Archive for the ‘Grab Bag’ Category

Grab Bag No. 6

May 15, 2022

Originally posted August 19, 2009

In the early 1930s, while knocking around Hollywood, a comedian and banjo player named Harry Edward Stewart knew that he needed a new act. Hollywood was jammed with comedians and banjo players. So Harry dipped into his Scandinavian heritage: He was born in the state of Washington in 1908 to Elise Skarbo and her Norwegian-born husband Hans. (He got the surname Stewart after he was given up for adoption after his mother’s death.) Then he added a bit of whimsy.

And he became Yogi Yorgesson, the Hindu mystic from Stockholm, Sweden. According to a biography of Stewart at yogiyorgesson.com, he would wear a turban while he “gazed into a small fish bowl turned upside down as his ‘crystal ball’ and would make statements such as, ‘I can see my face on da udder side.’ That was his line, but his skit also answered questions that were posed to him by listeners. Actually, the listeners’ questions were simply part of the script that he wrote. He used an exaggerated Swedish dialect to add to the humor.”

Through the 1930s and 1940s, Stewart worked numerous sides of the entertainment business in radio, in advertising, script-writing for radio, directing and more, as well as recording and touring as Yogi, who became more and more famous. In 1950, according to the biography at his website, Yorgesson went to Minnesota, where his records had been selling well. The folks there like his songs, but his swami act – with the turban and the upside-down fishbowl – went over less well. So Stewart remade Yogi as a “country ‘bumpkin,’ wearing a straw hat, dressed in rube clothes and chewing on a straw.”

It was in 1949 that Yogi recorded the songs for which most people remember him (thanks in large part to frequent airplay by odd record maven Dr. Demento): “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas/Yingle Bells.” But Yogi recorded and released plenty of other records (and Stewart also recorded as other ethnic characters, including the Japanese character Harry Kiri).

The record that came out of my mystery box this morning was Yogi Yorgesson’s answer to the Davy Crockett craze that swept across the U.S. in 1955. When Walt Disney produced and aired Davy Crockett starring Fess Parker, it sparked a merchandising mania likely unseen before; every kid in the U.S. wanted a Davy Crockett something. Part of that mania was the song, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” with three different versions reaching the Billboard charts: Bill Hayes’ version was No. 1 for four weeks and No. 7 for the year; Tennessee Ernie Ford’s recording went to No. 4 on the country chart and No. 5 on the pop chart and was No. 37 for the year; and the version by Fess Parker, star of the television show, peaked at No. 6 on the weekly chart and was No. 31 for the year.

Seeing an opening, Harry Stewart wrote the “Ballad of Ole Svenson” and got it released on Capitol. It’s broad-based, gentle ethnic humor, and it provides a few chuckles. I can’t find any indication of how popular the record was, but it no doubt went over better in the Upper Midwest, the Pacific Northwest and the few other places where Scandinavian heritage is strongest. I may be wrong about that, though, as Stewart had toured for years all over the country as Yogi Yorgesson.

The B-Side features Yogi in his role as “Lonesome Loverboy” promoting in typical Yorgesson style a great new perfume for the ladies.

(The record is in pretty bad shape, and there are even a couple of skips on the A-Side. I’m posting it so readers can get an idea of Stewart’s gig as Yogi. If you want better quality or more of Stewart’s work, you’ll find an email link and a phone number at the Yogi Yorgesson website.)

Yogi Yorgesson
“Ballad of Ole Svenson/Lonesome Loverboy” [Capitol 3089, 1955]

The Dynamics were one of the many doo-wop groups who managed to get recording deals and put out a few records during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The website Doo-Wop has a few sketchy details about the group and lists four records, two for Arc and two for Decca.

One of the Decca records – a 1960 release – surfaced here this morning: “Seems Like Only Yesterday/How Should I Feel.” As there seems to be nothing on the ’Net beyond that sparse information at Doo-Wop, we’ll have to see what we can glean from the label.

Here’s a nugget: The last Grab Bag featured a record by the Toppers, with both sides “directed” by Jack Pleis (a function that I assume is equivalent to today’s producer). Pleis’ name shows up again today, as he directed both sides of the Dynamics’ record. He was – one would think – a house producer for Decca.

Let’s look at the writers: “Seems Like Only Yesterday,” which seems to be the A-Side, was written by committee, with credits going to Paul Nucilla (sic), Bill Jennings, Walter Price, Albert Price and Richard D. Lombardo. The B-Side, “How Should I Feel,” is credited to Tom DeCillis and Richard D. Lombardo. Hmm. The photo of the group at Doo-Wop shows six young men. Could these be their names? I’m not sure how likely it might have been for the group to have crafted its own material, so it could be we have the names of six staff writers for Decca. I really don’t know.

[Note from 2022: According to discogs.com, the Dynamics were Albert Price, Walter Price, Walter Popdora, Chester Popdora, Bill Jennings and Paul Nocilla, so four of the group’s members were involved in writing “Seems Like Only Yesterday” and none were involved in writing “How Should I Feel.” Note added May 15, 2022.]

