far the current rock ‘n’ roll sound had drifted from its roots. The rock ‘n’ roll songs of 1959 had the beat and used the proper instrumentation, but one by one, those popular artists of the time all sold out. As Madison Avenue exploited the genre and The Establishment was successfully taming and molding the beast called rock ‘n’ roll into an acceptable product that would be palatable and safe for the whole family, both institutions capitalized on the sound in the same cynical way. They packaged and sold it to a young, eager market after successfully cutting its balls off. The music’s soul and smoldering sexuality had been replaced by ditties with clever lyrics and a rock ‘n’ roll beat.

Chester Burnett had a rough childhood. His mother Gertrude, a street singer who sold gospel songs for a living, disowned him for playing “the devil’s music”. After his parents separated and his father moved away to the Mississippi Delta, little Chester lived with his uncle Will Young, a preacher and strict disciplinarian who was “the meanest man between here and Hell” according to a childhood friend of Burnett’s. Chester ultimately ran away from his mother and his maternal family when he was 13, and walked barefoot eighty-five miles according to him, until he got to his father’s home, who gladly took the young boy in.

Burnett grew up with a keen interest in blues music, especially after his father bought him his first guitar at age 18, and he became personally acquainted with the incredibly talented blues musicians that played in and around the Mississippi Delta where he lived. He met the first great blues star, Charley Patton at around that time. Patton was a major influence in his musical style, as was Sonny Boy Williamson II and other talented Mississippi bluesmen of that region. Patton taught Burnett how to play guitar. Burnett taught himself how to play the harmonica.

Throughout the Thirties, Burnett spent his time performing solo gigs as well as with a variety of Southern blues musicians. In 1941, he was drafted into the Army. When he was discharged two years later, he resumed his blues career. In 1948, he formed a group called The House Rockers with pianist Bill Johnson, lead guitarist Willie Johnson, and drummer Willie Steele. Other musicians that would join the group were harmonica players James Cotton and Little Junior Parker as well as Ike Turner on piano. A local radio station in Memphis started to broadcast their live performances. At one point, Ike Turner brought Burnett to the attention of Sam Phillips, the man who would discover Elvis. Sam recorded Howlin’ Wolf at his Memphis Recording Service in 1951.

MOANIN’ IN THE MOONLIGHT – HOWLIN’ WOLF

Howlin’ Wolf’s very first recordings with Sam Phillips along with other blues classics are contained in the “Moanin’ In The Moonlight” compilation album. All of the songs in the compilation have an undeniable groove that essentially defined rock ‘n’ roll. Several of these compositions have gone on to be played by the Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Little Feat, the Yardbirds and Cream. It’s ironic that Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon and many other American artists would not be properly recognized in their own country until British rock artists came all the way from across the Atlantic Ocean, to come here and play it for us.

MOANIN’ AT MIDNIGHT – HOWLIN’ WOLF

“Moanin’ At Midnight” opens with his humming and distinctive howling, backed by a plucky guitar and accompanied after a while with his harmonica, blowing out a chugging rhythm that proceeds to flow smoothly through the song. Howlin’ Wolf sings as though he’s being choked; his lower range was more of a growl and it ultimately became his trademark. Although “MAM” was recorded in 1951, it didn’t become an R&B national hit until 1957.

The opening cut from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moaning In The Moonlight” collection was the first song recorded by Sam Phillips at his Memphis Recording Service and distributed through Chess Records in 1951. Sam Phillips and the Chess Brothers, Phil, and Leonard, had a contractual agreement to work in conjunction with recording and distributing R&B music.

The B-side to the Chess Records release of “Moanin’…” was “How Many More Years” and the second track on the album. This song is one of a handful of tunes Howlin’ Wolf recorded that has been played many times by the aforementioned rock supergroups of the Sixties.

The next track on the collection was “Smokestack Lightnin’” a song Howlin’ Wolf wrote and has been playing since the early days of the 1930s. It’s one of Howlin’ Wolf’s most famous, having been a staple song during the live concerts of the Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, The Animals, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and The Wailers. The song has also been performed and/or recorded by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, John Lee Hooker, John Mayer, Soundgarden, George Thorogood, Aerosmith, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Creedence Clearwater Revival among others.

“We used to sit out in the country and see the trains go by, watch the sparks come out of the smokestack. That was smokestack lightning.” – Chester ‘Howlin’ Wolf’ Burnett

“Ah-oh, smokestack lightnin’, shinin’, just like gold, why don’t ya hear me cryin’? A-whoo-hooo, oooo whooo… Whoa-oh, tell me, baby, what’s the matter with you? Why don’t ya hear me cryin’? Whoo-hooo, whoo-hooo whooo…” Smokestack Lightnin’ – Howlin’ Wolf

The song was written and recorded in 1956 after Wolf moved to Chicago and signed exclusively to Chess Records.


The Yardbirds were known for being blues purists, and besides “Smokestack Lightnin'” they recorded many other blues compositions including Tiny Bradshaw’s “Train Kept A-Rollin'”(1951) with Jeff Beck on guitar and Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man”(1955), where guitarist Jimmy Page uses a violin bow.



Side One of “Moanin’ At The Moonlight” closes with a great song called “All Night Boogie”. It’s a fast bluesy romp with more than a passing similarity to Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll”(1954) that shows off the Wolf’s virtuosity on the mouth harp and pre-dated scores of honky-tonk rock ‘n’ roll songs of the Sixties and Seventies.


The other notable song in the album collection is “Evil”, written by Willie Dixon. Dixon played double-bass on this recording, produced in 1954. It’s a classic song for rock ‘n’ roll, singing about the dangers of evil lurking in “your happy home” when you’re not around and the little lady is all alone to fool around with another man. This was just the kind of topic the Establishment frowned upon, even though the song may have had a point. But if the blues and country music were the parents of rock ‘n’ roll, the blues was the genre’s mother, because it instilled in the music its ability to sing from the heart no matter how painful or embarrassing the topic may be.

“You make it to your house, knock on the front door, run ’round to the back; you’ll catch him just before he goes. That’s evil, evil is going on. I have warned you brother, you better watch your happy home.” “Evil” – Howlin’ Wolf


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by Robert Seoane

ELVIS PRESLEY – THE EVERLY BROTHERS – THE TEEN POP IDOLS – BOBBY RYDELL – FABIAN – FRANKIE AVALON – BEACH MOVIES AND GIDGET – THE BRILL BUILDING – DON KIRSHNER – NEIL SEDAKA – PAUL ANKA – BOBBY DARIN

1959 was more than just the last year of the most prosperous decade for America. It was a year of changes that would reverberate through the rest of the Twentieth Century. In world news, a dangerous revolution was establishing itself just ninety miles from the United States on the island of Cuba. It would start to produce a wave of refugees entering the United States en masse by 1962. In the meantime, film and television offered the public an entertainment option that differed greatly from the days when the family huddled around the radio to listen to their favorite shows. Movies were bigger and brighter than ever, relying on state-of-the-art late Fifties technology called Technicolor, Vista Vision and Cinerama. All of them added up to very large screens and less black and white films, two advantages that were impossible for the television industry to compete with in 1959. Hit movies of that year include Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense classic “North By Northwest” with Cary Grant, the spectacle of William Wyler’s “Ben Hur” with Charlton Heston, and the comic brilliance of Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot” (considered by AFI to be the best movie comedy of all time) with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe.



Children’s programming had been making inroads on television since the medium’s first broadcast year. In 1947, “Howdy Doody” was one of the first national TV shows broadcast daily on the NBC Network. Sales and ad men drawn by the financial potential of selling television advertising to children (who in turn will nag their mothers until she buys the damn thing) incorporated their clients’ products into the programming as a novel and sneaky way of brainwashing the children of America. “Howdy Doody” pioneered product integration and in 1959, was enjoying its last year on national television.

 

ELVIS’ SECOND YEAR IN THE ARMY

Elvis Presley was in Friedburg, Germany in 1959, going through his second and last year in the Army. That was the year he bought and moved into his three story, five-bedroom house at 14 Goethestrasse, Bad Nauheim on February 3rd, the same day Buddy Holly’s plane crashed. He had purchased the home for whenever the Army would give him time off from the barracks life. The news of Holly’s death must have spooked Elvis because he avoided small planes and opted for ground transportation that summer on his way back to Friedburg from a 15-day furlough in Paris with his pals. He rented a limousine for him and his entourage instead. It cost him $800 to take them from Paris to Friedburg, approximately $6500 in 2015 dollars. These pals that were quickly becoming his entourage hung around Elvis frequently, making themselves comfortable in his new home. From that moment on, Elvis would always have hangers-on and yes-men dogging and flattering their way into his inner circle.

Elvis was introduced to lifelong interests and vices during his time in the US Army. His Sergeant had already given him and the rest of his fellow servicemen amphetamines to maintain their stamina when going out on early morning drills and Elvis took them eagerly. He also developed a lifelong interest in weapons and handguns during his time in the Army, as well as a fascination with martial arts; he began studying karate in 1959.

Despite his best efforts at trying to be average Private Presley, his rock star celebrity status was impossible to squelch. Fans were constantly coming over from all over Europe to get a chance to meet him, and Elvis was always available and cordial. A sign hung outside his front door on 14 Goethestrasse that read “Autographs from 7:30 to 8:00PM”. He threw a major rock star-style “Over The Hump” party on the day of his first year anniversary of his induction into the Army to celebrate the fact that he only had another year to go. He spent his 15-day furlough in Paris in June 1959 and, among other dalliances, dated sex bomb movie star Brigitte Bardot. During that furlough, he and his entourage booked an entire floor at the Prince De Galles Hotel near the Champs Elysees and frequented the Lido Club and the Moulin Rouge, where they would bring back a different dancing girl nightly to their rooms. One particular evening, Elvis received a complaining phone call from the Lido house management demanding their entire chorus line be returned back to them immediately.

Elvis served in the US Army during a time of peace, so any chance of America’s reigning King of Rock ‘n’ Roll to sustain any war injuries were minimal. Still, he managed to injure his knee when he fell off a jeep while the driver was making a sharp turn on March 18, 1959. That was the worst injury he sustained during his entire tour of duty. Approximately two and a half months later, Presley was promoted to Specialist 4th Class and received a $122.30 a month salary (about $1000 in 2015, a small stipend next to the millions he was already making).

 

PRISCILLA BEAULIEU

On August 15, 1959, Army Captain Paul Beaulieu was reassigned to Wiesbaden, Germany, near Friedburg, with his three daughters and his fourteen year old step-daughter, Priscilla Ann. In order to make friends, Priscilla would frequent the Eagles Club, an eating and entertainment establishment for US servicemen and women. There, she befriended a handsome twenty-something airman named Currie Grant and his wife. On September 13, Currie asked Priscilla if she’d like to go meet Elvis Presley at a private party.

Priscilla wore a white navy sailor dress the night she met her future husband. Elvis took an immediate liking to her, but was keenly aware of her tender age. They made small talk and kidded each other. Priscilla commented how she was sorry to see that the Army had shaved off his sideburns. Elvis felt comfortable around her; Priscilla was not your typical swooning fan. She kept her cool, besides the fact that she was beautiful. Elvis decided that despite the fact she was only fourteen, he would start courting her. Priscilla gladly visited him regularly. For the following six months that Elvis would be in the Army, he and Priscilla became inseparable. Indeed, they tied the knot on May 1, 1967, approximately seven years after they first met. The courtship would last until her twenty-first birthday, but it wouldn’t be an easy courtship for Priscilla, having to look the other way countless times while her future fiancée dallied with every famous actress in Hollywood.

In the meantime, the A&R men at Capitol were still churning out Elvis product to keep him in the public eye. Besides compiling best-selling greatest hits collections, they released three singles during 1959, all to Top Ten success.

ONE NIGHT/I GOT STUNG – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis first recorded “One Night” on January 18, 1957 with different, more explicit lyrics (for the Fifties) than the eventual release. Although he liked the song, Capitol wouldn’t release the recording. Elvis then sat down to change the words and re-recorded the tune. Originally called “One Night (of Sin)”, he changed the lyrics from “one night of sin is what I’m now paying for”, to “One night with you is what I’m now praying for”. It was then released and climbed to Number Four on the Billboard Pop chart in the Winter of 1959.

Rock critic Pete Johnson pointed out that ‘One Night” is one of the few rock ‘n’ roll songs with the use of a triple negative in the lyrics: “I ain’t never did no wrong.”

Its B-Side, “I Got Stung”, was recorded the previous year in Nashville when he was given leave for a week. He used that week to record more product because Elvis was very concerned that his fans would forget him while he was away so long. He needn’t have worried. “I Got Stung” is a fast-paced catchy tune that managed to reach Number Eight on Billboard’s Pop chart.

