Grab Bag No. 2

Originally posted December 19, 2008

One of the things I noticed yesterday while watching the performance by Country Joe and the Fish at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival was how normal the audience looked.

After all, 1967 was the year of the hippie. Supposedly, all the boy in the U.S. were growing their hair long and sporting beards, and all the girls were wandering around without wearing foundational garments, and both genders were smoking pot and dropping acid, and everybody was having sex with everybody else every night.

But the crowd at the festival – at least those young folks on camera – looked normal, like cheerleaders and math majors who just wanted to hear the music. And this was during June 1967, the so-called “Summer of Love,” supposedly the height of hippie civilization just up the coast in San Francisco.

I’ve thought the same thing whenever I’ve watched Woodstock, the filmed account of the famed 1969 festival in upstate New York: Sure, there are some counter-culture characters, most notably the folks from the famous Hog Farm, who helped keep festival-goers fed during that weekend. There were some hippie campers, and the moviemakers kept an eye on them. And yes, there were kids casting off clothes and inhibitions to skinny-dip in the pond (but they may have been in good part driven by necessity, given the vast numbers of people who showed up and the relative paucity of showers available). Mostly, though, the kids at the festival were normal kids who wanted to hear the tunes.

Comparing the crowd scenes in Woodstock to those from the Monterey festival, one can see that boys’ hair is generally longer and the wardrobes are, at times, a little more flamboyant. But generally, even at Woodstock, the crowd looks pretty normal. And when I ponder all of that, I come to the conclusion – not an original one, I am certain – that the hippie was, in very many ways, a creation of the mainstream media.

Oh, I have no doubt that there were folks in San Francisco – where the idea was born – who called themselves “hippies” in place of a label selected for them by others. And others who were truly counter-cultural across the U.S. and elsewhere gladly took up the tag. But once that little bit of counter-cultural toothpaste was out of the tube, the media took the label and sprinted through the crowded youth of 1967, slapping the hippie label on anyone who was older than, oh, fifteen and younger than thirty and who looked, dressed or thought a little bit differently than their peers.

That meant, I think – and this is all off the top of my head from memory and from the sense I’ve gotten from histories and commentaries over the years; no huge amount of research has gone into this today – that there were a lot fewer real hippies than there were adults complaining and worrying about the damage the hippies were going to do to the world. Parents, I think, saw their previously sweet and unaffected children beginning to wear leather vests and tie-dye shirts, granny glasses and granny dresses, and those parents stayed awake into the night worrying “Is my child a hippie?” in much the same way parents in later years would worry “Is my child a Moonie?”

So I don’t believe there were all that many hippies, though there were a lot of wannabes. (And the real hippies and even the wannabes soon rejected the label once it had been taken over and exploited by the media, in favor of the word “freak.” Remember Arlo Guthrie at Woodstock: “Wow! Lotta freaks!”) But the omni-presence of hippies in the news media created opportunities for some folks to make money in that most American of ways: capitalizing on a trend. And lots of businesses did just that.

When I dipped my hand into the box of unplayed 45s this week, selecting three records for this Grab Bag, I came up with one of the artifacts of that time, a perfect – to me – example of capitalizing on that trend to the point of silliness.

Linda Cassady – “Is Santa Claus A Hippy”
Linda Cassady – “What Do You Do”
(Metro Country 2010, prob. 1967 or 1968)

What do I know about Linda Cassady? Not much, but we start with the fact that she recorded at least one single for the Metro Country label, which was based in Nashville. (The label’s records were distributed by Starday-King Records, also in Nashville.) She wrote at least a little bit, as the record’s B-Side – not all that good or remarkable – is credited to her. And someone named Jack Cassady – presumably Linda’s husband, though I do not know for sure – wrote the A-Side, which may be a minor classic in the “Let’s make a quick buck on a cultural phenomenon” derby:

Here’s the first thing that comes to mind: Even though the Cassadys and the others who helped put out this record were capitalizing on a cultural trend, they were nevertheless culturally tone-deaf. None of the folks involved with this record – not the Cassadys, not producer Jim Hurley, no one at Cinnamon Music, which published the song or anyone else – knew how to spell “hippie”!

Beyond that and what I can glean from the label, I know nothing about this record or the Cassadys. There was no information at All-Music Guide. When I first Googled the record’s title, I saw that WFMU’s Beware of the Blog had posted the record on Wednesday of this week – with two other records of similar nature – and I saw that the version there was released on a label called Nashville Country. I don’t know which was the original.