And there’s not a lot of information out there. All-Music Guide has listings for a few groups of the same name, none of which seem to be the same group. Searches at AMG for the song titles come up with nothing for “How Should I Feel” and several hits for “Seems Like Only Yesterday” But none of them are the right song: Three of the hits are for a tune first recorded by Jesse Winchester in 1977, one is for a track from a 2007 release by a group called Undercurrent, and one is for a reissue of an album track recorded by the Four Seasons for a 1964 album. That sounds a little promising, but it’s a different song with different writers.

One thing I did learn, this from the website of Doo Wop Shoo Bop Records: The single was re-released in 1962 as Decca 31450, not that it seems to have received any notice. My copy, the 1960 release, has some noise on it, but it’s worth a listen. “Seems Like Only Yesterday,” once it gets going, has some nice Four Seasons-ish percussion in the background. “How Should I Feel” is less, well, dynamic.

(Both sides of the single – along with two other Dynamics’ recordings and a lot of others from the same era – are available on a CD titled He Digs Doo-Wop Volume #7. Just Google the title and you’ll find plenty of links, if you’re interested.)

The Dynamics
“Seems Like Only Yesterday/How Should I Feel” [Decca 31046, 1960]

The Miller Sisters, according to Mitch Rosalsky’s Encyclopedia of Rhythm & Blues and Doo-Wop Vocal Groups, were the daughters – Jeanette, Maxine, Nina, Sandy and Vernel – of William Miller of Hull Records. Between 1955 and 1965, the sister released twenty singles on a variety of labels, including Hull. There’s no entry for the sisters in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, so they never made that chart, but I have no idea if they reached any of the other charts.

One of their singles was “Walk On/Oh Why,” released in 1962 on the Rayna label. The A-Side is a pretty good dance tune that name-checks a number of current dance crazes like the hully-gully, the twist and the mashed potato. The B-Side is a ballad with some thunderous percussion that’s a little reminiscent of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.

There’s no mention of the sisters at AMG. So all I have is the label on the record and Rosalsky’s encyclopedia. From the record, I know that the Miller Sisters’ father wrote at least some of their songs, as he’s credited with both sides of the single. Then, according to Rosalsky, the sisters “had a starring role in the first R&B motion picture, Fritz Pollard’s Rockin’ the Blues, in 1955.”

Miller Sisters
“Walk On/Oh Why” [Rayna 5004, 1962]

Toppers, Maxine Starr & The Inmates

May 12, 2022

Originally posted July 27, 2009

Who were the Toppers? Who was Maxine Starr? And who were the Inmates?

Good questions all, because those are the artists on the three 45s that I pulled out of the mystery box this morning. Yes, it’s time for another Grab Bag!

The Toppers were a 1950s R&B vocal group. And either they or their producers – or perhaps both – had a penchant for risqué material, keeping in mind that what seems slightly risqué in 2009 could very likely have been near the acceptable edge in 1959 or earlier.

How do we know that? One of the songs that All Music Guide credits the Toppers with recording is “(I Love to Play Your Piano) Let Me Bang Your Box,” a ditty that shows up on two CD anthologies of bawdy R&B.

That penchant for naughtiness is one of the few bits of useful information about the Toppers at All-Music Guide. The names of the group members are not listed. There are a few credits from recordings currently included on CDs, and one of those CDs gives us a hint about the group’s origins. That CD is Mama Don’t Like It! 1950-1956, a collection of recordings by Smiley Lewis, a New Orleans artist. That’s not proof, but it’s a large hint that the Toppers were based in New Orleans as well.

That previously mentioned penchant for naughty titles also seems to account for the title of one of the sides I found in my mystery box: “It Was Twice As Big As I Thought It Was.” What was twice as big? Well, it isn’t what folks might think, but that’s the point of a risqué song title. The song itself is mild, and the mystery is solved in the final verse. The other side of the record – Decca 30297 – is a tidy little calypso tune called “Pots and Pans.”

“It Was Twice As Big . . .” was written by Tommie Connor and Jack Jordan, while “Pots and Pans” came from Diane Lampert and John Gluck, Jr. Both sides of the record were directed (produced, in today’s parlance, I imagine) by Jack Pleis. And that’s all the label can tell us.

So when was the record released? There’s no clear indication. One of the difficulties with 45s of this vintage – mid- to late 1950s or so – is that the labels rarely have copyright or issue dates on them. Those folks who are label design mavens could likely look at the records and know about when the record came out. But I am not one of those, so I have to rely on brute force and Google.

Just the name of the group and the title “It Was Twice As Big . . .” finds several copies of the record for sale. Adding “Jack Pleis” to the mix gets a few listings, but also begins to include the word “toppers” in the phrase “chart toppers.”

But Googling just “Decca 30297” by itself brings us some information. At a music forum at Mombu.com, we learn from a poster named Roger Ford that Decca 30297 “dates from 1957.”

Ford continues: “Doesn’t seem to have been mentioned in Billboard so here’s two clues
that help date it more accurately: Kitty Wells’ “Change Of Heart” on Decca 30288 was reviewed in [Billboard] May 6, 1957. And “Pots And Pans,” which was the “A” side, was released in England (with a different flip taken from an earlier Toppers record) in June 1957. I’d say it was an April 1957 release.”