“Holy smokes, land sakes alive, I never thought this would happen to me… I got stung… yeh…” –“I Got Stung” – Elvis Presley

(NOW AND THEN THERE’S) A FOOL SUCH AS I/I NEED YOUR LOVE TONIGHT – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis’ second single released in 1959 was another Double A-Side, where each song on both sides were equally good and suitable for maximum radio airplay. Originally performed and released by Hank Snow in 1953, Elvis’ version of “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such As I” reached Number Two in the Spring of 1959.


The song had other covers besides Presley’s. Bob Dylan played the tune during the Big Pink recording sessions in 1967. Those sessions produced the famous Basement Tapes that have been bootlegged for decades, until 2014 when the entire set of recordings were finally released in its entirety in a CD box set.

The flip-side, “I Need Your Love Tonight” also enjoyed chart success, reaching Number Four in the Billboard Pop chart, also during the spring of ’59. The Elvis juggernaut was showing no signs of a slowdown, despite the fact that its resident King was out of commission until March of 1960. The songs he had left behind for release while he was away was proving to be as popular as if he was a civilian.

A BIG HUNK O’ LOVE/MY WISH CAME TRUE – ELVIS PRESLEY

Released for the summer of 1959, this would be the last Elvis Presley single in 1959. It was a good ending because, although “My Wish Came True” stalled short of the Billboard Top Ten at Number 12, “A Big Hunk O’ Love” made it to Number One and stayed there for two weeks.


1959 was drawing to a close and Elvis was less than three months away from returning to civilian life. The Sixties would be an entirely different journey for the King, as he started to prefer making movies over recording. Although he still released albums and singles throughout that decade, even his popularity began to wane with the arrival of The Beatles. It took a national television special on NBC, broadcast in 1968, that brought the King back to his rightful throne. Music once again became the primary force of his life and as he morphed into a new Elvis for the Seventies, he began to launch world tours that at one point made him the biggest draw in Las Vegas.

THE EVERLY BROTHERS

Phil and Don took it hard when their good friend Buddy Holly died. They had toured with him in 1957 and 1958. Holly had noticed how well dressed the Brothers always were when they appeared on-stage, so he took it upon himself and his group the Crickets to always wear matching suits onstage, a wardrobe style mimicked just a few years later by the Beatles.

Phil Everly attended the funeral and sat with Holly’s parents. Don stayed at home, shocked by the tragic accident.

“I couldn’t go to the funeral. I couldn’t go anywhere. I just took to my bed.” – Don Everly

The Brothers’ recording output in 1959 was comprised of merely a few singles. Their second album, “Songs Our Daddy Taught Us”, was released in December of 1958. It was a brave departure from rock ‘n’ roll into the folk music they grew up with and loved, and as a result didn’t fare too well commercially. It didn’t even crack in Billboard’s National Top Albums chart, nor did it appear in any UK charts either. It did however, immediately follow the Kingston Trio’s folk release the summer before, and aided in heralding the introduction of the folk genre into rock ‘n’ roll.

RIP IT UP – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

Their first single of 1959 was their version of Little Richard’s “Rip It Up”. The fact that it didn’t even crack the Billboard Hot 100 was a strong indication of how the young rock ‘n’ roll audience had enough of whitened version of songs when the original versions sound great anyway. The recording is good, and the Everly Brothers sing it well, but when you compare it to Little Richard’s original, it just doesn’t compete.


TAKE A MESSAGE TO MARY – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

Their second single was equally uneventful. It followed the same musical vein as their current folk-tinged album as a storytelling love song. It did manage to break the national Billboard chart all the way into the Top Twenty, climbing up to Number 16.

Despite the Brothers’ return to the chart, it looked as though they had lost their pop inspiration and was heading towards a more musically traditional path. Their next string of singles however, would change all that.

(‘TIL) I KISSED YOU – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

The Everly Brothers’ third and final single of 1959 was the charm. A sweet, simple, happy love song that makes you want to hold hands and skip down the road with the first person you meet on the street… or at least think about doing so.

“Never felt like this until I kissed ya, how did I exist until I kissed ya, never had you on my mind, now you’re there all the time, never knew what I missed til I kissed ya, uh-huh, I kissed ya, oh yeah…” – (‘Til) I Kissed You – The Everly Brothers

The song cracked the national Billboard Top Ten Pop chart and reached Number Four in the US. It also captured the Number Two position in the UK. It made it to Number Eight in the Country chart and even hit Number 22 in the R&B chart, proving the song’s universality and the ability of the Brothers’ talent to cross ethnic divides, very much like the young, white rock ‘n’ roll audience’s eager acceptance of R&B. Rock ‘n’ Roll was integrating everyone.

As the Fifties drew to a close, the Everly Brothers were poised to continue their string of hit singles, including their biggest selling song, released in 1960 and co-written by them, “Cathy’s Clown”.

Their stardom would be eclipsed like most everyone else’s with the arrival of the British Beatles onto American shores, but their impact and influence in rock and roll is deep. Their lilting melodies, crisp, tight acoustic guitars and pitch perfect vocals touched the subsequent generation of musicians and they in turn interpreted it in their own unique, personal ways, giving rise to a flood of songs written during the Sixties that would last for decades to come and sound as fresh as when they were first released. This is the legacy of the Everly Brothers.

 

THE FIRST ROCK ‘N’ ROLL TEEN POP IDOLS

Practically every generation had their teen pop idols. In the beginning of the 20th Century, they were crooners like Rudy Vallee. During the Thirties and Forties it was the classic voices, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. It’s safe to say that rock ‘n’ roll’s first teen pop idol was Elvis, although precursors of rock ‘n roll like Johnny Ray was also enjoying similar teenage adulation. But Elvis was a spark that came out of nowhere. Unlike the King’s success, the typical teen pop idol would be, for the most part, deliberately manufactured for the female teenage market. Entrepreneur Ozzie Nelson was the first to bank on the teen pop idol craze with his son Rick. It was simple to promote him because Rick was a co-star in “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet”, his father’s very popular situation comedy. The show had the audience, so all Ozzie had to do was let Rick sing on the show and the young girls would swoon. He already had the looks. In fact, by 1959, all the teen pop idols were dark haired, white young men.

It was watered down rock ‘n’ roll. Some of the songs weren’t even rock ‘n’ roll at all. Although these pop stars were mostly talented and gained much fame, the new, softer rock ‘n’ roll sound and the proliferation of doo-wop groups was effectively taking over the charts. The Establishment, as far as it was concerned, was successfully taming the savage beast.

The following group of artists comprised the teen pop idol craze of 1959 through the early to mid-Sixties.

 

BOBBY RYDELL

Another teen idol plucked from the new medium called television, a new form of communication and entertainment that was just marking its first decade in existence, was Bobby Rydell. Just like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera started out on TV (The Mickey Mouse Club) as children, Rydell also had been on a daytime show called “Paul Whiteman’s TV Teen Club”, since 1950, at the young age of eight, having won a talent contest and rewarded with being a regular cast member.

Of all the most popular teen pop idols in 1959, Robert Louis Ridarelli, otherwise known as Bobby Rydell, got the short end of the stick when it came to his legacy. Not much is known today about the music of Bobby Rydell and there’s a reason for that. The owner of Cameo-Parkway Records, the label that released all the Rydell singles and is now owned by ABCKO, refused to reissue the entire Rydell catalog for forty-five years until 2005. As a result, Bobby Rydell was almost robbed a rightful place in rock ‘n’ roll history as one of the first teen pop idols.

Having said that, his music isn’t really very memorable, except that he was a big star in the early Sixties, with 34 Top Forty hits. His other claim to fame is that one particular song of his accidentally inspired the Beatles’ “She Loves You”.

Seventeen year old Bobby Rydell’s debut single, “Kissin’ Time, was released in 1959. It just missed entering the Top Ten, reaching Number 11. If you listen closely to the opening verse, you’ll hear a strong resemblance in melody to the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA”, released just a few years later in 1962.


The glam rock group Kiss redid the song in 1974, choosing it mostly for the title’s connection to their own name more than anything else, although they had to rework the lyrics to fit their image. Kiss didn’t really even particularly like the original song. Neil Bogart, owner of Casablanca Records, the label they were signed to, made them record it and chose this particular tune in their quest of a hit single for their debut album. The group grudgingly went along. At least Kiss’ version certainly sounds a lot more palatable to listen to thanks to its hard rock edge.

Bobby Rydell subsequently made it to the Top Ten with his next single “We Got Love”. The following year in 1960, Rydell would reach the Top Ten two more times, one of those times all the way to Number One with his only chart topping hit “Wild One” a title taken from the film “The Wild One” (1953) with a young Marlon Brando. “The Wild One” was a movie immensely popular with the teen market of the day, and the movie that launched the Fifties “leather jacket and white t-shirt” look. Besides the title, Bobby Rydell’s “Wild One” has nothing to do with the movie.


His next single, “Swingin’ School”, reached Number Five on the Billboard Top Ten and inspired the Beatles to write “She Loves You”. They were attempting to write an answer song similar to “Swingin’ School” but ultimately abandoned the idea and wrote the song. They did manage however to write an answering song in 1967 that worked marvelously called “With A Little Help From MY Friends”.

“John (Lennon) and I wrote “She Loves You” together. There was a Bobby Rydell song out at the time and, as often happens, you think of one song when you write another. We’d planned an ‘answering song’ where a couple of us would sing ‘she loves you’ and the other ones would answer ‘yeah yeah.’ We decided that was a crummy idea but at least we then had the idea of a song called “She Loves You.” So we sat in the hotel bedroom for a few hours and wrote it— John and I, sitting on twin beds with guitars.”-Paul McCartney

His follow-up to “Swingin’ School” was a sure-fire hit. Rydell recorded one of the most classic Italian songs of the day with lyrics translated to English. “Volare” made it to Number Four on the Billboard Hot 100, but didn’t come close to the immense popularity of the original Italian version by Domenico Modugno.


After “Volare”, Bobby Rydell wouldn’t make it into the Top Ten again until 1964, hovering on the charts in the 20s or never going past the bottom twenty. 1964 was the year where he was able to send one more of his records into the Top Ten. “Forget Him” also made it up to Number Four.

It would be his last Top Ten though, but his career in touring was assured. From the beginning of his career until now in 2015, 72 year-old Bobby Rydell has toured continuously. His last tour was through Australia in October 2014, which should be applauded, simply because not many septuagenerians, besides Rydell and Paul McCartney, still tour. God bless ‘em.

 

FABIAN

Fabian Forte was the perfect example of a manufactured teen pop idol of the late Fifties. He didn’t audition for anything and probably didn’t even sing in the shower. He was discovered because his father had a heart attack one day.

One of his neighbors, Bob Marcucci, was co-owner of Chancellor Records with Peter DeAngelis. In 1957, they had their eyes peeled for good-looking young teenagers to turn into pop stars.

“He kept staring at me and looking at me. I had a crew cut, but this was the day of Rick Nelson and Elvis. He comes up and says to me, ‘So if you’re ever interested in the rock and roll business…’ and hands me his card. I looked at the guy like he was fucking out of his mind. I told him, ‘leave me alone. I’m worried about my dad.'” – Fabian Forte

Fabian ignored the offer, but when his father returned home, he couldn’t work because of his convalescence, so Fabian went to Marcucci and took him up on his offer.

“They gave me a pompadour and some clothes and those goddamned white bucks and out I went.” – Fabian Forte

Fabian also wasn’t fooled by the sudden stardom and knew the songs he was being given to sing were crap.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew my goal, to try to make extra money. That meant a lot to our family. I rehearsed and rehearsed, and I really felt like a fish out of water. And we made a record. And it was horrible.” – Fabian Forte

His first two singles went nowhere, but his third made it into the Billboard Top Forty at Number 33. It was called “I’m a Man” and was written by legendary songwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. Even Fabian liked this one, although the song was reminiscent of many rock ‘n’ roll songs that had already come before.

His career was taking off, particularly because of his good looks making young girls swoon. His next single, the mediocre “Turn Me Loose” cracked the Top Ten at Number Nine. Watching his performance of this song, anyone can see that this guy was no rock ‘n’ roll singer. Yes, he had a voice that could carry a tune, but he was tremendously stiff onstage, unlike most of his teen pop idol peers.

His next single from 1959 was his biggest hit. The equally mediocre and derivative “Tiger” inexplicably reached Number Three in Billboard’s Top Ten.

Fabian didn’t enjoy working with Marcucci. At one point, the record label owner even hit him for not sitting where he was told to at a movie opening. Fabian bought his contract out from Marcucci in 1960 for $65,000, more than half a million in 2015 dollars, calling working with him a nightmare and admitting to the press that he “felt like a puppet”.

Although he signed a new recording contract in 1963 with Dot Records, the Beatles new sound would quash any song coming out from the new “old guard” just a year later, so Fabian concentrated on making movies. Just like it happened to all the other teen pop idols, Hollywood came calling to cash in.

Fabian was a much better actor than he was a singer, but they never put him in a movie that was any good. He achieved critical respect in a TV show called “Bus Stop” in an episode called “A Lion Walks Among Us” directed from still unknown director Robert Altman, where he played a psychotic killer. The show was banned from broadcasting again due to its mature content and violence for the early Sixties, even though his performance did help Fabian’s career.