The Google search also turned up a fair number of other singles by Linda Cassady offered for sale around the ’Net. (She recorded for Cin-Kay and Soundwaves, to name two of the label names that popped up frequently.) Both the Google search and a Google blog search turned up links to pages about other women with the same name. But hard information was elusive. I’m not even sure what year this came out. And that’s okay. We at least know that Santa Claus is not a hippy.

Camptown Singers – “Toni”
Camptown Singers – “Trouble With A Woman”
(Sue 785, 1963)

I had a little bit better luck finding information about the second record I pulled from the box for today, although my digging started poorly. At Soulful Kinda Music – a generally good place to start – the record is listed in the Sue discography, but it’s the only record in that discography by the Camptown Singers. And there’s no individual discography for the Camptown Singers.

Nor are there listings offering for sale any other records by the Camptown Singers. Unless I missed something, a Google search turns up a few more copies of Sue 785 but nothing else, except for listings of singers in Camptown, Pennsylvania, and a reference to a group called the Camptown Singers from the early 20th century. A Google blog search is even less rewarding: There’s no mention at all of the Camptown Singers in any of the blogs indexed. (I’d never seen a shutout before.)

So we turn to the label for whatever we can glean. Both sides of the record give a writer’s credit to Joseph Van Winkle, who is also listed on the record label as A&R (Artists & Repertoire) man for Sue Records, or at least for the Camptown Singers. I thought for a moment that he might have some kind of connection with Van Winkle of Teegarden & Van Winkle (“God, Love and Rock & Roll,” No. 22 in 1970), but the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits tells me that Van Winkle was actually named Skip Knape.

Joseph Van Winkle, however, did show up in a Google search. It turns out that Mr. Van Winkle helped co-write a No. 1 song. It might be one of the worst songs and records ever to get to No. 1, but there it was. Van Winkle, along with Fred Darian and Al de Lory, wrote (and the three likely arranged and produced) Larry Verne’s “Mr. Custer,” an Era Records release that spent one week on top of the chart in October of 1960. (All-Music Guide lists a few other songs credited to Van Winkle’s pen as well.)

Why do I say that trio “likely arranged and produced” “Mr. Custer”? Because the label on the Camptown Singers single also listed all three names. Van Winkle, as I noted earlier, was listed as a writer on both sides. Darian produced both sides. And de Lory was credited with the arrangement for “Trouble With A Woman.”

There’s one other nifty bit of information on the label. Van Winkle’s co-writer on “Trouble With A Woman” (which I think is the better of the two sides, although both are pretty decent early Sixties R&B) was a fellow named Dobie Gray, who later had four hits of his own, including the sublime “Drift Away,” which went to No. 5 in 1973. (A remake of the same song by Uncle Kracker “featuring Dobie Gray” went to No. 9 in thirty years later.)

The Innocence – “There’s Got To Be A Word!”
The Innocence – “I Don’t Wanna Be Around You”
(Kama Sutra 214, 1966)

This one turned out to be easy!

There’s nothing all that remarkable about the record. It’s your basic sunshine pop, and the A-Side went to No. 34 in early 1967. But it was fairly easy to figure out who the Innocence was: Pete Anders and Vinnie Poncia, a performing, writing and production team that had been together for a few years – working for, among others, Phil Spector – before becoming the Innocence. In 1965, as the Trade Winds, they’d recorded and released “New York’s A Lonely Town,” a single on the famed Red Bird label that went to No. 32. (In 1989, writer Dave Marsh ranked “New York’s A Lonely Town” at No. 349 among the 1001 best singles in his book, The Heart of Rock & Soul.)

As the Innocence, the duo of Anders and Poncia also released a self-titled album on the Kama Sutra label, but the album didn’t sell well. Another single, “Mairzy Doats,” went to only No. 75, and that was (sorry about this!) the end of the Innocence. In 1969, the duo released The Anders & Poncia Album on Warner Brothers, but that went nowhere as well. AMG says that the duo teamed up once more in the 1970s but says nothing about what might have resulted from the reunion.

What we do know is that Poncia stayed in music in roles other than lead performer. He was actively involved in Ringo Starr’s career in the early 1970s, playing some instruments, earning some song-writing credits and even being listed as co-producer of Goodnight Vienna in 1974. From then on, Poncia worked with Peter Criss of Kiss and then with Kiss itself, producing a sequence of albums evidently considered travesties by most Kiss fans. During the Eighties, Poncia continued to produce, but AMG says that after co-writing some songs for Hot in the Shade, a 1989 released by Kiss, “it appears as though Poncia has retired from music altogether.”

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One Response to “Grab Bag No. 2”

  1. And In This Corner . . . | Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] the Innocence, and their single, “There’s Got To Be A Word” and its B-Side were the topic of a post in December. With “New York’s A Lonely Town,” Poncia and Anders – along with a group of top […]

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