So here you go:

“Pots and Pans” by the Toppers
“It Was Twice As Big As I Thought It Was” by the Toppers
Decca 30297 [1957]

Next up is Maxine Starr and her rock ’n’ roll version of “(I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time)” backed by “Love Is” on New-Hits records. The record label was kind enough to include A- and B-side information on the label, but interestingly enough, a Web search brings up – among very little else – a U.K. based record shop called Rare Northern Soul that’s offering the record for sale based on the B-side, “Love Is.”

I’m guessing, simply from the sound and style, that the record was issued in the early 1960s. But throwing the catalog number into the Web search brings no more information. The record exists, the ’Net tells me, and is for sale a number of places. There’s nothing at All Music Guide. And a ’Net search for Maxine Starr alone brings up a great number of results; some of them might be the Maxine Starr on the record, but I don’t know.

“(I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time)” was, of course, an old song by the time Maxine Starr recorded it. The best known version might have been the one recorded by the Andrews Sisters for Decca in 1940, and the song itself – written by Albert Von Tilzer and Neville Fleeson – dates to 1920, so Googling the title and writers won’t help us much with a record from what seems to be the early 1960s. But the B-side, “Love Is,” might not be as widely recorded a song, so we might glean something from Googling the song’s writers, Ralph Romano and Joe Burke. Well, we learn that the two men co-wrote the book Elbo Elf, but that’s all. And there’s no producer credit on the record label.

So we don’t know a lot about this one, not even a recording date. But I’m going to guess around 1962, just on a hunch. [A check at discogs.com, a site I did not know about when this piece was originally posted, verified that Starr’s record was in fact released in 1962.]

“(I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time)” by Maxine Starr
“Love Is” by Maxine Starr
New-Hits 3009 [1962]

Our third 45 for today is of a more recent vintage. In fact, the label tells us all the basic information. A group called the Inmates released “(I Thought I Heard A) Heartbeat” and “Show You My Way” on the Polydor label in 1980. So is there more information out there?

Well, yes, a little bit. The band’s entry at All-Music Guide is a little slender, but we learn that the members of the British group were Bill Hurley, Ben Donnelly, Peter Gunn, Barry Masters, Tony Oliver and Jim Russell. And the tracks on the 45 in question – both written by Russell – show up on the group’s 1980 album, Shot in the Dark.

But the single didn’t go anywhere: The Inmates’ only presence on the charts was for a cover of the Standells’ “Dirty Water,” which went to No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980. At the same time, the group’s first album, First Offence, went to No. 49 on the Billboard album chart. That first album was originally released in 1979 on Radar and later came out on Polydor, just as Shot in the Dark would be in 1980.

But even if the single didn’t get any attention when it came out, it’s a decent new wave/pub rock single.

“(I Thought I Heard A) Heartbeat” by the Inmates
“Show You My Way” by the Inmates
Polydor 2152 [1980]

Down From The Shelves

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 8, 2009

Once more into the Valley of the Unplayed!

Wondering what marvels – or otherwise – might be found today in the crates atop the bookcases, I reached up and pulled down a clutch of LPs this morning, and then I added one that had recently arrived in the mail. From those, I hoped to find six songs with minimal noise. And that’s what I came up with.

En route, I had to regretfully skip over several LPs that had too much surface noise: Tighten Up by Archie Bell & the Drells; Blues and Bluegrass by Mike Auldridge; Stranger on the Shore by Mr. Acker Bilk; Born Free by Andy Williams; and Golden Hits by Roger Miller. The greatest disappointment in that bunch would have been the Archie Bell & the Drells album, based simply on the expectations raised by the title track, one of the great singles of 1968. I was, in fact, a little relieved when Track Four, “You’re Mine,” turned out to have too much noise, as it was a pretty bad piece of filler. So I happily moved on.

I thought I’d start off with the one record I chose purposefully this morning: Chi Coltrane’s little-known third album, Road to Tomorrow arrived in the mail last week. Not long ago, someone left a note here about it. I did a quick Ebay search and found a copy for sale at a remarkably low price. And a week later, the mail carrier dropped it off.

I’ve listened to only bits and pieces of it, but I’m not impressed. I guess I didn’t expect to be, however, as Coltrane’s second album, Let It Ride, was also mediocre, with only one good track, her version of “Hallelujah” (done earlier by Sweathog and by the Clique). All in all – and I’m not sure why I sometimes dig into an some artists’ catalogs so deeply; I guess I’m hoping to hear something others missed – one can classify Coltrane’s work into three categories: One great single (1972’s “Thunder and Lightning”), her decent take on “Hallelujah” (offered here once before) and the rest.

Anyway, here’s Track Four of Coltrane’s 1977 album, Road to Tomorrow. It’s an okay piece of pop.

