Archive for the ‘Rock n Roll 1957 Part 2’ Category

by Robert Seoane

THE DIAMONDS – BUDDY KNOX – MICKEY & SILVIA – THE DEL-VIKINGS – THE RAYS – THE BOBBETTES – LAVERN BAKER – LARRY WILLIAMS – LLOYD PRICE – EDDIE COCHRAN – JERRY LEE LEWIS – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

Insignificant events occurred throughout 1957 where its the impact would not be felt until years later. The Cavern Club, home to The Beatles in Liverpool in the early 60s opened their doors in 1957. Meanwhile over the summer, a boy named John meets a boy named Paul and they soon decide to form a band together. A show called American Bandstand debuts on ABC in the fall and showcases the weekly Music Top Ten every day, bringing rock ‘n’ roll into America’s living room like an exciting new friend of the kids.

By the end of the year however, Rock ‘n’ Roll was already being tamed. With Elvis just a few weeks from entering the Army and  “The Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll” Alan Freed out of the picture on the grounds of accepting payola.  The American Establishment got a little help from across the pond when the UK announced Jerry Lee Lewis’ marriage to his thirteen year old cousin in scandalous headlines, ending his career as it was just beginning. Slowly but surely, the strings were being pulled to nullify the rebellious power of the music by taming or going after them legally and through the press.

Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Ray Charles were still going strong but Little Richard was already beginning to wane, allowing his guilt for singing the Devil’s music and his “omni-sexual” tendencies to turn him towards a religious life.

The nation was in firm ground economically after its strong resurgence from World War II.  It was a period of celebration, discovery and new directions, none of this more markedly pointed out than with the joyful sound of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

LITTLE DARLIN’ – THE DIAMONDS

Classic One Hit Wonders abounded in 1957 and helped define the year nostalgically as one of innocence, fun and charm. There was “Little Darlin” by The Diamonds, a group of four well-dressed nerds in their father’s suits who sang doo-wop like the best of them. They tried to be funny on-stage,  acting self-consciously towards the way they sang, making fun of it instead of relishing in its own uniqueness.

“Oh, little darling, Oh-oh-oh where ar-are you, My love-a, I was wrong-a, To-oo try, To lo-ove two A-hoopa, a-hoopa, hoopa, Kno-ow well-a, That my love-a, Wa-as just fo-or you, Ooooonly yoooooooooooou..”

It may not read well but it sounds great.

PARTY DOLL – BUDDY KNOX

Straight out of Happy, Texas, Buddy Wayne Knox had his only Number One Hit, “Party Doll”, a song about a man’s need to have sex with girls who party. He had written the lyrics as a teenager in 1948 and recorded it years later with two college friends and his sister and her friends on background vocals in Norma Petty’s recording studio where Buddy Holly also recorded. After becoming a regional hit, a New York distributor contacted them about the song, ultimately landing it on the Billboard Number One spot nationally for one week.

“Every man has got to have a party doll, to be with him when he’s feelin’ wild, to be everlovin’, true and fair, to run her fingers through his hair… Come along and be my party doll… and I’ll make love to you, to you, I’ll make love to you…” Party Doll – Buddy Knox

Buddy Knox died in 1999 at age 65 of lung cancer.

COME GO WITH ME  – THE DEL-VIKINGS

The Del-Vikings were a doo-wop group made up of members from the Armed Forces. They also hold the distinction of being the first racially integrated rock ‘n’ roll group in history, comprised of four black men and one white man. Their name was a vague attempt to sound mysterious by adding “Del” to their original name, “The Vikings”. “Come Go With Me” written by Del-Vikings member Clarence Quick,  reached Number Four in the Billboard Pop Chart and sold a million copies, earning a gold disc. The doo-wop accompaniment is truly transcendent and has a sense of timelessness while still deeply rooted in its time. The saxophone solo in the middle of the song introduced an alternative to the electric guitar solo.

“Love, love me darlin’, come and go with me, please don’t send me, ‘way beyond the sea; I need you, darlin’, so come go with me.” Come Go With Me – Del-Vikings

LOVE IS STRANGE – MICKEY AND SILVIA

Mickey Baker was considered one of the best guitarists in his day, bridging R&B rhythms with rock ‘n’ roll much like his peers Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. Silvia Vanderpool, who later married and became Silvia Robinson, was an entrepeneureal spirit, the first woman to be showcased playing an electric guitar, and who was instrumental in getting rap music off the ground in 1979 when she founded Sugar Hill Records and released the first rap song ever “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugar Hill Gang.  Before that, she had also scored a Top Hit by herself in 1973 called “Pillow Talk”, a very sexy song that was considered too risqué for radio.

But in 1955, Mickey was a guitar teacher and Silvia was his student. By 1957, they were a duo with a national hit.