Today, Fabian still performs. One of his last gigs was with Frankie Avalon and some of his other peers played the Dick Clark Theater as “The Original Stars of Bandstand”.

 

FRANKIE AVALON

Francis Thomas Avallone was another one of the slew of clean-cut white pop stars to replace Elvis while he was away in the Army. Along with Bobby Rydell, Bobby Darin and Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon carved a niche for himself in rock ‘n’ roll history thanks to two things; his beach movies with Annette Funicello and “Venus”.

VENUS – FRANKIE AVALON

Although Frankie charted a total of 31 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 from 1958 through 1962, the only song that is really worth mentioning is “Venus”.

“Venus if you will, please send a little girl for me to thrill, a girl who wants my kisses and my arms, a girl with all the charms of you…” Venus – Frankie Avalon

Frankie Avalon was the perfect clean-cut “boy next door” with perfect hair. Since age 11, he played trumpet, thanks to his father’s insistence. As a young teenager, he was already playing in a group called Rocco & The Saints, whose member was another future teen idol, Bobby Rydell.

His career began to take off after that appearance. He released two instrumental singles showcasing his trumpet skills in 1954. They were called “Trumpet Sorrento” and “Trumpet Tarantella.” The records earned him an appearance on the Jackie Gleason Show when he was only 12 years old.

His recording career really began in 1957. He released six singles between 1957 and 1958, songs like “Teacher’s Pet” and “You Excite Me”. Three of them, “DeDe Dinah”, “Bobby Sox To Stockings” and “Ginger Bread” actually made it into Billboard’s National Top Ten. All of these songs had one thing in common. They weren’t very good. Each of them sound by-the-numbers, as if the songwriter wasn’t so much writing a rock ‘n’ roll tune as much as he was copying the sound and style of a rock ‘n’ roll tune… badly. It’s been said that even Frankie himself didn’t like the songs he was told to record, and actually held his nose during the recording of “DeDe Dinah” more as a protest than trying to obtain a different sound, resulting in a nasally vocal.


“Venus” was the sole exception. It’s a pretty song and endures as a classic Fifties Pop ballad, with remarkably good fidelity for a 1959 stereo recording. It stayed at Number One on Billboard’s Hot 100 for five weeks and broke into the R&B Top Ten at Number Ten. “Venus” cemented Frankie Avalon’s career. His pop teen idol looks caught the eyes of the average teenage girl and they soon made him a pop star, all but replacing Elvis in their hearts… at least until he got out of the Army. In the meantime, Dick Clark was happy to have Frankie on his “American Bandstand” more than once.

The success of “Venus” was enough impulse to propel his subsequent three singles into the Top Ten, with one of them, “Why”, also making it to Billboard’s Top spot.

Once the new decade of the Sixties dawned, Frankie Avalon’s musical career began to descend. He was never able to crack the Billboard Top Ten again. None of his albums entered the Billboard Top 200 Album chart. He released singles sporadically through the Sixties and Seventies. Most of them didn’t chart except for a disco remake of “Venus” in 1976 that made it to Number 43.

Also, as the Sixties began, Frankie Avalon made a career adjustment that further cemented his reputation as a legitimate star; he turned towards movies. His first few were serious, dramatic roles in important films such as John Wayne’s “The Alamo” (1960) and Irwin Allen’s “Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea” (1961) in which he sang the theme song that made a voyage to the bottom of the charts (Number 101 to be exact). But in 1963, he was paired with Annette Funicello to co-star in a movie called “Beach Party”.

The title speaks for itself, and American International Pictures churned out six other sequels over two years, making a huge profit from the teenage market. The movies were “Muscle Beach Party” (1964), “Bikini Beach” (1964), “Pajama Party” (1964), “Beach Blanket Bingo” (1965), and “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine” (1965).




Only one beach movie with Annette Funicello did not also star Frankie Avalon, and that was “How To Stuff A Wild Bikini” (1965).


Although they all made money, each storyline went from bad to worse, with its nadir being “Dr. Goldfoot…” A take off on James Bond’s “Goldfinger”, Vincent Price plays Dr. Goldfoot, a mad scientist intent on making a bikini machine. Just the summation of this plot should give the reader a clue as to how bad these movies were. Actors must have had fun with them though, because cameos abounded from popular names and stars of the day such as the aforementioned Vincent Price, Don Rickles, Robert Cummings, Dorothy Malone, Morey Amsterdam, Keenan Wynn, John Ashley, Peter Lorre, the original “Bride of Frankenstein” Elsa Lanchester, silent film comic legend Buster Keaton and former child star Mickey Rooney. Comic Harvey Lembeck would reprise his role in some of those beach movies as Eric Von Zipper, the leader of a biker gang that was supposed to parody Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” (1951). Dick Dale and the Deltones were the resident rock ‘n’ roll band of the movie series, and even a young up and coming performer by the name of Little Stevie Wonder appeared.


The director of all these movies was William Asher. Asher’s career began directing all the “I Love Lucy” episodes from its first season in 1951 and all throughout the rest of the decade. When Asher began directing these movies in 1963, he was also working on producing the classic Sixties sit-com “Bewitched” that ran from 1964 to 1972. His wife, Elizabeth Montgomery, played the beautiful witch, Samantha Stevens. Asher had a simple explanation as to the formula of his beach movies.

“We take the same teenagers and put them in a slightly different experience in each picture. The plot may change but the faces stay the same… The key to these pictures is lots of flesh but no sex. It’s all good clean fun. No hearts are broken and virginity prevails.” – William Asher

Frankie Avalon made a few more movies after his series of beach movies but mostly faded into early Sixties nostalgia until he made a comeback in 1978 in the movie “Grease”. He had no role. Instead, he was a cameo in a dream sequence of one of the characters, serenading her with a song called “Beauty School Dropout”. A highlight of the film because of its underlying wit and Frankie’s ever youthful persona and charm, the song was a parody of all the Fifties love ballads Frankie Avalon was known for, and was a perfect tongue-in-cheek affirmation of his career up to that point.

He made a second minor comeback in 1987 when he teamed up one final time with Annette Funicello to make a parody on all the beach movies they did together called “Back To The Beach”. It would be the last movie Funicello would make, having to retire due to being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which she lived with until her death at age 70 in 2013.

Besides cameos from retro TV stars like Tony Dow from “Leave It To Beaver” and Bob Denver with Alan Hale from “Gilligan’s Island”, “Back To The Beach” did have one other redeeming value. It paired up the musician who had been showcased in most of the beach movies, Dick Dale from Dick Dale and the Deltones, with the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan. Together, they play The Chantay’s classic instrumental “Pipeline” over a montage of the film as its music video.

Frankie Avalon continued to appear in films sporadically over the remainder of the 20th Century, including a cameo appearance as himself in Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” (1995) with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. Although Frankie Avalon is still active at age 74 in early 2015, his last national television appearance was on “American Idol” on April 8, 2009. Amazingly enough, he looks at least twenty years younger looking than his actual age.

(more…)

by Robert Seoane

THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED – DION & THE BELMONTS – THE CRESTS – THE BIRTH OF MOTOWN – BERRY GORDY – JACKIE WILSON – SMOKEY ROBINSON – BARRETT STRONG

THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED

“I can’t remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride, but something touched me deep inside, the day the music died.” American Pie (1971) – Don McLean

Buddy was tired of taking the tour bus every single night since the Winter Tour Dance Party tour began on January 23rd, 1959. He had been on the road for two weeks of the three week trek through the Midwest and he and his Crickets, Tommy Allsup (guitar) and Waylon Jennings (bass) had been wearing the same clothes for a week. Their schedule included long bus trips where they slept on the luggage racks. To add more misery to a miserable set-up, their tour bus had already broken down more than once in the middle of nowhere and in the dead of winter. Members of the crew were catching each other’s flus and Cricket drummer Carl Bunch had been hospitalized with frostbitten feet. Having had no time or place to do their laundry in a week, Holly had had enough and decided to charter a plane to his next destination so he can have time to take care of his personal issues and get some much needed comfortable sleep.

 

THE EVENING OF FEBRUARY 2nd, 1959

On February 2nd, they played in the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Manager of the ballroom Carroll Anderson called Jerry Dwyer’s Flight Service for Buddy that evening and chartered a three-passenger Beech Bonanza N 3794N plane to share with his remaining two Crickets, Waylon and Tommy, to take them to their next destination, Moorhead, Minnesota. Along with headliners Buddy Holly & The Crickets on the tour, there was seventeen year old Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson, otherwise known as The Big Bopper, and Dion & The Belmonts. There is a dispute as to whether Dion was supposed to have been on that plane instead of Tommy Allsup, but as some witnesses remember it, both Tommy and Waylon were the ones who gave up their seats to Ritchie and The Big Bopper.

It seems that all four of them except for Dion were equally interested to get to their destination fast. Dion felt the plane fare was too expensive to merit the trip. As legend has it, Crickets manager Bob Hale was called upon to flip one of the ill-fated coins for Tommy and Ritchie. Ritchie called “heads” and won the toss. J.P. won his coin toss with Waylon.

Many, including Waylon Jennings himself, have confirmed that he did indeed utter a prophetic but bad joke to Buddy Holly. When Buddy found out that Waylon had given his seat on the plane to Richardson,. He jokingly tells Waylon “I hope your ol’ bus freezes up!”. Waylon jocularly responded “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes!” Jennings has been quoted as never having forgotten what he had said and living with the guilt of his words resting heavily on his conscience the rest of his life.

“Man, there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t wish I could take back that comment. The next day when I got the news at Fargo, I went nuts. I cried. I yelled. And I began to drink. Drugs helped along the way. Of course, I realized years later I was killing myself, so I quit. I don’t know, maybe deep inside I was so damned guilty, I was trying to kill myself.” Reportedly what Waylon Jennings said to Tommy Allsup, according to Allsup.

*****************

BUDDY’S FINAL RECORDINGS

Buddy had moved into the Brevoort Apartments at 111 Fifth Avenue in New York City, just north of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village with his bride of just a few months, Maria Elena. He had just undergone the break-up from his original Crickets’ band members, although he felt they would get back together after all the royalty issues are settled among them. Holly was looking forward to a productive 1959. He had just set up a recording and publishing company called Prism, in which he planned to discover and produce new talent. Along with his steady stream of his own songwriting, he planned to develop new artists from his home state in West Texas where he grew up. Currently based in New York, his future plans had him opening a recording studio and office complexes in his hometown of Lubbock.

Holly had purchased an Ampex tape recorder and microphone from Norman Petty towards the end of 1958 and he spent his time writing and recording new songs before his tour. From December 1958 through January 1959, Holly recorded demos of his songs and covers of other songs, specifically Mickey & Silvia’s “Love Is Strange”, Little Richard’s “Slippin’ & Slidin’” and The Coasters’ “Smokey Joe’s Café” as well as six of his own compositions. Two of his own compositions stand out as his last classics.

PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED/CRYIN’, WAITIN’, HOPIN’ – BUDDY HOLLY

Ever since Buddy had written “Peggy Sue” in 1957, a number of artists like Bobby Darin with “Splish Splash” and Frankie Avalon in his “DeDe Dinah”, adopted the young character Holly had created in song and included her in their own tunes, giving “Peggy Sue” legitimacy among the icons of the Fifties. Buddy must have figured by then that if anyone can write another song about Peggy Sue, he could, so he wrote one of the first sequels in Rock ‘n’ Roll music.

“You recall a girl that’s been in nearly every song, this is what I heard, of course the story could be wrong, she’s the one, I’ve been told, now she’s wearing a band of gold, Peggy Sue got married not long ago.” Peggy Sue Got Married – Buddy Holly

Maybe Holly thought that if he married her off, nobody would include her in their songs again. For the most part, he was right.

One other song he recorded in his apartment that was posthumously released as the B-Side to “Peggy Sue Got Married” is “Cryin’, Waitin’, Hopin’”. All six of the songs recorded in his apartment were handed over to Jerry Hansen after Holly’s death. Hansen hired additional musicians and the Ray Charles Singers as backup vocalists to augment the recordings. In “Cryin’, Waitin’, Hopin’”, Hansen added the guitar licks echoing each word of the title after Holly sings it. Besides the original, bare bones version of this song, there exists another version produced in 1964 by Norman Petty along with the other six songs. For unexplained reasons, even though these two songs were released as a single, neither of them entered the Billboard Pop or Country charts.


**************

THE MORNING OF FEBRUARY 3rd, 1959

Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson and Richard Valenzuela arrived at the Mason City Municipal Airport in Mason City, Iowa during the first hour of the new day on February 3, 1959. They were driven there by Surf Ballroom manager Caroll Anderson from Clear Lake where they had played earlier that evening. The three musicians were looking forward to getting to Fargo, North Dakota, the closest airport to their next gig in Moorehead, Minnesota, with enough time to take care of their personal hygiene and get some rest.