“Ooh Baby” by Chi Coltrane from Road to Tomrrow [1977]

One of the media storms of early 1978 concerned the film Pretty Baby, a fictional account of the lives of a photographer and several working girls during 1917 in New Orleans’ Storyville, the city’s red light district. There would have been little ruckus about the film, I imagine, had it not been for the inclusion of several nude scenes featuring the then-twelve-year-old Brooke Shields as the daughter of a prostitute who was, in effect, in training for the life herself.

The film, by Louis Malle, won the Technical Grand Prize at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival. More to the point for our purposes here, the film’s score won an Academy Award in the “Adaptadion Score” category, with its mix of jazz, ragtime and blues echoing the sound of New Orleans in the first decades of the Twentieth Century. I’ve had a copy of the soundtrack sitting around for more than ten years and have never felt compelled to listen to more than a track at a time or so. Maybe I’ll rip the whole thing now that it’s out of the crates.

“Pretty Baby” by the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra from the soundtrack to Pretty Baby [1978]

As I’ve noted here before, during 1998 and 1999, I was stockpiling records faster than I could play them. A couple of those showed up in the cluster of LPs I pulled from the crates today, including one that might never have been played by anybody.

When I pulled Patti La Belle’s Winner In You from its jacket and put it onto the turntable, I had to push fairly hard, as if it had never been placed on a spindle before. That, combined with the sheer gloss of the record and the lack of any noise as it played, told me that the record might be utterly new. At any rate, it had not been played often.

I’ve never been much of a Patti La Belle fan. I liked her work with LaBelle in the 1970s. (Who didn’t love “Lady Marmalade” and its lesson in essential French? It went to No. 1.) And I thought “On My Own,” her duet with Michael McDonald (another No. 1 hit), was okay. But for some reason – most likely the simple volume of records I had available to listen to – Winner In You, which included “On My Own,” stayed in the crates. I don’t think it will go back there; I’ll almost certainly listen to it and put it in the regular stacks this week, even if I don’t rip all of it to mp3s. Here’s Track Four:

“Kiss Away The Pain” by Patti La Belle from Winner In You [1986]

About once a year, since we moved to St. Cloud in 2002, the Texas Gal and I head down to the Twin Cities for some major shopping. That means fabric stores for her, bookstores for both of us, and, usually, a couple hours at Cheapo’s on Lake Street for me. During one of those visits, in 2005, I began to remedy a major gap in my collection.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of the best-known bands in the Twin Cities area was the Lamont Cranston Band (sometimes styled as the Lamont Cranston Blues Band). I knew of the band although I’d never seen it perform. But amid all the other music to collect and listen to, the hard-driving Lamont Cranston Band never seemed to make it onto my list. During one of our first summers in St. Cloud, the Texas Gal and I went to see the River Bats, St. Cloud’s team in a summer college baseball league.

And among the music used to rev up the crowd was Lamont Cranston’s “Upper Mississippi Shakedown.” Reminded of the band’s artistry, I put several of the group’s albums on my list, and during a 2005 visit to Cheapo’s, I found Up From The Alley. I put it in one of the crates to await its turn, and then I had absolutely forgot that I had it until this morning. A couple of the tracks from the album ended up on a 1993 CD of the band’s best work, including Track Four. But, holding true to the intent of this feature, I ripped the track from the vinyl this morning:

“Oughta Be A Law” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Up From The Alley [1980]

Michael Franks had one quirky near-hit in, I think, 1976 – “Popsicle Toes” – and I have three of his albums: I’ve listened to The Art of Tea and Sleeping Gypsy, but I’ve never pulled Tiger in the Rain, his 1979 album, out of the crates until this morning. And I’ve concluded this morning that the meandering quality that made “Popsicle Toes” seem pleasantly quirky in the mid-1970s now seems wearisome. I can’t fault the musicianship, but nothing about the track I ripped this morning grabs me at all.

“Hideaway” by Michael Franks from Tiger in the Rain [1979]

Quarterflash had one very good hit, “Harden My Heart” in 1981, amid a string of four albums that took the band into 1991. Having listened to a fair amount of the group via mp3s that other bloggers have sent me, nothing from the band’s self-titled debut seemed likely to surprise me. But “Valerie,” the fourth track on the record, did.

“Valerie” was written by Marv Ross, but as sung by his wife, Rindy (who plays the saxophone that gave Quarterflash its distinctive sound), it’s a little eye-opening for 1981: The song is an exploration of a budding same-sex relationship that startled the narrator enough that she passed up the chance for a romance and now seems to regret having done so.

The sound and production are clearly that of the Eighties, but the track has aged well, and Ross’ saxophone solo is a nice way to close.

“Valerie” by Quarterflash from Quarterflash [1981]

It’s Grab Bag Time!

October 3, 2012

Orignally posted May 15, 2009

A mid-May Friday seems like a good time to dig into the box of unsorted 45s and find some that aren’t too hacked up. So today’s a Grab Bag day.

In 1962, a singer named Tony Dale released “Bambinello,” a piece of standard pop with an annoying little organ part and an overmiked background chorus. He’s singing to an Italian girl, but in that case – and linguists, please weigh in here – shouldn’t it be “Bambinella”? There’s nothing really astounding about the record; it’s pretty standard pop for the time. The flip side, “Honey Bun,” is more of the same, but at least without the organ part.