Although released in November of 1956, “Love Is Strange” peaked at No. on the Billboard Pop Charts and hit Number One on the Billboard R&B chart in mid-January of 1957, remaining in the Top 40 for the next three months and selling over a million records. An earlier version had been released the previous May by Bo Diddley, who claimed authorship to the song, having put his wife’s name, Ethel Smith, as a co-writer instead.

According to Mickey and Silvia, Bo Diddley and Billy Stewart had written a song called “Billy’s Blues” together. When Mickey & Silvia heard it, they changed the lyrics and came up with “Love Is Strange”.

There is a dispute over who wrote the lyrics, both Diddley and M&S claiming their own rights. But it was the Mickey & Silvia’s version that gained popularity and the airplay, It’s distinction that set it apart from Bo Diddley’s version was its spoken word middle.

“Sylvia!”…”Yes, Mickey,”…”How do you call your Lover Boy?”…”Come here, Lover Boy!”…”And if he doesn’t answer?”…”Oh, Lover Boy!”…”And if he still doesn’t answer?”… “I simply say…(sung) Baby/ Oh baby/ My sweet baby/ You’re the one.” – Love Is Strange Mickey & Silvia

“Love Is Strange” stayed a rock ‘n’ roll classic thanks to so many covers by other legendary country and rock artists such as Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Sonny & Cher, Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton as well as Paul & Linda McCartney. in their 1971 album soon after Paul had left The Beatles.

The song also received help when it was showcased in two films years later. The first one was in 1972 when the notorious pornographic movie “Deep Throat” featured “Love Is Strange” but with different lyrics. The song was re-released as a B-Side single to “Time Of My Life” By Mill Medley and Jennifer Warnes as both songs are featured in 1987’s “Dirty Dancing” with Patrick Swayze.

The film cemented the song’s reputation and it can still be heard in TV commercials and wafting out of speakers every now and then.

Silvia Robinson died in 2011 of congestive heart failure at age 75. Mickey Baker died at age 87 in 2012.

SILHOUETTES – THE RAYS

Not to be confused with the same song released as a single months later by The Diamonds of “Little Darlin’” fame, The Rays’ version remains the definitive version of a classic pop doo-wop ballad. It started when songwriter Bob Crewe casually looked out the window of the train he was travelling on and noticed as he passed someone’s home that a couple were there, embracing behind the windowshade. The single became popular through a stroke of good luck when a DJ in Philadelphia fell asleep through the playing of a stack of records. When the stack ended, the last song was “Silhouettes” and it played over and over as DJ Hy Lit snored. Soon it peaked at Number Three on Billboard’s National Pop Chart.

“Silhouettes” has been re-recorded over the years, including as a Number hit for Herman’s Hermits in 1965, updating it with a Sixties feel.

MR. LEE – THE BOBBETTES

The Bobbettes hold the distinction of being the first girl group in rock ‘n’ roll history. They paved the way for every subsequent girl group, from The Ronettes, The Shirelles, Martha and the Vandellas to The Supremes, right on up to Destiny’s Child.

First known as The Harlem Queens, The Bobbettes began as neighborhood friends singing in the hallways of their apartment building and the streets of their neighborhood. Finally discovered by record producer James Daily at an Apollo Theater amateur night show, they were soon signed to Atlantic Records. Their first song “Mr. Lee”, a bouncy, catchy rock ‘n’ roll pop song, was originally written as a put-down of a teacher, but Atlantic records convinced them to change the lyrics into a song about a teenage girl’s crush on her professor. The song became a hit and peaked at Number Six in the Billboard Pop chart and Number One in the R&B chart in 1957. That made them the first girl group to appear in both charts

After the success of “Mr. Lee”, The Bobbettes insisted they record the put down version of the song. “I Shot Mr. Lee” was recorded at Atlantic but the record company refused to release it. The song was shocking, especially for its time, when rock ‘n’ roll lyrics were usually about  dancing and falling in love, this song was about murder.

“I picked up my gun and I went to his door, now Mr. Lee can tell me no more, he hollered help, help, murder, police… Six, seven, eight, Mr. Lee had a date, nine, ten, eleven, now he’s up in heaven… shot him in the head, boom boom, uh oh…”  -“I Shot Mr. Lee” by The Bobbettes

The Bobbettes took the song to another record company and it was released by, ironically enough, Triple-X Records in 1950, where it went up to Number 52. Seeing that it charted, Atlantic records subsequently released their version of the song.

Both The Bobbettes and the song “Mr. Lee” were instrumental to the direction of rock ‘n’ roll, introducing the world of girl groups to the genre and pushing the envelope with lyrics that would rarely be sung in a pop song, until way towards the last decade of the twentieth century when Live Crew paved the way for being able to sing about anything, and rap artists like Eminem, composing songs with violent themes.