Twenty-one year old Roger Peterson was the contracted pilot through Dwyer Flying Service to fly the musicians to Fargo. Before the three had arrived, Peterson had gone to the Air Traffic Communications Station (ATCS) with Hubert Dwyer, owner of the flight service and a pilot himself, to view the current weather through the path Peterson would fly. The weather report indicated a ceiling of up to 5000 feet or better and visibilty of up to 10 miles. Knowing that weather patterns can change quickly, Peterson would contact ATCS in thirty minute intervals to inquire about the weather as he prepared for his flight. The next time he checked, at midnight, the ceiling had dropped to 4500 feet but visibility was still greater than 10 miles. Light snow had begun to fall in Minneapolis.

The aircraft Peterson was flying that morning was a Beech Bonanza, model 35, S/N-1019. This particular Bonanza aircraft contained a Sperry 53 Attitude Gyro, a device that offered a pictorial display of an artificial horizon. Peterson however, had learned to fly in aircraft carrying a more conventional type of artificial horizon that differed greatly in use from the Sperry Gyro in the Bonanza. Peterson also was certificated to fly during clear weather only, when he can clearly see the horizon without obstruction by cloudy or other inclement weather because he was not trained to read the plane’s instrument panel during conditions of zero visibility. Zero visibilty can confuse the untrained pilot as to which way is up or down because there is no visible horizon to use as reference. It can cause spatial disorientation which can lead to vertigo. Once the pilot attempts to correct the craft, trying to judge the horizon for themselves, the craft can stall and go into a tailspin. John Kennedy Jr. died similarly in 1998. He was also certified to only fly in clear weather.

Peterson radioed ATCS again to inquire about the current weather as he was taxiing the plane onto the end of Runway 17 for take-off. He was informed that the ceiling had lowered to 3000 feet and visibilty had gone from ten to six miles. At no time however, was he ever informed of two important flash warnings that had come up when he was at the ATCS office an hour before. The responsibility of the ATCS communicators is to give pilot all available weather information once they receive it themselves, but not to advise. Despite Pilot Peterson’s careful persistence in his need to be informed of weather conditions, none of the communicators recalled having given Peterson this important information. Dwyer, who had accompanied Peterson confirmed that they were never given information indicating instrument flying weather would be encountered en route. The first flash warning Peterson was not aware of was reporting an enormous weather system with a 100 mile wide band of snow rapidly entering Minnesota and South Dakota, limiting visibilty to below two miles. The second unread warning indicated ceilings below 1000 feet over the eastern half of Kansas. Not having received this vital information led Pilot Peterson to underestimate the adverse weather conditions and made the decision to proceed with the flight.

The plane took off at 12:55AM. It made a 180 degree turn to the left and rose to 800 feet, heading in a northwesterly direction. Five minutes later and five miles away from the airport. Hubert Dwyer, owner of the the plane Peterson was flying, witnessed the taillights of the plane begin to descend and then disappear. Pilot Peterson had not radioed his flight plan as he had said he would and there was no response when Dwyer attempted to radio the plane. He decided to board his Cessna once the day dawned and weather improved to search the area where he saw the plane descend.

Peterson had piloted the Beech Bonanza into an area of complete darkness due to an absence of ground lights over the long swath of empty land under them and with no visible horizon. The following scenario was pieced together by members of the Civil Aeronautics Board who investigated the accident. High wind gusts and sudden snow must have taken Peterson by surprise as the small plane was getting buffeted back and forth. The instrument indicators fluctuate wildly due to turbulence, making it impossible to maintain control of the plane by trying to make sense of them, so Peterson attempted to read the Sperry Attitude Gyro and due to his unfamiliarity with it, caused the plane to fly in the opposite direction he intended. His spatial disorientation contributed in causing him to descend when he thought he was flying the plane upwards.

An examination of the wreckage allowed authorities to come to the following conclusion: Peterson was flying at a high rate of speed when he went into a steep turn with the nose of the craft in a low attitude. Moments later, the right wing tip of the craft clipped the ground, causing the plane to tumble and demolish. All three passengers were hurled from the plane. Holly, Richardson, Valens and Peterson, who was trapped inside the cockpit, were all killed instantly. All three passengers suffered similar trauma that caused their death. They all suffered multiple fractures in their limbs and gross trauma to the brain. According to Ritchie Valens’ death certificate, his head became “badly crushed and deformed” due to the crash. Jiles P. Richardson’s certificate described the Big Bopper’s head “badly mangled and misshapen”. Buddy Holly ‘s death certificate was equally graphic in its description of his violent death.

“The skull was split medially in the forehead and this extended into the vertex region. Approximately half the brain tissue was absent. There was bleeding from both ears, and the face showed multiple lacerations. The consistency of the chest was soft due to extensive crushing injury to the bony structure. The left forearm was fractured 1/3 the way up from the wrist and the right elbow was fractured. Both thighs and legs showed multiple factures. There was a small laceration of the scrotum.” – Buddy Holly’s death certificate

Dwyer discovered the wreckage of the Bonanza after he took his Cessna 180 out once the sun rose on February 3rd, 1959. He spotted the demolished aircraft six miles northwest of the originating airport in a cornfield. He immediately contacted authorities. Deputy Bill McGill was dispatched to the site.

“Parts were scattered over a distance of 540 feet, at the end of which the main wreckage was found lying against a barbed wire fence. The three passengers were thrown clear of the wreckage, the pilot was found in the cockpit. The two front seat safety belts and the middle ones of the rear seat were torn free from their attach points.” -The Civil Aeronautics Board’s accident report of the event.

Carroll Anderson was informed of what had happened and immediately went to the scene where he identified the bodies. Ritchie Valens was still in his dark overcoat and suit, Richardson was wearing the same red checked flannel shirt and light blue cotton pants that Anderson had last seen him in. Buddy Holly was still wearing his yellow jacket but it was torn completely up the back seam. Their bodies were mangled and buried in the snow, where they had been there for eight hours.

February 3, 1959 is memorialized as “The Day The Music Died” due to a song called “American Pie”, written by Don McLean and released in late 1971. The song is an eight minute depiction of the history of rock ‘n’ roll from the day Buddy, J.P. and Ritchie died to then present day. The song will forever be identified with the first rock ‘n’ roll casualty.

Many more tragedies will follow over the years, but this first initial, tragic loss was a shock to the happy, innocent life of the insulated American teenager of the 1950s. They were growing up during a time when the draft was not yet reality. America was not at war, so death was a distant, alien concept to a high school teen. But the infamous plane crash reminded them all in a clear way of mortality. Not just of their heroes’ but of their own as well. The events of February 3rd, 1959 was a chilling precursor to the assassinations and war casualties to come once the Sixties dawned. But in the still fairly innocent days of 1959, teenagers in America mourned not just for their heroes, but unwittingly for the end of rock ‘n’ roll. No other artists in early 1959 came close to the promise that was Buddy Holly. He was pointing the future and when he died, it felt like rock ‘n’ roll itself had gone with him.
Meanwhile, a rock ‘n’ roll resurgence was in its infancy and simmering across the pond. At that time of great loss, nobody yet considered the influence Holly’s music would have on the young adolescents who would come of age during the Sixties and cement rock ‘n roll as a permanent and lasting fixture of American culture.

 

DION & THE BELMONTS

Some controversy surrounds Dion DiMucci’s explanation of the events of February 2nd, 1959 in that he suggests in his autobiography that he tossed a coin for one of the seats in the doomed plane. There is a consensus however, that Dion was indeed offered a seat but declined it because he felt that the $36 cost of the ticket (equivalent to $291 in 2014 dollars) was a little too much, comparing it to the fact that the amount was the same his parents paid in rent for their apartment when Dion was a child.

Dion and his Belmonts wound up in the 1959 Winter Dance Party Tour because of their recent spate of hit singles. Originally from the Bronx, Dion recruited his old pals from the neighborhood, Carlo Mastrangelo, Fred Milano and Angelo D’Aleo. They used to gather together on Crotona Avenue and 187th Street to sing the nights away. Inevitably, they decided to formally become a group and named themselves after a local thoroughfare, Belmont Avenue. Once they put together a set of songs they felt good about, Dion & The Belmonts would then spend their time rehearsing them under the Sixth Avenue subway D station before they finally took the train into Manhattan to pitch their music to the recording studios there.

“We`d grab a couple of seats and start banging out time on the floor. Trains had the greatest bass sound in the world. So did the back seats of Checker cabs, underneath the El, or on the roof of a building, next to the pigeon coops.” -Dion DiMucci

Their first single. “I Wonder Why”, made it up to Number 22 on the U.S. charts. Soon, they were being asked by Dick Clark to appear on his “American Bandstand”. Their act consisted of snapping their fingers to the time of the music and literally were the first to introduce the finger snap to rock ‘n’ roll choreography.

I WONDER WHY – DION & THE BELMONTS

“I Wonder Why” is hardcore doo-wop. Released in early 1958, it represented the direction rock ‘n’ roll was veering towards after being left rudderless by Elvis’ drafting into the Army. The song is essentially a montage of vocal doo-wop phrasings invented by the group among themselves.

“I’d give ’em sounds. I’d give ’em parts and stuff. That’s what ‘I Wonder Why’ was about. We kind of invented this percussive rhythmic sound. If you listen to that song, everybody was doing something different. There’s four guys, one guy was doing bass, I was singing lead, one guy’s going ‘ooh wah ooh’, and another guy’s doing tenor. It was totally amazing. When I listen to it today, often times I think, ‘Man, those kids are talented.” – Dion DiMucci

After the release of two more singles that made it into the Top Forty that same year, the mediocre “No One Knows” and the maudlin “Don’t Pity Me”, they were offered the Winter Dance Party Tour in February. The tragedy of his co-stars did not stop the tour. The Crickets went on through the tour with Waylon Jennings taking over Holly’s vocals. Additional acts were added to fill the vacuum, including Bobby Vee, an up and coming teen idol who would enjoy a handful of Top Ten hits in the early years of the Sixties. According to Dion, Bob Dylan was the then-unknown keyboard player.

“Vee’s keyboard player was a young kid named Zimmerman from Hibbing, just across the state line in Minnesota.” –Dion DiMucci

This is very plausible because Dylan was from that region of the United States and had actually seen Buddy Holly play as a teen. Dylan recalled the moment during his 1998 acceptance speech at the Grammys for winning the Album of the Year trophy for “Time Out Of Mind”.

“When I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play in the Duluth National Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him, and he looked at me… and uh, I just have some kind of feeling that he was uh, I don’t know how or why but he was with us all the time when we were making this record in some kind of way.” –Bob Dylan

A TEENAGER IN LOVE – DION & THE BELMONTS

Despite the catastrophic events that made the Winter Dance Tour Party of 1959 a macabre memory in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll, the tour actually proved beneficial to Dion & The Belmonts. Right after the tour and one month after the deaths of Holly and his co-stars, Dion & The Belmonts landed their first Top Ten hit with “A Teenager In Love”.

It was back to thinking about the really important things in the life of a teenager with the release of this song and a good way to forget about the tragedy of that cold February day.

“If you want to make me cry, that won’t be so hard to do. If you should say goodbye, I could go on loving you, each night I ask the stars up above, why must I be a teenager in love?” – A Teenager In Love – Dion & The Belmonts

“A Teenager In Love” is written by Doc Pomus, the rock ‘n’ roll songwriter who got his start when he sent Lieber & Stoller his composition and they turned it into a hit for the Coasters called “Youngblood”. “ATIL” is a doo-wop song filled with teenage angst, accompanied by a great melody and sung sweetly by Dion DiMucci. It rose to Number Five on the Billboard Pop chart in May of 1959 and placed Dion & The Belmonts inside the teenage radar, quickly making the doo-wop group the next new heartthrobs. They were reaching the heights they had been hoping for, but events had already taken place that would lead to their ultimate break-up.

Dion DiMucci had gotten himself hooked on heroin at 14 years of age. Living on the streets of the Bronx much of the time as a teenager, he made it a habit to hang out on the corner and work on his swagger. Soon, he joined a tough gang, the Fordham Baldies.

“They weren’t too impressed by my singing. If you could wipe the street with five guys, that impressed them.” –Dion DiMucci on the Fordham Baldies

His introduction into hard drugs began with alcohol, mostly wine spritzers and a syrupy gin and Bosco mixture. By 13 he was smoking marijuana. The following year he jumped from weed to snorting heroin, then skin-popping and finally mainlining. “Instant courage”, he called it. At the rate he was going, it’s no surprise that he almost died of an overdose at age 16.

“We were on a roof, shooting up, and I OD’d. Everybody else split but this one junkie, who carried me down and took me to some girl’s house, where they filled my drawers with ice cubes—to wake me up. Then they shot me up with salt to counteract the heroin, and he walked me around the park for a couple of hours. I don’t know why. With junkies, one guy passes out, it’s ‘Let’s get outta here before we get caught.’ But this guy, who I stay in touch with, saved my life.” – Dion DiMucci

His rise to fame only exacerbated his addiction and soon, just as they were finding success in the Top Ten, Dion was at odds with the members of the Belmonts.