Not a lot of information can be gleaned from the record label: “Bambinello” was written by a duo with the last names of Douglas and Laney and was published by Veronique Music. “Honey Bun” was written by Douglas and Laney with someone named Pastor and was published by Douglas Davilio Music.

There’s really nothing about the record out on the ’Net, just a few copies offered for sale and one entry in a discography. The record came out on the Rendezvous label, which, according to BSN Publications, was home to a band that included the great Earl Palmer on drums. Based on the description of the label’s logo, it’s the same record label, but there’s no mention of Tony Dale at BSN.

“Bambinello” and “Honey Bun” by Tony Dale, Rendezvous Records 184 [1962]

Another record that’s hard to find information about was recorded on the Hy Sign label by a singer named Marvin Kerry. “Sha-Marie” is a pretty nifty Cajun tune with some nice fiddle, and the flip side, “Beyond The Moon,” is pretty standard country with some nice weepy guitar and a vocal that’s pretty restrained. Hy Sign was located in Shreveport, Louisiana.

I did some digging at Rockin’ Country Style but couldn’t find much mention of the record beyond the fact that it’s been included on several anthologies released in the Netherlands and in England. Let’s see what the label tells us: “Sha-Marie” was written by B. Darnell and B. Hall and published by Central Songs, while “Beyond The Moon” came from the pen of Hap Martin and was published by La Dee Music. Both tracks were produced by Dee Marais.

A note at The Soul of the Net tells me that Hy Sign was a side project of Dee Marais’ in the early 1970s, when he was the owner of Murco Records, which seems to have focused on soul and R&B. I can find references to a few other releases on Hy Sign but nothing about Marvin Kerry’s single. My last shot, I figured, was to call the phone number for Hy Sign printed on the record label. As I expected, the number is no longer in service. At this point, I’m not even sure about the date of the record except for the one reference to the early 1970s. So I’m just tagging it “ca. 1970.”

“Sha-Marie” and “Beyond The Moon” by Marvin Kerry, Hy Sign 1111 [ca. 1970]

Things got a little easier after that. In 1968, trumpeter Harry James released an album titled Harry James & His Western Friends. Here’s the review from All-Music Guide:

“Big band leader Harry James dons chaps and a ten-gallon hat for this late ’60s foray into the world of country and western music. Other pop acts, including the Norman Luboff Choir and Arthur Fiedler, enjoyed success with choral and orchestral adaptations of western material, so James’ trumpet treatments didn’t come completely out of left field. Credited to Harry James and His Western Friends, the album jettisons James’ big band in favor of an ensemble consisting of the rhythm section from his band and some string players and guitarists. James and his trumpet riff on the melodies of western classics like ‘Cimarron’ and ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds,’ and straight country songs such as ‘Make the World Go Away,’ ‘He’ll Have to Go,’ and ‘Faded Love.’ ‘Mexicali Rose’ and ‘Vaya Con Dios’ add a Tex-Mex flavor, and ‘San Antonio Rose’ swings in the western way. James is a jazz artist, not an easy listening instrumentalist, so he doesn’t stick to the melody – he improvises and explores over the solid foundation of Jimmie Haskell’s workmanlike country-pop charts. The result is a hybrid between Nashville Sound-style country music and trumpet jazz, an intriguing experiment that shows James’ open-mindedness and willingness to stray from the beaten path.”

One of the singles released from the album had “San Antonio Rose” backed with “Cimarron.” I’m not sure which was the A Side, but both tracks are pleasant, falling – as I thought even before reading the AMG review – somewhere between jazz, country and easy listening.

“San Antonio Rose” and “Cimarron” by Harry James and His Western Friends, Dot 16944 [1968]

The fourth playable 45 I grabbed from the box this morning was a single pulled from a soundtrack. I don’t know how many soundtracks and film themes Henry Mancini wrote and recorded in his long career – the listing at All-Music Guide is longer than I want to count this morning – but many of them are memorable and instantly recognizable: “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Dear Heart” and many more.

Then there’s the record I pulled out of the box this morning, credited to Henry Mancini, His Orchestra and Chorus: “The Sweetheart Tree” and the “Pie-In-The-Face Polka,” both from the soundtrack to the 1965 film The Great Race. The former is pretty saccharine, even for a mid-1960s soundtrack, and the latter is just goofy. Well, it was a pretty goofy movie, from what I recall, so that fits. And they can’t all be “Moon River,” can they?

“The Sweetheart Tree” and “Pie-In-The-Face Polka” by Henry Mancini, His Orchestra and Chorus, from the soundtrack to The Great Race [1965]

Grab Bag No. 3

December 16, 2011

Originally posted January 23, 2009

Getting around at last to digging into Grab Bag No. 3, I find that the Texas Gal and I pulled some fairly interesting records out of the box. And happily, they’re all in pretty good shape. We’ve got some late 1960s country, an early 1960s movie theme and a little bit of late 1980s anger.