At the writing of this in 2014, only one member, Emma Pought, remains alive. The first member to have died was her sister Jenny Paught, at the hands of a stranger who stabbed her to death in New Jersey in 1980.

JIM DANDY – LAVERN BAKER

LaVern Baker had signed to Atlantic Records in 1953 and had several successful singles over the subsequent years. “Jim Dandy” however, released in late 1956 and charting to Number on the R&B chart and Number 17 on the Pop chart in early ’57, is a rock ‘n’ roll standard.  Remade by the country rock group Black Oak Arkansas in 1974, “Jim Dandy” easily crossed over genres and defined itself as a rock ‘n’ roll song for that feat.  LaVern Baker’s voice belted the song out with a powerful force. Black Oak Arkansas’ version required two singers, both of them with distinctive voices, the raspy sounding Jim “Dandy” Mangrum and the equally raspy Ruby Starr shared the vocal chops and brought the song up to another level, from an R&B tune to a hard rock song. Both versions do the song justice, making “Jim Dandy” one of the most influential songs in rock ‘n’ roll history.

LARRY WILLIAMS

Larry Williams has but been forgotten under the shadow of Little Richard’s phenomenal trend-setting success. In fact, many songs by Williams can easily be mistakenly attributed to Little Richard. His career began as soon as Little Richard decided to give up rock ‘n’ roll for a life in the ministry in 1957. Both good friends and co-artists for Specialty Records, Williams bid Little Richard well as Williams was selected by Specialty House Producer Robert Blackwell to ascend to the throne Little Richard was vacating.

SHORT FAT FANNIE

His second single after the uneventful and boring “High School Dance” stalled, “Short Fat Fannie” was also the first novelty rock ‘n’ roll song to include other famous rock ‘n’ roll song titles. He also sounded a lot like Little Richard.

“I was slippin’ and slidin’ with Long Tall Sally… She’s my tutti fruiti,I love the child so, she watch me like a hound dog everywhere I go, whenever I’m around her I’m on my p’s and q’s, she might step on my blue suede shoes…” “Short Fat Fannie” by Larry Williams<

“Short Fat Fannie” hit Number Five on the Billboard pop chart and Number One on the R&B chart. Various artists from Little Richard himself to Levon Helm of The Band (turning it from an R&B song to a rockin’ rockabilly number), The Beatles (in the film “Let It Be”) and many more artists have covered the song. John Lennon was a particularly avid fan of Larry Williams work, having recorded no less than three of his compositions as The Beatles.

BONY MARONIE

Williams’ next single “Bony Maronie” was released in 1958 and didn’t chart as well as “SFF”, reaching only to Number 14 in the Billboard Pop chart and Number Four in the R&B chart. Apparently listeners preferred fat fannies to Williams’ opposite, bony ones. But ”BM’s” effect on the future of rock ‘n’ roll music was in many ways more profound than “SFF”. Little Richard of course covered the song, seeing such similarities in musical style between him and Williams, and practically steals the song from Williams with his unique exuberance and energy.

Among other legendary artists, The Who has included it in its touring repertoire in the early 70s  and John Lennon recorded his own version of “Bony Maronie”, a more pedantic, crunching version,  in 1975 for his “Rock And Roll” album.

“Bony Maronie” holds the distinction of having been translated into Spanish and sung by various Latin artists over the decades. Renamed “Popotitos”, the Latin rock group Saru Giran made it popular to a new generation of Latin audiences in 1982, and was later also remade by Ricky Martin.

DIZZY MISS LIZZIE/SLOW DOWN

Mistaken for a Little Richard song for its distinct similarity to “Good Golly Miss Molly”, “Dizzy Miss Lizzie”, also released in ’58, was made famous when The Beatles recorded it in 1965 for their “Help” album (released in America in “The Beatles VI”).

Paul McCartney regards it as one of their slickest productions to date. John Lennon was obviously such a Williams fan that he played and recorded it in 1969 when he performed with The Plastic Ono Band on stage in Canada and preserved the event in the “Live Peace In Toronto” album. The Plastic Ono Band was a “revolving door” of artists who would be enlisted by J&Y to play with them at any given moment This first incarnation of the band included besides John & Yoko, Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Klaus Voorman on bass and Alan White on drums. John played rhythm guitar and Yoko wailed and put a bag over herself.

Lennon also sings a rousing version of the B-side to “DML”, “Slow Down”.  of the Beatles’ recordings of Larry Williams songs were performed and sung with such exuberance by them as to even surpass the original recordings. Critics of The Beatles’ version do exist however, pointing out to a moment at :14 in the recording when the piano disappears for a few seconds, which if you’re not looking for you’ll miss, and the fact that George’s lead guitar solo does indeed feel a little aimless and searching for a groove that he never seems to quite find.