WHERE OR WHEN – DION & THE BELMONTS

Dion’s no-shows and not being able to function at times caused a strain on the group. By the time their follow up single to “ATIL” was released, he was in the hospital detoxifying.

Released in late 1959, “Where Or When” was a remake of an old 1937 composition written by Rodgers and Hart for the musical “Babes In Arms”. Despite it really being just another mundane tune, it reached Number Three in the Billboard Pop chart in January of 1960 and is the group’s biggest charted hit, albeit not a very memorable one. By then however, Dion had made up his mind to split up with the Belmonts.

This wasn’t so much due to his heroin addiction as it was to the fact that he was tired of singing doo-wop. Dion wanted to pursue a more rock ‘n’ roll sound, but the Belmonts wanted to remain a doo-wop group.

“They wanted to get into their harmony thing, and I wanted to rock and roll. The label wanted me doing standards. I got bored with it quickly. I said, I can’t do this. I gotta play my guitar. So we split up…” Dion DiMucci

By October of 1960, Dion broke from his old neighborhood group and embarked on an unsure solo career, still beset by the monkey on his back. But the early Sixties would prove fruitful for Dion DiMucci, releasing a few rock ‘n’ roll classics in 1961, “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer”.


He made a comeback again in 1968 with “Abraham, Martin and John”, a song mourning the recent assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

By the Seventies, Dion DiMucci was finally able to kick his drug habit. As of the writing of this in January 2015, Dion is alive and well, having released his last album in 2012 called “Tank Full Of Blues”. He also pursues prison ministry and reaches out to men who are recovering from addiction. He is 75 years old.

(more…)

by Robert Seoane

RITCHIE VALENS – THE BIG BOPPER – LITTLE ANTHONY & THE IMPERIALS – TOMMY EDWARDS – JAMES BROWN & THE FAMOUS FLAMES – PHIL SPECTOR

 

CHICANO ROCK

Richard Steven Valenzuela was a Mexican-American born in Pacoima near Los Angeles, California to Mexican parents. Along with “Tequila” songwriter, fellow Mexican-American Danny Flores who was born less than fifty miles away from Ritchie in Santa Paola, Valens was a pioneer in Latin rock ‘n’ roll. Flores had written “Tequila” just the year before and the catchy instrumental became a huge hit after it was first released in January 1958. “La Bamba” followed ten months later. “Chicano Rock” was born.

Rock ‘n’ Roll was flourishing all over the western world in 1958. Americans of Hispanic descent were the first to incorporate rock ‘n’ roll into their musical culture just by adding a Latin flair. As of this writing in late 2014, there are and have been many rock bands in many countries around the world writing, singing and playing rock music in their own language. Spanish language rock songs however, have charted more often in the United States than any other language in rock ‘n’ roll. That’s because many Latin rock groups were to follow after the sub-genre’s birth in 1958. They began to pop up as English language rock bands of the Sixties such as Thee Midniters (Land of A Thousand Dances-1965), a band of young chicanos from East L.A. who were the first to introduce brass into Rock ‘n’ Roll music, years before Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago.

Other groups with hispanic members included The Sir Douglas Quintet (She’s About A Mover-1965), a group from San Antonio, Texas with a Tex-Mex sound and a British sounding name, Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs (Wooly Bully-1965), ? & The Mysterians (96 Tears-1966) and Three Dog Night (various hits 1969-1974).



Latin Rock came of age on August 16, 1969 when Carlos Santana walked on-stage during the second day of The Woodstock Music & Art Fair.


The genre continued to grow and flourish throughout the rest of the 20th century and beyond with soul and pop groups and artists such as Malo, War, The Chakachas, El Chicano, Miami Sound Machine with Gloria Estefan and Los Lobos, among others.



In the Nineties, the sub-genre branched out even more. Pop artists with Latin origins, beginning with Gerardo in the early part of the decade to an ever-growing roster that includes Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, Shakira, Pit Bull and Enrique Iglesias all enjoyed chart success over the years and are still going strong in the first two decades of the 21st Century.








There are also some Latin super groups who were never able to chart any hit singles in the United Sates, like Mana and Los Aterciopelados, but are nevertheless hugely popular Spanish-language rock acts in all of Latin America and Spain.


The term “chicano” started off as a derogatory term towards all Mexicans, but the Mexican community was smart enough to embrace the word and flip it, turning it into a label of admiration instead. “Chicano Rock” however, much like “race” records and “hillbilly” music, has not survived the political correctness of the times and the sub-genre is now referred to as Latin Rock or Latin Pop.

 

RITCHIE VALENS

Brought up in an environment with Mexican mariachi, flamenco guitar and rhythm & blues as the musical backdrop of his young life, Ritchie Valenzuela started developing his musical talent as early as five years old. By age nine, he knew guitar and trumpet thanks to his father’s encouragement, and soon would also be able to play the drums. Then, a tragedy occurred when Ritchie was ten. His father would suddenly be taken away from him when he was killed in a car accident.

This forced Ritchie to immerse himself into music as a way of dealing with his loss. Soon he was able to master the electric guitar. He had the ability to add imaginative new riffs to existing songs and inventing additional lyrics to popular songs on the spot as he played. His talent was so noticeable that, by the time he was 16 years old, he was invited to join a group called The Silhouettes. Soon after, the lead vocalist left the group and Ritchie was pushed up, front and center, as the lead singer and guitarist of the band.

A high school classmate of Valenzuela’s knew Bob Keane, the owner and president of a small label called Del-Fi Records, and tipped him off to the talented young Ritchie’s abilities. Valenzuela was being labeled, appropriately enough, as “The Little Richard of the Valley” among his peers and growing fan base. Keane was intrigued and went to see him play solo at a Saturday morning matinee in a San Francisco movie theater. He was the entertainment before the film when live performances before movies were still rather common. Keane was impressed and invited Ritchie to his home where he had a small recording studio. After the audition, Keane signed the young man to record for Del-Fi on May 27, 1958 and shortened his name from Valenzuela to “Valens”. He also gave him the “Ritchie” moniker, adding the ‘t’ to his nickname because there were already too many local artists whose name was ‘Richie”.

 
C’MON, LET’S GO/FRAMED – RITCHIE VALENS

Ritchie Valens’ musical discography is short because of his tragically brief career. In 1958, the year of his debut, he only released two singles. Not much is known about his first single “C’mon Let’s Go” except the band line-up and the fact that it was written by him and Bob Keane. It’s a catchy, danceable song; a decent debut record. It just missed the Top Forty, only going up to Number 42, but its legacy would grow over the years and the song would become more appreciated after his untimely death.

“Oh, well I love you babe, and I’ll never let you go, c’mon baby so, oh pretty baby, I love you so.” C’mon Let’s Go – Ritchie Valens

The lyrics are nothing special, just the typical everyday rock ‘n’ roll lyrics from the Fifties that sang about girls and dancing. He could have sung his laundry list and it wouldn’t matter. It had a catchy melody and an up-beat, with a respectable guitar solo by Valens helping it chug along.

The single’s B-side, “Framed”, is a Lieber & Stoller song that’s essentially a classic blues arrangement heard in many blues songs, where the singer sings between the same guitar lick for four stanzas before the guitar kicks into a rhythm and accompanies the singer into the melody. Ritchie Valens sings the song with a confidence and a little bit of swagger in his voice, having the ability to change his vocal style to fit the song he sang.

“Well, the prosecutor turned and started a-prosecutin’ me, man that cat didn’t give me the one but the third degree, he says ‘Where were you on the night of July 1953?’, ‘Man I was just home, just a tweedle-a-dee’…” Framed – Ritchie Valens

 

DONNA/LA BAMBA – RITCHIE VALENS

Back when the format for individual songs were vinyl 45 rpm record “singles”, songs were recorded on both sides of the vinyl record. They were labeled the A-side and the B-side. Usually, the B-side song was a throw-away; filler tune that the record companies put there for a lack of anything else, but several times during the rock era, B-sides have become more popular than A-sides thanks to the public’s fickle tastes. Sometimes it was the record company who couldn’t decide which song was the better one, so they decided to call those singles “Double-A sides”. Ritchie Valens’ second single, “Donna/La Bamba” was considered a Double-A side. It was released on October 18, 1958.

“Donna” was his highest charted hit, making it up to Number 2 on the Billboard Pop chart, but it wouldn’t be the song for which he would be remembered. That distinction went to the single’s other A-side, “La Bamba”.

Ritchie wrote “Donna” about his high school sweetheart, Donna Ludwig. You can hear the tenderness in his voice as he sings to her in a higher range than in his previous single, and instilling a sweet, sad, dreamy quality to his vocal. The song features the “50s progression” a chord progression and turnaround that can be found in many pop songs, particularly from the 1950s and 60s. It’s also known as the doo-wop progression. Songs that use 50s progression include “Stand By Me”, “Earth Angel” and “Duke of Earl”. It’s also evident in later songs like Madonna’s “True Blue”, Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girl” and Green Day’s “Jesus of Suburbia”. The Beatles’ “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” is another example of 50s progression. Explaining this chord progression would take a few paragraphs. If you’re not a musician, you won’t understand it. If you are a musician, then you probably know what I’m talking about.

The single’s second A-side, “La Bamba” would be the song that would stand the test of time. It makes sense, since the Mexican song is an old folk song to begin with, originating from the state of Veracruz, a region where the song’s “Son Jarocho” musical style originates. Son Jarocho is a folk musical style that comes from Mexican Son music. ‘Jarocho’ is a colloquial term for people and things from Veracruz. The style evolved over the last two hundred and fifty years or so.

In 1958, Ritchie Valens adapted it to rock ‘n’ roll and kicked the song off with a guitar lick of his own that will forever be recognized, thus re-introducing the old folk tune all revved up and new.

The lyrics to “La Bamba” always varied greatly because it lent itself to artists’ improvisational lyrical talents. After the release of the single, the only known lyrics are now what Valens sings in the record. He obtained those lyrics through his aunt, Ernestine Reyes. The title is derived from the Spanish word “bambolear”, which means to sway back and forth, or to wobble. Valens sang the song phonetically because he did not know Spanish, which may account for the way he mispronounces the Spanish word “poco” (a bit) and says “poca” instead. By using the proper word in the lyrics, its translation to English makes sense.

SPANISH: “Para bailar la bamba se necesita una poca de gracia. Una poca de gracia pa’ mi y pa’ ti, y arriba y arriba…”
ENGLISH TRANSLATION: “To dance the bamba one needs a bit of grace, a bit of grace for me, for you, now c’mon, c’mon…”

The Spanish word “arriba” literally means “up”, but it’s also a common Spanish term for ‘hooray” or other forms of encouragement.

SPANISH: “Yo noy soy marinero, soy capitan…”
ENGLISH TRANSLATION: “I’m not a sailor, I’m a captain…”

This was a subtle reference to the fact that Veracruz, the Mexican region this song comes from, was a port town.

The traditional version of “La Bamba” was often played and sung during weddings in Veracruz where the bride and groom would dance towards the altar in a traditional Mexican “zapateado”, speeding up the dance steps as the tempo of the music accelerates.

“La Bamba” didn’t make it into the Top Twenty in 1958, stalling at Number 22. But it endured through the years as a fondly remembered, well known rock ‘n’ roll classic. It re-emerged into the public spotlight when Los Lobos re-recorded it in 1987 for the movie of Ritchie Valens’ life, also called “La Bamba”. The second time around, the song made it to Number One on the Billboard Pop chart.

Very little film footage exists of Ritchie Valens. He was scheduled to release his third single and his debut album the following year, but first he was to tour the infamous Winter Dance Party Tour of ’59, where he would join fellow musical artists, The Big Bopper, Dion & The Belmonts and Buddy Holly.

 

 

THE BIG BOPPER

Jiles Perry “J.P.” Richardson, Jr. had a career in radio for over ten years by 1958 and became a pop star quite by accident. After working part time at Beaumont, Texas radio station KTRM, he was hired full time as a DJ in 1949 and quit college as a result. After he married and had a daughter, he was promoted to Supervisor of Announcers at KTRM in 1954 at the age of twenty-three. He worked there until 1955 when he was inducted into the Army, but returned to the same radio station in 1957 upon his discharge from the military. He was given the 11AM to 12:30PM “Dishwashers’ Serenade” shift Monday through Friday. One of the station’s sponsors liked Richardson and suggested sponsoring a show from 3 to 6PM for his on-air persona. Having seen his teenage audience gyrating in all types of new dances, Richardson recalled one of them to be called ‘the bop’. He wanted to carry a title that could sound like the leader of all these teenage music lovers, so he labeled himself ‘The Big Bopper’.

As the Big Bopper, he pulled a typical DJ stunt of the day to call attention to himself, the show and the radio station by staying on the air continuously for a total of five days, two hours and eight minutes. Given only five minutes during newscasts to take a break and take care of personal issues including a shower, he broke the existing record by eight minutes.