First up, the country record: It’s by one of the true giants of country music, Eddy Arnold, who crossed over last May at the age of eighty-nine. In his long career, Arnold had a total of 147 songs on the charts, including twenty-eight No. 1 hits on the Billboard country chart. Today’s record wasn’t one of those No. 1 hits, but it didn’t miss by much.

“Misty Blue,” which went to No. 3, was pulled from Arnold’s 1966 album, The Last Word in Lonesome. It’s a sweet and simple love song by Bob Montgomery that Arnold sings with his customary assurance. The B-Side is Wayne Thompson’s “Calling Mary Names,” one of those songs that take the narrator from childhood to adulthood; as a kid, he calls Mary names that are never specified, but they got him in trouble in school. Along the way, Mary changes, and now he calls her names like “sweetheart.”

Both sides of the single were arranged and conducted by Bill Walker, and Nashville standout Chet Atkins produced both.

“Misty Blue” by Eddy Arnold, RCA Victor 9182 (1967)

“Calling Mary Names” by Eddy Arnold, RCA Victor 9182 (1967)

The Texas Gal actually pulled five 45s from the box of unsorted records the other day, and my plan was to offer here the three that played best. One of the three I’d settled on was an EP titled Ray Anthony Plays For Star Dancing, four sweet performances from 1957 by Ray Anthony and his orchestra. (The EP was one of three in a series; all twelve performances were issued on an LP, too.) Sadly, there was just too much surface noise for me to be happy with the record. Maybe another Ray Anthony record waits in the box.

But that left me a record short, so I reached into the box this morning and pulled out a relative rarity: a record in its original sleeve, or at least in the record label’s standard sleeve. And the 1961 Pat Boone record in that sleeve is a movie theme whose words proclaim thoughts that echo in today’s headlines.

The film was Exodus, a screen adaptation of the Leon Uris novel of the same name. The book and the film were about (choose your viewpoint) either the settling and creation of the land of Israel as a Jewish homeland after the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, or the theft of Palestine from its original inhabitants.

“The Exodus Song” makes it clear which side Uris, the movie-makers and Boone were on, as it proclaims in the opening words: “This land is mine. God gave this land to me.” Why are we sure Boone is on that side and not just singing? Well, actually, we can’t be entirely sure, but Boone wrote the lyric to the song (Ernest Gold wrote the music), and one can only assume. I may be wrong.

I saw the movie with my folks when it came out in 1961, and I recall being moved by – among other things – Gold’s soundtrack, but based on the LP of the soundtrack, it doesn’t appear that Boone’s performance was used in the film. At least it didn’t make it to the record. And Boone’s performance of the song isn’t all that great, anyway. The song – whatever one makes of the viewpoint of its lyrics – is too big for Boone.

Boone does better on the B-Side, at least as far as performance goes. The flip side of the single is a recording of “There’s A Moon Out Tonight,” a cover of the Capri’s No. 3 hit from the early months of 1961. Boone does an okay job with the song – he doesn’t seem utterly lost as he did during some of his covers, most notably “Long Tall Sally” from 1956 – but he’s still far shy of the luminous quality of the Capri’s performance.

“The Exodus Song” by Pat Boone, Dot 16176, 1961

“There’s A Moon Out Tonight” by Pat Boone, Dot 16176, 1961

I’m not sure where I got the above two records. I think the Eddy Arnold was a Leo Rau record, and I’m pretty sure that the Pat Boone was in one of the boxes I got during the early 1990s from my friend Fran at Bridging Inc.

But I have absolutely no idea how I ended up with today’s third record, a single from an Austin, Texas, group called the Pocket FishRmen. Maybe in a box at a garage sale. I tagged the record – which was recorded in 1989 – as punk, because it’s angry and ragged. Maybe it should be called something else. Anyone out there have any ideas?

The group has a MySpace page with some of its stuff available there, and there’s a piece here from the Austin Chronicle about the group’s final gig. Members of the group at the time the single was recorded were Brant Bingamon, Chris Burns, Marcus Trejo and Ron Williams.

The A-Side of the record is “The Leader Is Burning,” written by Bingamon, and the B-Side is “Yr Story,” written by Williams. The single was on Noiseville Records of Yonkers, New York, but there’s no catalog number. Burns produced both songs on the single.

“The Leader Is Burning” by the Pocket FishRmen, Noiseville Records, 1989

“Yr Story” by the Pocket FishRmen, Noiseville Records, 1989

Grab Bag No. 2

November 9, 2011

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.”

Grab Bag No. 1

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 5, 2008

One of the annual events during my days at Lincoln Elementary School (1958-65) was the school carnival, presented each autumn as – I think – a fund-raiser for the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). The one-evening carnival took place in the gymnasium, with games lining the sides of the gym.

There was the Duck Pond, where hundreds of plastic ducks bobbed in a tank of water; a child would select one duck, and an inscription on the bottom of the duck determined the prize he or she had won. At the fishing pond, little would-be anglers hoisted cane poles with lines and (very safe, probably rubber) hooks over the sides of a covered booth (generally covered with white bed sheets decorated with poster paint, if my memory is accurate), and moms and dads inside the booth would place a small basket holding a prize onto the hook and then tug the line. The little angler would then haul in his or her reward.

