Archive for the ‘Rock n Roll 1958 Part 4’ Category

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.

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