Richardson was also a guitarist and songwriter, and wrote two songs that were later recorded by other artists to popular acclaim. One was called “White Lightning”, a song that sounded very much like a hit of the day, Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Breathless”. “White Lightning” became a hit in 1959 for country artist George Jones, who enjoyed his first Number One Country hit thanks to the song. Jones had recorded the song drunk, having heard of his friend Richardson’s demise just a week earlier and still mourning.

The other song Richardson wrote was called “Running Bear”. It was released in 1960 by singer Johnny Preston, another friend of the Big Bopper’s, in late 1959 and hit Number One on the Billboard Pop chart the following year. Having been recorded almost a year before its release, that’s Richardson and George Jones singing the “uga-uga” background vocals. Richardson had offered the song to Preston after listening to him perform in a nightclub.

Fellow Texan and country music record producer Harold “Pappy” Daily was the man who launched the Big Bopper’s career as a rock ‘n’ roll singer. At the time, he was a promotion director for Mercury Records and also had his own label, StarDay. Daily also worked closely with George Jones and was instrumental in developing his career. He signed Richardson to Mercury Records and went to work on producing his first single, “Beggar To A King”, a country song that went nowhere. Richardson decided to release his next song as The Big Bopper. This next single cemented the Big Bopper’s name as forever being linked to Fifties rock ‘n’ roll.

 
CHANTILLY LACE – THE BIG BOPPER

Parents did what they were good at when “Chantilly Lace” hit the airwaves and became dutifully outraged. Who was this black man with that lewd laugh and how dare he sing those suggestive lyrics, lasciviously listening to all kinds of unspeakable suggestions from an innocent, presumably white, girl? Mom and Dad refused to believe the fact that the Big Bopper was actually as white as they were until a picture was offered up as proof. Even then, once corrected, they were none too happy with this lyrical phone conversation between the Big Bopper and a girl who will apparently suggest anything to him just to go out and party.

“What’s that, baby? Pick you up at eight? And don’t be late? But baby… I ain’t got no money honey…. (no voices as The Big Bopper listens to the girl he’s talking to on the phone and finally reacts with a lascivious laugh) ha, ha ha, oh alright honey you KNOW what I like!” Chantilly Lace – The Big Bopper

“Chantilly Lace” was written by Jerry Foster, Bill Rice and J.P. Richardson. It was released during the summer of 1958 and reached Number Six on Billboard’s Pop Chart, ultimately becoming the third most played song of the year. It was similar in chord progression to Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” released just six months earlier. Jayne Mansfield recorded a truly terrible song called “That Makes It” a short time later. It was an answer record to “Chantilly Lace”, this time with the conversation from the girl’s side of the line.

Thanks to the success of “Chantilly Lace”, Richardson took time off from his job at KTRM radio and decided to tour during the 1959 “Winter Dance Party” with Ritchie Valens, Dion & The Belmonts and Buddy Holly.

 

LITTLE ANTHONY & THE IMPERIALS

By 1958, doo wop had deeply encroached into rock ‘n’ roll music until they became almost undistinguishable to the public ear. Rock ‘n’ Roll’s wailing guitar was being toned down to fit young pop ears without driving them crazy, behavior that concerned parents were all witnessing as a result of rock ‘’n’ roll and its sexually overt teen idols. By the end of 1958, the Establishment was winning battles, but the war was from over. Those in White America who was still being threatened by the music and was doing everything in their power to drown in out and ultimately kill it in the States didn’t count on a burgeoning movement developing across the pond over in England.
Despite the fact that by 1958 Rock ‘n’ Roll was already losing its edge, it wasn’t losing anything in terms of the quality of the songwriting and playing. Little Anthony & The Imperials is an example of a group who survived the Fifties and continued to remain relevant and popular into the mid-Sixties with tunes that broke through the Rock ‘n’ Roll songs of the day due to their sheer quality and timelessness.

Little Anthony & The Imperials only had three Top Ten Hits over a seven year period, but they were songs that deserve to be remembered. Anthony Guardine started it all when he joined The Chesters in 1957 as lead vocalist. They recorded briefly for Apollo Records, then decided to change their name to The Imperials and signed with End Records in 1958. Renowned rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, DJ Alan Freed had a local radio show in New York City and gave Guardine the nickname “Little Anthony” when their first single was released. All of their previous recordings were labeled as being just by The Imperials, but after Freed dubbed him “Little” Anthony, the group eventually changed the name of their group.

 
TEARS ON MY PILLOW – LITTLE ANTHONY & THE IMPERIALS

The group was a favorite on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” and “The Saturday Night Beech Nut Show”. “Tears On My Pillow” was a typical doo-wop song about lost love, but the melody made it popular enough to have it chart up to Number Four on Billboard’s Pop chart. They wouldn’t have another Top Ten song for another six years but in the interim, they continued to release other recordings. One song in particular, although it didn’t make it into Billboard’s Top Twenty, remains a well-regarded rock ‘n’ roll classic due to its catchy hook and its introduction to a new nonsense phrase into rock ‘n’ roll lexicon.

 
SHIMMY SHIMMY KOKO BOP – LITTLE ANTHONY & THE IMPERIALS

Although they released three more singles between the end of 1958 and the summer of 1959, none of them reached higher than the upper 80s on Billboard’s Top 100. But in 1960 they made it up to Number 24 with “Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop”, a fun tune about one of the many dance crazes that would emerge over the next several years like The Twist, The Frug, The Watusi and many more.

The lyrics sing about a guy sitting in a native hut, who’s presumably a native or else why would he be sitting in a native hut, minding his own business when suddenly this girl comes in and starts dancing. He soon joins in the dance and suddenly it implies that they’re doing more than just dancing. Finally, the last lyrics teach you how to do the dance.

You can do the ko ko bop, now’s no time to stop, left foot forward, one right back, bring them side by side, syncopate your last two steps, now you’re going to glide, keep along the rhythm track, girl please show ‘em how, now you start to arch your back, man you got it now…” Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop – Little Anthony & The Imperials

After “…Ko Ko Bop”, their next few singles did no better than the last three. By 1961 Little Anthony & The Imperials were washed up.

A funny thing happened in 1964. While The Beatles opened up the floodgates from Great Britian and rock ‘n’ roll music enjoyed a vital resurgence, 50’s doo wop group Little Anthony & The Imperials were growing up. They released four singles from August 1964 to the following summer and all of them made it into the Top Twenty. One in particular made it into the Top Ten at Number Six in October of 1964, when Beatlemania and the British onslaught had taken over the airwaves. This song managed to cut through and endure as one of the most romantic songs of the Sixties, playing at every single high school dance and I’m sure many weddings and other romantic events for years after its release.

 
GOIN’ OUT OF MY HEAD – LITTLE ANTHONY & THE IMPERIALS

Three years after their career began to stagger, The Imperials’ collaboration with songwriters Teddy Randazzo and Bobby Weinstein proved fruitful. Little Anthony had attempted a solo career after he witnessed all his group’s singles stall miserably in 1961. Not achieving much on his own either, he made an about face and the group reunited, thanks to this dynamic songwriting duo. Their comeback single was “I’m On the Outside (Looking In)”, released in August of 1964.

Their second single was released two months later, in October 1964 and became one of the most played songs of the rest of the year and beyond. It reached Number Six on Billboard’s Top 100 Pop chart but went on to be heard well into the rest of the decade as a radio standard. Its simple, romantic arrangement and dreamy vocal sounds like a perfect blend between sensual and angelic, having more the feel of a song from a Broadway play than anything born from rock ‘n’ roll. The song’s words ring true particularly because of the vocal interpretation, as if Little Anthony was declaring his love to the listener and thrilling in the feeling of it.

“Goin’ out of my head over you, out of my head over you, out of my head, day and night, night and day and night, wrong or right, I must think of a way into your heart…” Goin’ Out of My Head – Little Anthony & The Imperials

“Goin’ Out of My Head” is statistically one of the top 50 most recorded songs in the history of recorded music, with sales of over 100 million by over 400 different artists including Petula Clark, Ella Fitzgerald, Sergio Mendes, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Raphael, Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick, Lawrence Welk, Vicki Carr, Doc Severinsen, Luther Vandross, Percy Faith & His Orchestra, Queen Latifah, The Fifth Dimension and Dr. John, among others.

 
HURT SO BAD – LITTLE ANTHONY & THE IMPERIALS

Their third single was “Hurt So Bad”, released in early 1965. It came from the “Goin’ Out of My Head” album and was to be their last Top Ten hit. Similar in style as ‘GOOMY’, “Hurt So Bad” is a powerful and dramatic love song. Little Anthony’s unique tenor makes you feel the hurt in the song’s title. The song’s classic Broadway orchestration continued to cut through the rock ‘n’ roll being heard on the radio in 1965 and aimed instead straight at the heart.

Their last Top Twenty hit and subsequent single after “Hurt So Bad” is “Take Me Back”, another track from the ‘GOOMY” album. It peaked at Number Sixteen and was an unmemorable song. It was the last song of theirs that was written by Teddy Randazzo.

As a result, each subsequent single peaked lower every time. “I Miss You So” barely made it into the Top Forty at Number 34 and “Hurt” couldn’t crack the Top Fifty. Their songs were suddenly and completely out of touch with what was being listened to in 1965. New rock ‘n roll artists were popping up, many of them from Britian, and Little Anthony & The Imperials’ musical output suddenly sounded terribly dated, lacking the timelessness in the melodies of “Goin’ Out Of My head” and “Hurt So Bad”. Still, they continued releasing music well into the Seventies, but no song of theirs ever cracked the Top Fifty after 1965.

As of 2012, the Imperials are one of the few 1950s-era R&B groups still touring with most of their original members, including “Little” Anthony Gourdine. In early 2014, Gourdine toured the UK. As of 2014, only original member Tracy Lord is deceased.

 

IT’S ALL IN THE GAME – TOMMY EDWARDS

The reason for this song’s inclusion into the history of rock ‘n’ roll isn’t just because it charted during the early rock ‘n’ roll era, but because its success benefited by rock ‘n’ roll’s influence on the choice of musical instruments being used in recordings of the day, most notably percussion.

Tommy Edwards was a singer/songwriter whose biggest hit was a song written by then future Vice-President of the United States Charles G. Dawes in 1912. Dawes was Vice-President to Calvin Coolidge from 1925 to 1929. The instrumental composition that later went on to become “It’s All In The Game” was originally titled “Melody In A Major” by Dawes.

Lyrics were later added in 1951 by veteran Duke Ellington collaborator Carl Sigman. Besides this, Sigman is also the lyricist for the theme song from “Love Story”, the top grossing film of 1970, which Andy Williams later sang and released as a single in 1971.

Tommy Edwards first recorded “It’s All In The Game” in 1951, after Sigman wrote the lyrics. It was only a moderate hit, climbing up to Number 18. The better known version, released in 1958, benefited by a more contemporary production that echoed doo wop and included the percussion and guitar so defining of rock ‘n’ roll. As a result, even though the song is a beautiful, romantic, laid back tune reminiscent more of old time ballads (which it essentially was), it hit Number One on the Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart, the R&B chart and the UK Singles chart. It sold over 3.5 million copies and earned gold disc status.

Edwards never released anything else that came close to the success of “It’s All In The Game”. Cliff Richard re-recorded “IAITG” and Elvis recorded the Edwards’ penned song “A Fool Such As I” in 1961. Various other artists like the Four Tops, Bobby Vinton and Donny & Marie recorded songs written by Tommy Edwards.

Tommy Edwards died in 1969 after suffering a brain aneurysm at the age of 47. The liner notes of his 1994 compilation “The Complete Hits of Tommy Edwards” suggest his aneurysm was due to alcoholism.

(more…)

by Robert Seoane
 
JULIA LENNON AND MARY McCARTNEY – BOBBY FREEMAN – JOHNNY OTIS – THE ELEGANTS – DOMENICO MODUGNO – FOLK MUSIC – LEAD BELLY – WOODY GUTHRIE – THE ALMANAC SINGERS – THE WEAVERS – THE KINGSTON TRIO

JULIA LENNON

The life of The Beatles has been blessed with incredible highs but also beset with life-altering tragedies. Like great stories in the lives of people known to millions, it seems that these tragedies were ultimately a destiny leading to a greater event. In the case of John Lennon, each soul shaking moment he endured hardened his personality and influenced his art. In the eyes of the public and ardent fans, it reads like a Shakespearean tragedy embedded with incredible beauty.

“Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it just to reach you, Julia” Julia – The Beatles from The White Album (1968)

Julia was leaving her sister Mimi’s home on the evening of July 15, 1958. She was to cross the street to the bus stop and wait for the bus home, where her boyfriend and son John waited for her.

A friend of Julia’s son, Nigel Whatley, happened by as Julia exited her sister’s house.