At the far end of the gym, on the elevated stage, was the cakewalk. The numerals 1 through 10 were arranged on a circle on the stage floor, and ten entrants claimed a number at the start of the contest. One of the moms would then drop a needle onto a record, and as the music played, the contestants walked through the numbers, in a circle. After a short time, the music stopped, and a number was drawn from a bag. The contestant now standing on that number won a cake, made by some mom in her kitchen and brought proudly to the school for the carnival.

I’m not sure if schools do carnivals anymore; I figure some still have them as a fund-raising activity. But I think it would be the rare public school in the U.S. that would award home-made cakes as a prize. I dunno. Maybe I’m wrong. But the public health (and liability) risks would be enormous, I think, especially considering the vast increase in the types of food allergies and the huge numbers of kids with those allergies in recent years.

The cakewalk was never my favorite game. I know I’ve forgotten what some of the games were; it seems to me the carnival had about ten booths along the sides of the gym, but I remember the grab bag. Simple stuff, of course. You’d thrust your hand into a box filled with little striped bags, each holding a simple prize, and you’d grab one. The prizes were generally little toys and game that were most likely forgotten, lost, discarded or broken in a very short time. But that didn’t diminish the fun.

I resurrected the grab bag this week. I wrote in August about finding in a closet a boxful of 45s I’d more or less forgotten I had. Since settling into the new place, I’ve glanced occasionally at that box, sitting on the floor near the closet door, and I’ve wondered how to integrate those old obscure singles – the vast majority of them are from the years 1958 through 1970, I imagine, and I recognize very few of the titles – into the music shared here.

This week, I thought of the grab bag, and I had the Texas Gal come into the study and pull three singles – any three, I told her – from the box. Good or bad, scratched or not (with the exception of a record truly hacked and unlistenable), I’d listen to them, rip them, do a little research and offer them here. If I remember at all how I got them, I’ll add that, too.

So here’s Grab Bag No. 1

“Molly Dee” by the Kingston Trio (Capitol Custom JB-2782)

“Haul Away” by the Kingston trio (Capitol Custom JB-2783)

(Most likely from 1958, maybe 1959)

The Kingston Trio is described in the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll as “a clean-cut, more commercial alternative to the left-tinged folksingers of the late ’50s.” The trio had a No. 1 hit in late 1958 with “Tom Dooley,” a reworking of a traditional folk song from the 1860s. And when the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis – now known as the March of Dimes Foundation – needed to rebrand itself in the late 1950s, it turned to the Kingston Trio.

Eh?

Some history: The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was established in 1938, to combat the disease poliomyelitis, also called polio. According to Wikipedia:

“Poliomyelitis was one of the most dreaded illnesses of the 20th century, and had killed or paralyzed thousands of Americans during the first half of the 20th century. Ron Gilreath therefore founded the March of Dimes as the ‘National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis’ on January 3, 1938, during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt himself was paralyzed with what at the time was believed to be polio, though it now seems this diagnosis might have been mistaken. The original purpose of the Foundation was to raise money for polio research and to care for those suffering from the disease. The name emphasized the national, nonpartisan, and public nature of the new organization, as opposed to private foundations established by wealthy families. The effort began with a newspaper appeal, asking everyone in the nation to contribute a dime (10 cents) to fight polio.”

(Wikipedia also notes that the “March of Dimes” got its name from entertainer Eddy Cantor, who used that title because of its similarity to the then-popular The March of Time newsreels. I also learned that Roosvelt’s connection to the March of Dimes was one of the factors behind his portrait’s being placed on the U.S. dime after his death in 1945. Another factor was that through 1945, the front of the dime showed an allegorical portrait of Liberty; no earlier president’s portrait would need to be replaced to put FDR’s portrait on the dime.)

The National Foundation’s March of Dimes was successful: By 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk had discovered an immunization for polio that was safe and effective. The goal of the March of Dimes had been achieved, and the National Foundation reorganized, deciding, Wikipedia says, “in 1958 to use its charitable infrastructure to serve mothers and babies with a new mission: to prevent premature birth, birth defects and infant mortality.”

Among the ways the foundation chose to promote its reorganization was to release a record by the Kingston Trio. On the Capitol Custom label – the trio recorded for Capitol Records – the record shows the logo of the National Foundation with the inscription above proclaiming “The New March of Dimes.” (The actual logo has the word “New” outlined with a small box rather than italicized, which to me is an odd bit of design. I italicized the word in the sentence above to show the effect I assume was intended by placing the word in the box.)

Beyond that, on both sides of the record, the legend on the lower part of the label, above the song title, says: “The Kingston Trio sings for the New March of Dimes. (Their italics, not mine.)

So how good is the record?