After that last dynamite single, Williams would not chart again in the Hot 100 for another nine years, and even then only making it to Number 96.

Larry Williams died of a gunshot wound to the head in 1980. Police called it a suicide although questions remain over the actual cause of his death.

LLOYD PRICE

Lloyd Price almost missed his opportunity for success because he was drafted and wound up fighting in Korea in 1954. Although he had already been recording before his tour of duty, his only hit had been his first recording “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” in 1952.

“Lawdy Miss Clawdy” features Fats Domino on piano, and his familiar “trilling” playing can be heard at the outset. Price wrote the song as a teenager when he worked at New Orleans radio station WBOK. The DJ he worked with used to say Lawdy Miss Clawdy before his on-air commercial pitches, and Price came up with a melody to accompany him. Soon, the melody itself became popular among the ‘Nawlins’ radio audience so he wrote the entire song. In 1952 he audtitioned for Art Rupe, founder of Specialty Records, the label that would later sign Little Richard and Larry Williams. The single was released in early 1952 and introduced the New Orleans Sound. It spent twenty-six weeks on Billboard’s R&B chart, including seven weeks at the Number One positions, but it never charted in the pop charts despite the fact that the single had sold more than a million records. It was an early pre-cursor to rock ‘n’ roll and it opened white teenagers’ ears to the new sound that in just a few years was going to be coming their way like a tsunami.

Fats Domino pointed out that the melody from “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” was taken from his own composition he released two years earlier in 1950 called “The Fat Man”, which in turn borrowed its melody from an old blues song called  “Junkers Blues”.

“Lawdy Miss Clawdy” is now considered one of the first rock ‘n’ roll songs ever recorded and set the pattern of the New Orleans style of rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis recorded his own version. So did Little Richard. Larry Williams got the inspiration for his “Dizzy Miss Lizzie” undoubtedly from the “LMC” title. Sixties rock artists were weaned on the song, including Eric Burdon with and without The Animals, The Hollies, Joe Cocker, Paul McCartney and The Beatles, who played their version of the song in their film “Let It Be”.

When Price came back from Korea in 1956, he found that Little Richard had replaced him in importance over at his label Specialty Records. To add insult to injury, his chauffer, Larry Williams had already begun to chart with the aforementioned “Short Fat Fannie”  and subsequent hits. This got Price eager to get back to work. He began his own record label and recorded “Just Because” which was picked up by ABC Records in 1957 and became his first pop chart hit.

John Lennon recorded “Just Because” in 1975 as the close to his rock ‘n’ roll album and incudes a tongue in cheek goodbye at the end of the song that foreshadowed Lennon’s five year old retirement from writing and recording until 1980 when he resurfaced with “Double Fantasy”.

Lloyd Price broke through the pop charts and hit Number One with his following single “Stagger Lee” a remake of an old 1923 folk song turned into a rocking tune about the murder of Billy Lyons by “Stag” Lee Shelton in 1895. Apparently Stag Shelton was a pimp and got into an argument with fellow underworld member Lyons in a saloon where Lyons wound up dead. Shelton was incarcerated in 1897 and his story became American folklore, with varying renditions being sung about calling “Stag” Lee Shelton everything from “StackoLee” to “Stagolee” to “Stagger Lee” among many other variations.

“Stagger Lee” reached Number One on the Pop and R&B charts in 1959 despite its violent lyrics. TV shows like “American Bandstand” would require Price to “tone down” the lyrics when he performed them on the air. Price’s voice was put to full use in this full-throated song, complete with a great sax ending. Covers and sequels of the song abounded over the years. It was remade by Pat Boone, Ike & Tina Turner, James Brown, Wilson Pickett (who was the first artist to sign on to Lloyd price’s record label) and Amy Winehouse among many others.

The Grateful Dead sings a version that continues the story after Lyons is shot down and his wife goes to exact revenge on Stag.

The Clash sings about Stag and Billy where Billy is the bad guy in “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” off of their 1979 album “London Calling”.

Subsequent groups performed recorded the song over the years, most recently by The Black Keys in 2006 with a similar song called “Stack Shot Billy”.

“Stagger Lee” has also been heard and referred to in films such as “Grindhouse” and “Black Snake Moan”.

Lloyd Price’s next hit “Personality” was released that same year and would reach to Number Two in the Pop charts and give him his nickname, “Mr. Personality”. It was co-written with his long time business associate Harold Logan who would be shot to death in 1969.

Lloyd Price is a survivor. In the 70s Price owned a Manhattan restaurant/nightclub called Turntable. He helped fun Don King’s “Rumble In The Jungle” event matching Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.  Today in 2014 at age 81, he manages Icon Food Brands which sells Lawdy Miss Clawdy southern style food products, and every so often, will still perform.

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