“I went to call for John that evening but his Aunt Mimi told me he was out. Mimi was at the gate with John’s mum, who was about to leave. We stood chatting and John’s mum said ‘Well, you have the privilege of escorting me to the bus stop!’ I said ‘That will do me fine.” –Nigel Watley

******

Julia Stanley Lennon had John on October 9, 1940. John’s father, Alfred Lennon, was a very witty and charming man who knew how to play banjo, as did Julia. Alfred Lennon married Julia Stanley in 1938 but soon enlisted and left for adventure in World War II. While he was away, Julia found a lover, Taffy Williams, and became pregnant with his baby Ingrid in 1945. The baby was soon sent up for adoption to a Norwegian family who cared for her ever since. John had one other baby sister born in 1947, Julia Dykins, from Julia’s second husband, John “Bobby” Albert Dykins, although they weren’t legally married.

Julia and her sister Mary Elizabeth “Mimi” Smith were polar opposites. Where Julia was a candle in the wind, Mimi was a woman who had a distinct opinion on social etiquette.

“She had a very strong sense of what was right or wrong.” –Pete Shotton of The Quarrymen on John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi

Mimi married in 1938 to George Smith but they never had a child. When Julia became pregnant in 1940 to John, Mimi knew that her sister’s lifestyle wasn’t fit for raising a baby. In 1946, she contacted Liverpool’s Social Services to complain about the fact that she was living with yet another man and sharing her bed with him and her son John nightly. After some convincing, Julia agreed to hand over her only son to her sister Mimi so that he would grow up in a more stable home.

Living with Aunt Mimi and Uncle George was indeed a good influence on young John. He was very close to his uncle up until his death in June 1953 at age 50 of a liver hemorrhage. It was 12 year old John’s first brush with loss, but far from his last.

John had been living with Aunt Mimi and Uncle George Smith on Menlove Avenue since he was six years old. The Smiths used to call their home “Mendips”, after a range of limestone hills located in Southwestern England. Yoko Ono purchased, restored and preserved John’s childhood home, then donated it to The National Trust, who has opened it to the public since 2003, restored it to its original look when John Lennon grew up there. Mendips would prove to be John’s refuge and Aunt Mimi was his stalwart, looking after him as he grew up and as he faced many difficult moments during his young life.

Alfred Lennon picked his five year old son up one day in 1945 from Aunt Mimi’s house to spend some time with him. His true intention was to take him away to New Zealand and raise him alone. Mother Julia got wind of this and tracked them down, confronting John’s father just hours after he’d taken him. She found them in a nearby pier, strolling. Little Johnny was holding his dad’s hand, happy as he can be. Julia confronted Alfred in front of the boy, and after much arguing and discussion, it was agreed to leave the decision of who Johnny should live with to the child, as if an innocent five year old can make a decision as important as that.

John’s father asked him if he’d rather go away and live with him or stay with his mother. Alfred Lennon must have conjured up images of fun and adventure, or maybe he just wanted to be with his daddy, because little John eagerly chose him. Leaving Julia crushed and feeling as though she had lost her son twice, first to her sister now to his father, she watched as John walked away holding hands with his dad.

But something made John turn his head to see his dear mother one last time. He must have felt the detachment or perhaps the image of her mother being left alone was too much, because in a moment, he let go of his father’s hand and went running to his mother, panicked at the sudden realization of loss. Reunited with her, Julia had no choice but to leave him back with his Aunt Mimi. It was an agonizing decision for the young woman but she also knew she was incapable of raising a child. Still, she visited him regularly.

John wrote “Mother” in 1970, a song about his abandonment by both his parents, and released it as a single. It was also the opening track off his first solo album “Plastic Ono Band” released months after the Beatles broke up. “Mother” is an achingly poignant composition, sung with real feeling and emotion. The song ends with the John repeatedly calling out for his parents, using Arthur Janov’s “primal scream” technique, where the person is encouraged to release his emotions through gut wrenching screams.


“Mother, you had me but I never had you, I wanted you but you didn’t want me. So I got to tell you goodbye, goodbye… Father you left me but I never left you, I needed you but you didn’t need me, So I just got to tell you goodbye, goodbye… Mama don’t go… Daddy come home…” Mother – John Lennon

One of the distinct songwriting differences between John Lennon and Paul McCartney was Lennon’s openness with writing lyrics reflecting his life. Many of the songs he wrote, “In My Life”, “Help”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Ballad Of John & Yoko” just to name a few, had to do with what was currently going on in his life or recollections from his past. Paul on the other hand, although still relating his lyrics to his own personal life, was more successful in disguising his feelings. McCartney penned songs like “Let It Be”, “I’m Looking Through You”, “Penny Lane”, “For No One” and so many others. They spoke of his past also but subtly, thereby making it less personal but more relatable to everybody else. Paul was not as confessional as his songwriting partner because he has the blood of a showman as well as an artist.

“The guitar’s alright, John. But you’ll never make a living out of it. -Aunt Mimi

Unlike Aunt Mimi, Julia was an ardent supporter of John’s burgeoning musical career. She was the one who had bought him his first guitar, a cheap Gallotone Champion acoustic “guaranteed not to split”. She was the one who dragged Aunt Mimi to St. John’s fete where her son was performing for the first time with his Quarrymen. Julia was thrilled but of course Mimi disapproved.

I was horrified to behold John in front of a microphone (and) as pleased as punch to see him up there.” -Aunt Mimi

Mimi didn’t like Paul McCartney upon meeting him because he came from a lower social class structure than they belonged to, and hated George Harrison because he dressed like a tough teddy boy.

“I was a nice clean-cut suburban boy, and in the class system I was about a half an inch in a higher class than Paul, George and Ringo who lived in subsidized government houses. We owned our own house, had our own garden… They didn’t have anything like that.” –John Lennon

During his early teenage years, Julia encouraged John to play music, teaching him the banjo and teaching him old Liverpudlian folk songs. He soaked it up like a sponge, thrilled to be growing closer to his mother now that he was no longer a child and being able to relate to her musically. One of the songs she taught him was later recorded on The Beatles final release “Let It Be” as a throw away ditty, yet still a sweet nod to his early years.

“Oh, dirty Maggie May, they have taken her away, and she doesn’t walk down Lime Street anymore, oh the judge he guilty found her, robbing the homes around her, that dirty no good, robbin’ Maggie May…” Maggie May – The Beatles, from Let It Be

******

John’s friend Nigel Watley often thought about how things would have been different if only he had walked Julia across the street to the bus stop. Maybe he would have noticed the oncoming car, grabbed her elbow and got her to slow down.

“We walked down Menlove Avenue and I turned off to go up Vale Road where I lived. I must have been fifteen yards up the road when I heard a car skidding. I turned around to see John’s mum going thru the air.” – Nigel Watley

She was killed instantly. The driver of the car that hit her was 24 year old Eric Clague, a police officer who was off duty and on his way home. He was not charged with excessive speeding, going within the thirty mile an hour speed limit, and he was not inebriated at the time. The conclusion was that 44 year old Julia Lennon, tragically, just didn’t see him.

“Mrs. Lennon just ran straight out in front of me. I just couldn’t avoid her. I was not speeding. I swear it. It was just one of those terrible things that happen.”- Eric Clague

Having been suddenly informed of a commotion by a neighbor, Mimi ran out of her home fearing and confirming the worst. She became hysterical.

“At about 9:45PM, the deceased left my home (in Menlove Avenue) and went in the direction of a bus stop on the opposite side by the Vineries. Shortly afterwards I was informed that she had been injured. I went to the scene. She was unconscious. I went with her to Sefton General Hospital. She was dead upon arrival.” – John Lennon’s aunt and Julia’s sister, Mimi Smith

The death certificate confirmed the cause of death was due to multiple head fractures.

A policeman knocked on Julia Lennon’s front door where her boyfriend and her son, John waited for her return from Mendips.

“It was just like it’s supposed to be, the way it is in the films. Asking if I was her son, and that. Then he told us, and we both went white.” – John Lennon to Beatles biographer Hunter Davies

The death of his mother in such a sudden, cruel manner despite having been an accident, affected John to his core. He became bitter, more rebellious. He concealed a seething anger and released it in spurts through dry, sharp, cutting wit.

“The day the Pope died, he did lots of drawings of him looking really awful. He did one of the Pope standing outside some big pillars outside Heaven, shaking the gates and trying to get in. Underneath it said, ‘But I’m the Pope, I tell you!’.” -Thelma Pickles, John Lennon’s college girlfriend.

Pope Pius XII died the same day as John Lennon’s 18th birthday, October 9th, just under three months after his mother had been killed. That cartoon is an interesting window into how his mind coped with the reminder of death, in this case, of the Christian world’s religious leader. The fact that the Pope died on John’s 18th birthday and on his first birthday without his mother, displays how he used humor to deal with pain. He submerged his feelings and used his developing cynicism to mock what is supposed to be holy in a flippant, comic fashion. It was the conduit for his pain and the essence of what made John a great artist, his ability to deal with reality in a truthful, yet wry manner.

“It was the worst thing that ever happened to me. We’d caught up so much, me and Julia, in just a few years. We could communicate. We got on. She was great. I thought… I’ve no responsibilities to anyone now.” – John Lennon

Like so many of us on this planet, John Lennon did not have a traditional upbringing and endured great heartache. Whether this informed his musical genius is a matter of speculation, but it’s a well-known and accepted truth that art is born from inner pain. The more an artist suffers they say, the greater his art.

His mother’s loss would be somewhat healed with a new, stabilizing female presence that would arrive into his life a few months later. Cynthia Powell, a pretty nineteen year old blonde and a year John’s senior, was to become Mrs. John Lennon four years later and bear John’s first son, Julian, named of course, after John’s dear mother.

“I lost her twice. Once as a five year old when I was moved in with my auntie. And once again, when she actually, physically died. And that was a really hard time for me. It just absolutely made me very, very bitter. The underlying chip on my shoulder that I had as a youth got really big then. Being a teenager and a rock ‘n’ roller and an art student and my mother being killed, just when I was re-establishing a relationship with her… it was very traumatic for me.” –John Lennon, just a few days before his murder.

Julia Lennon’s accidental killer took on a job as a postal employee to supplement his police officer income and delivered mail for years throughout the same neighborhood where he had inadvertently hit Julia Lennon. In 1964, he remembered hearing about Beatlemania like the rest of the Western World, but coming to a sudden shock when he realized his tragic connection to the legend of the Beatles.

“Like everyone else I started reading in the papers about them and they were never off the TV. I read that John Lennon’s mother was dead and that he used to live on Menlove Avenue. I put two and two together and realized that it was his mum that I had killed. Everything came back to me and I felt absolutely terrible. It had the most awful effect on me. The Beatles were everywhere, especially in Liverpool, and I couldn’t get away from it.” -Eric Clague

His route as a postman delivered him daily to his painful penance.

“My postman’s round took in Forthlin Road, where Paul McCartney used to live. At the height of The Beatles’ fame, I used to deliver hundreds of cards and letters to the house. I remember struggling up the path with them . But of course they just reminded me of John Lennon and his mother.” – Eric Clague

John wrote three songs to his mother, “Julia” “Mother” and “My Mummy’s Dead”. They are slow, introspective compositions filled with pain and sadness, made even that much sharper by the deep restraint in which he sang them, except for when he unleashes his emotion at the end of “Mother”.

“My Mummy’s Dead” is John, barely singing a desperately sad, morbidly painful memory of his mother in just a little under a minute, as the final cut of his first solo album, “Plastic Ono Band”. Sounding as if he were singing and playing a toy guitar from the womb, John uses the melody from the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” to repeat words he never could completely accept.

“My mummy’s dead. I can’t get it through my head. Though it’s been so many years, my mummy’s dead. I can’t explain, so much pain. I could never show it. My mummy’s dead.” My Mummy’s Dead – John Lennon

It’s ironic when you think that the loss of Julia to John Lennon has eerie similarities to the loss of John to the world. We also lost him twice. The first time, when he went into retirement to bring up his newborn son Sean in 1975 for five years, not writing or releasing any music or appearing for any interviews. We lost him then for good when he physically died five years later as he was coming out of his self-imposed retirement.

His son Julian underwent a similar childhood as his father’s. Julian also didn’t get to see much of him due to the fact that he was born at the beginning of The Beatles’ fame, so he also lost him twice; the first time to the popularity of The Beatles and then when he died. Julian was also enjoying a new relationship with him, much like his father had been developing with Julia before her untimely death. Most ironically. John was 17 when he lost his mother. Julian was 17 when John was murdered.

John Lennon was murdered at age 40 on December 8th, 1980 in New York City by a deranged killer, less than three months after he released “Double Fantasy”, his new comeback album. Millions of fans welcomed him back. As usual, his confessional lyrics explain his five year absence with a sweetness that parallels the loss of his life in one of his final masterpieces, “Watching The Wheels”.