It’s standard Kingston Trio fare, I guess. Both songs were pulled from the trio’s 1959 album Here We Go Again! and have nautical themes; “Molly Dee” is a sailor’s girl far away, and “Haul Away” tells the tale of a rough voyage. Oddly, on the 45, “Haul Away” is credited to the pen of trio member Dave Guard, but in the album listing at All-Music Guide, it’s listed as a traditional song. Almost as interesting is the fact that “Molly Dee” was written by John Stewart, who would replace Guard in the trio in 1961. (Another oddity is that each side of the record was assigned its own catalog number: “Molly Dee” is Capitol Custom JB-2782, and “Haul Away” is JB-2783.)*

Red Johnson – “I’d Rain All Over You / Anything But Me” (Hep 2939, 1966)

I’m pretty sure this was a record I got from Leo Rau, the guy who lived across the alley from us when I was a kid who operated – among other things – a chain of juke boxes. As related here some time ago, on occasional Mr. Rau would hand me a box full of 45s. This is one of those that didn’t get used as a target for my BB gun.

It’s pretty basic country: A couple of songs from a lovelorn narrator backed by basic instrumentation that includes some twangy guitar, lap steel (I think) and a bit of fiddle. Johnson wrote “I’d Rain All Over You” with Ann Wordelman and wrote “Anything But Me” with Bud Auge. The record is pleasant listening for those who appreciate mid-sixties country (and I do like both sides as a bit of history) but the more interesting part was the record label. The 45 was released by Hep, a label based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

As I ripped the record, I could only assume that it was from the mid-1960s. That was based on the sound of the music, the cartoonish hepcat used as a logo (I have to get a scanner!) and my supposition, bolstered by Hep’s being a Minnesota label, that this was a record I got from Leo Rau.

Googling “Hep 2939” and “Red Johnson” got me little but listings of the record for sale. (It appears to run for about $15 in very good condition; mine would grade out as at least that well.) So I Googled “Red Johnson” along with “Rain All Over You” and I found Red’s website.

It turns out that Red was a northern Minnesota boy, graduated from Detroit Lakes High School. (Detroit Lakes is about two-hundred miles northwest of Minneapolis, about forty-five miles from North Dakota.)

On his site, Red writes:“In 1964, along with Bud Auge, I wrote and recorded ‘There’s A Grand Ol Opry Show Playing Somewhere’ on a small label (Hep) I was part owner of, and the song was picked up by Capitol Records and eventually ended up in The World Of Country Music album Capitol released. About the same time Dave Dudley[,] who is a friend of mine, released a song called ‘Six Days On The Road’” and he and I and Bud Auge . . . wrote a song called ‘Taxi Cab Driver’ and Dave recorded it in his “Six Days” album [Songs About the Working Man] for Mercury Records.”

And on another page, listing current CDs available, “I’d Rain All Over You” was listed as one of the songs on Red’s The Local Entertainer CD. I had the right Red Johnson, but I still didn’t have a release year for the single. So I emailed him.

This morning, Red answered: “I keep getting pleasant surprises and you are one of them. Those songs were recorded in 1966 at Columbia Studios, Nashville, and produced by Buddy Killen of Tree International, now Sony. Two other songs were done at that session. They were ‘Hidden Feelings’ and ‘Big Brave Me.’ Lloyd Green played steel. A guy by the name of Earl Sinks did harmony, and I can’t really remember who else was in the session. It was the follow-up session to my ‘There’s a Grand Ol Opry Show Playing Somewhere,’ [that] I had on Capitol Records in ’64.”

He added, “Please keep in touch.” I most likely will.

The Impalas – “Sandy Went Away / Oh, What A Fool” (Cub 9033, 1959)

This single, I believe, was one of those that my sister brought home from the record store in one of those – how appropriate! – grab bags. You’d lay down maybe eighty-nine cents and get ten singles packed into a plastic bag. None of them were hits, at least not big hits, but some of the records might have come from well-known performers, or maybe one-hit wonders. And the records in the grab bags were evidence of recording sessions gone awry for one reason or another.

The Impalas were a doo-wop group from Brooklyn – one of the few interracial doo-wop groups, according to All-Music Guide – that had a hit in 1958 with “Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home).” It was actually a pretty decent record, assuming that the mp3 I have of it – from an anthology – is a recording of the original single. But what appears to be an Impalas’ follow-up (“Sorry” was Cub 9022, the record in question today, “Sandy Went Away/Oh, What A Fool,” was Cub 9033) isn’t such a great record.

On the Impala’s hit, the lead vocalist’s pitch was uncertain at a few moments, but the doo-wop arrangement obscured that to a degree. On the ballad “Sandy Went Away,” there’s no doo-wop, only some choral parts going “ahhhh” in the background, and that can’t hide a horribly out-of-tune lead vocal. “Oh, What A Fool” has a livelier backing but still, the lead vocalist’s pitch is off the mark. (There’s little information out there about the Impalas; my guess is that after the hit, there were personnel changes, and the Impalas who sang “Sorry” aren’t on this shabby little record.)

So, that’s Grab Bag No. 1: Two decent records and one flop. I’m not sure how frequently it will appear, but the Grab Bag will be back.

*Those numbers were not catalog numbers, as I assumed. In a comment left at the post, reader and friend Yah Shure said, “Capitol Custom did not always assign release numbers. On your Kingston Trio record, the printed numbers are simply the matrix numbers, hence the different numbers listed for each side.”