“I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go ‘round and ‘round, I really love to watch them roll. No longer riding on the merry go round… I just had to let it go…” Watching The Wheels – John Lennon

MARY McCARTNEY

Paul shared a similar pain with his friend and songwriting partner, having lost his own mother, Mary Patricia Mohin McCartney, on October 31, 1956, two years before the death of John’s mother. Mary McCartney was undergoing surgery for a fast spreading breast cancer when she succumbed. His catharsis from that tragic event and what helped him through his profound loss also helped his muse bloom. Paul McCartney wrote his very first song soon after his deep loss, and it was about the death of his mother. As was always McCartney’s style however, and unlike Lennon’s, he disguised the personal aspect of his composition by turning it into what was just a simple break-up love ditty.

“Well, gather ‘round people, let me tell you the story, the very first song I wrote, well, I woke up late this morning, my head was in the whirl, only when I realize, I lost my little girl, oh oh oh oh…” I Lost My Little Girl – Paul McCartney

That wasn’t the only time Paul wrote about his mother. But he would never be as obvious about it as John was so confessional. In one of Paul’s most personal and beautiful songs, he recalls his mother’s wisdom.

“When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” Let It Be – The Beatles

Paul’s lyrics again disguise his personal connection with the song by allowing the public to perceive the composition as spiritual, invoking the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, when singing “mother Mary”, instead of his own mother, which is what he really meant, thereby opening the song up to more acceptance and understanding to any listener by appealing to them spiritually. As McCartney explained it, the genesis of the song came from a dream he had about his mother.

“I had a dream where my mother, who had been dead at that point about 10 years, came to me in the dream and it was as if she could see I was troubled. And she sort of said to me, she said ‘Let it be’. And I remember quite clearly her saying ‘Let it be’ and ‘it’s going to be OK. Don’t worry.” You know… ‘Let it be’”… “It was great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing ‘Let It Be’”. – Paul McCartney

Paul and his brother Mike were brought up by their father James McCartney, until his own death in 1976 at age 73 of bronchial pneumonia. Jim McCartney was an educated, mild mannered fellow who worked in the cotton trade as well as played in ragtime and jazz bands in Liverpool. He raised the two brothers with kindness, love and dedication. Cynthia Powell Lennon recalls Paul’s father often answering the door with his sleeves rolled up, wearing an apron and holding a tea towel whenever she and John came to visit. Many times, Paul’s father would leave him food to eat at the Cavern Club where The Beatles played in the early days. A loving musical tribute to his dad was composed by Paul McCartney in 1982 with “Put It There”, a saying his father used to tell his sons when extending his hand in friendship.

“Put it there if it weighs a ton, that’s what a father says to his young son. I don’t care if it weighs a ton, as long as you and I are here, put it there.” –Put It There – Paul McCartney

BOBBY FREEMAN

Bobby Freeman is a two-hit wonder. He released singles from 1958 at only seventeen years old up until 1964, but only of them would make it to the Top Ten. His debut single “Do You Want To Dance” was his biggest hit and was showcased in George Lucas’ film “American Graffiti. It was a catchy, danceable song that made it to Number One in the Billboard Pop chart and Number Two in the R&B chart but it was a fluke, because Freeman struggled to enter the Top Forty, let alone barely making it into the Hot 100 until 1964.

“Do You Want To Dance” got a new lease on life when Bette Midler recorded it in 1973. Many other artists re-recorded the song, including Del Shannon, The Beach Boys. Johnny Rivers, the Mamas and the Papas, the Ramones and John Lennon, but it was Midler who slowed it down and turned into a smoky, bluesy, soul-stirring song as you’re dancing closely with an amorous friend at the end of a long night.

Freeman’s only other hit single was “C’mon and Swim” in 1964, a song based on the newest dance craze, The Swim, where the dancer moves their arms as if they were swimming and hold their nose, lowering themselves towards the floor while wiggling their hips.

Released in the midst of Beatlemania, it held its own because it’s a wild, crazy tune filled with trumpets, a wailing electric guitar and a nice, fast beat. It’s no wonder it was so energetic because the writer and producer of “C’mon & Swim” is none other than twenty year old Sylvester Stewart. Stewart would develop and further funk music during the late Sixties and influence the genre for decades after he changed his name to Sly Stone and formed his own group “Sly & The Family Stone”.

“C’mon & Swim” also made it to the Number Five position in the Billboard Pop chart, but his subsequent single release, “S-W-I-M”, only made it to number 56, then sank like a rock.”S-W-I-M” couldn’t float. Freeman didn’t release another album for ten years, but that one failed to chart. At the time of the writing of this blog in 2014, Bobby Freeman is 74 years old and living in his hometown of San Francisco, California.

JOHNNY OTIS

To call Johnny Otis a one hit wonder would be a gross injustice. The fact that “Willie & The Hand Jive” was his only Top Ten Billboard hit doesn’t account for his lack of talent, but more for his talent of being able to encompass so many achievements. Born Ioannis Alexandres Vellotes to Greek immigrants and growing up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Berkeley, California, Otis was a singer, musician, composer, arranger, bandleader, talent scout, disc jockey, record producer, TV show host with his own program, artist, author, journalist and minister. He could essentially marry you, provide entertainment, then write about the affair and broadcast highlights on his show for you.

His first big impact in music legend happened in 1945 when he formed his own band with himself as bandleader and, although not written by him, had one of the most enduring hits of the Big Band era, Harlem Nocturne.

Two years later he opened the Barrelhouse Club in the Watts district of Los Angeles, California and hired, among others, the Robins, who would later go on to become one of the Fifties’ biggest groups, the Coasters.

Before the 1940s came to an end, Johnny Otis also discovered singer Little Esther Phillips, Mel Walker and tenor saxophonist Big Jay McNeely. He began recording them together, releasing a stream of great blues songs. Each of them made it to Billboard’s Number One spot in the R&B chart in 1949, “Double Crossin’ Blues”, “Mistrustin’ Blues” and “Cupid Boogie”.



Two years later, he released “Mambo Boogie”, the very first R&B mambo ever recorded.

His amazing ability to spot talent continued when he discovered 13 year old Etta James at one of his talent shows and Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton. Otis produced, played drums and co-wrote “Hound Dog” with Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller for Thornton’s 1953 recording. Lieber & Stoller pulled a fast one on Otis when they changed their written and signed contractual agreement with him just before the duo gave “Hound Dog” for Elvis to sing. It became a monster hit and Otis sued but lost on the technicality that Lieber and Stoller were minors when they signed the original contract.

During that time, Johnny Otis was also artist and repertory man for King Records and continued to discover new, young talent that would one day all become members of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Hall of Fame, Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard and Little Willie John.

During the Fifties, he played vibraphone, produced and wrote songs. Always a multi-tasker, he didn’t just have a radio show for KFOX out of Long Beach, but he also hosted is own weekly program “The Johnny Otis Show”. That not being enough, he started his own label and changed the name of his band to The Johnny Otis Show to remind everyone of his program.

“Willie & The Hand Jive” is a classic rock ‘n roll tune that borrows the Bo Diddley beat to sing about a new dance move, but many people thought it was an ode to jacking off. Otis insists the song is not about masturbation, although it doesn’t help the argument that the name of the “hand-jiver” happens to be “Willie”, and a few times even sounds like he’s singing “handjob” on the recording. Nevertheless, the hand jive is an actual dance move involving a complicated pattern of hand movements that include fist pounding together, thigh slapping, hand clapping, cross-wrist slapping and hitch-hiking… but no off jacking.

It’s a great rock ‘n’ roll song that gets you jumping, but its beat is due to Bo Diddley. Otis was just smart enough to steal the beat and change the lyrics. Eric Clapton re-recorded his own laid-back version of “Willie & The Hand Jive” in 1974 on his album “461 Ocean Blvd”. Lacking the original recording’s urgency, it’s more of a laid back rendition that Clapton renders, and it’s also a fascinating study of how the Bo Diddley beat can sound slowed down.

George Thorogood recorded it as well in 1985. Thorogood’s version is closer to the original than Clapton’s, which may sound somewhat lackluster in comparison. The production quality of Thorogood’s version is better than the original simply due to it having been re-recorded thirty years later with advanced recording technology. So in this writer’s opinion, Thorogood’s take on “Willie & The Hand Jive” is the definitive version of the song. It’s rock ‘n’ roll at its best.

Johnny Otis continued to work through the following decades touring, recording other artists and producing, even finding time for running for California State Assembly member, but losing, probably because he did’t run under his professional, well-known name. During the 1980s, he had a weekly three hour radio show on Los Angeles radio station KPFK where he played records and invited musical guests. He continued recording with his sons Shuggie and Nicky releasing new Johnny Otis albums. In 1987, he hosted his annual Red Beans & Rice R&B Music Festival in Los Angeles and would continue to do so until 2006, touring and playing over the US and Europe during that twenty year period.

His radio show moved to another L.A. radio station in the 1990s and would broadcast until his retirement in 2004, when his grandson Lucky took it over for two more years.

Johnny Otis died of natural causes on January 17, 2012, just three days before one of his first discoveries’ death, Etta James’. He lived a full, busy life until he was 90 years old.

THE ELEGANTS

Vito Picone, Arthur Venosa, Frank Tardogno, Carmen Romano and James Mochella were pals who grew up in Staten Island, New York together and sang doo wop under the boardwalk by their homes. They called their group the Elegants, and they became a classic example of one-hit wonders with “Little Star”, a doo wop tune inspired by the nursery rhyme “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. It hit Number One in 1958 in both the Pop ad R&B chart, and dominated the radio most of that year. The Elegants toured with Buddy Holly, Dion & The Belmonts, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. Afterwards, none of their subsequent single and album releases ever came close to the success of “Little Star”. Some say it was because the group refused to pay payola to a prominent New York disc jockey, who then inhibited airplay of their subsequent releases.

“Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder where you are, high above the clouds somewhere, send me down a love to share…” Little Star – The Elegants

A revised version of The Elegants still perform and tour as of 2012 with Vito Picone and James Mochella as original members.

“Little Star” is a classic example of doo wop music and lauded by many well-regarded people in the record business including Phil Spector who once called it an “awful good record”.

NEL BLU DI PINTO DI BLU (VOLARE) – DOMENICO MODUGNO

“Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)” is not a rock ‘n’ roll song by any stretch of the imagination, but honorable mention is deserving of this tune because, besides it being a great song, it also became a big hit in 1958 during the beginning of the rock ‘n’ roll era, and is now considered a classic after it was re-done more than thirty years later by the Gipsy Kings.

Sung entirely in Italian, Domenico Modugno co-wrote “Volare” with Franco Migliacci. It seems that Magliacci started to work on the lyrics while contemplating two Marc Chagall paintings. One was a rendering of an artist painting on a canvas, and done in predominantly blue shades (“Le Peintre et son Modele”). The other was a painting of a man in yellow suspended in mid-air (“Le Coq Rouge”-1952). After drinking a little too much wine, Migliacci fell asleep, only to wake up again after having had a surreal, wine-induced dream. Upon waking up, Migliacci wrote lyrics about a man who dreams of painting himself blue and being able to fly. The only thing missing was the title of the song. Legend has it that the word “Volare” (“I will fly”) entered the lyrics when Modugno, while working on the song with Migliacci, opened a window and a huge draft of wind entered the room.

Modugno and Migliacci titled the song “Nel Blu DiPinto Di Blu”, then added “Volare” in parentheses. Having only used translation websites, I’ve translated the title to mean “Blue Painted in Blue” If there’s anyone who knows Italian well enough to confirm this, I would appreciate hearing from you.

The song is sung entirely in Italian and Modugno, who sings it, begins his version with a surreal prelude explaining the dream Migliacci had.

TRANSLATION: “I think that a dream like that will never return, I painted my hands and my face blue, then was suddenly swept up by the wind and started to fly in the infinite sky” Nel Blue Dipinto Di Blu (Volare) – Domenico Modugno

Mondugno presented the song with Johnny Dorrelli in the 1958 Sanremo Music Festival. The song won the contest and became a worldwide success. It sold a staggering 22 million copies and received two Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, the only foreign song to have ever received this honor. It went on to place in third place at the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest representing Italy. It was Number One non-consecutively in Billboard’s Pop chart for five weeks and was also Billboard’s Number One single of 1958, over any rock ‘n’ roll song released that year. In fact, it was to be the only non-American, Canadian or British song ever to make Billboard’s Top Single of the year until 1994 when Swedish group Ace of Base broke the record with “The Sign”. Today, it’s considered to be the most played Italian song in Italy as well as the whole world.

“Volare” has been translated into many languages and recorded by many different artists including Dean Martin, David Bowie, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Barry White and the Gipsy Kings. The Kings made it a late Eighties dance hit and they sang it with a mix of the original Italian lyrics as well as their distinctive Andalusian-tinged Spanish.

In 2005, the 50th Anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest was celebrated and a ranking of the most favorite songs from the contest was revealed. “Volare” was Number Two, behind ABBA’s “Waterloo”.

“I myself voted for “Volare” but I am pleased that so many people voted for us.” – Benny Anderson of ABBA when accepting the Eurovision award.

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