Archive for the ‘Mysteries’ Category

‘Gonna Tell Aunt Mary . . .’

May 18, 2022

Originally posted September 1, 2009

The things you can learn rummaging around online!

Remember all the stories about a baseball player promising to hit a home run for a sick kid in the hospital and then actually going out and doing so? (The ballplayer in the story is frequently Babe Ruth, and there is some evidence that things happened that way at least once, which only proves that where Babe Ruth is concerned, fact and fable intersect.) As I dug around at Wikipedia this morning, I found a similar story of rock ’n’ roll lore:

In the mid-1950s, it seems, there was a young woman in or near New Orleans named Enotris Johnson. Her Aunt Mary was ill, and in hopes of gaining the money for her aunt’s treatment, Enotris began to write a rock ’n’ roll song for a popular performer to record. Actually, she only wrote a couple of lines, but somehow, she got in touch with Honey Chile, a popular disk jockey.

Honey Chile took the few lines that Enotris had written and got in touch with a fellow named Bumps Blackwell, who was an A&R man for Specialty Records. Blackwell took the few lines to the performer, who was – Wikipedia says – reluctant to use them. Still, one of the lines resonated with the artist, and he and Blackwell added to Enotris Johnson’s lines and crafted a song out of it. Recorded at a tempo so fast that the artist might have been singing in some language other than English, the song was released as a single. It went as high as No. 6 on the fragmented pop charts of the time and spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart.

Those three lines Enotris wrote?

Saw Uncle John with Long Tall Sally
They saw Aunt Mary comin’
So they ducked back in the alley.

The artist, of course, was Little Richard and the song was “Long Tall Sally,” maybe the most famous song recorded by the flamboyant singer born as Richard Penniman in Macon, Georgia. (I’d guess that “Tutti Frutti” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” would be in the running for that “most famous” title.)

As to the truth of the tale I found at Wikipedia, some of the details of the story – minus Aunt Mary – also appear in The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh’s 1989 tome about the 1,001 best singles. In addition, the song’s writing credits have seemingly always included an E. Johnson. On the other hand, “Long Tall Sally” wasn’t a one-shot for Enotris Johnson. She received at least two other writing credits on Little Richard songs: She’s also listed as a co-writer on “Miss Ann” and “Jenny Jenny.” (There may have been more credits for Enotris Johnson on songs that weren’t hits; those are the credits I noticed this morning on the CD The Georgia Peach.)

I did find some more information at Who’s Dated Who, a celebrity website. On an otherwise blank page for Enotris Johnson, a reader named Betty posted this note in May:

What happen to Enotris Johnson, the song writer that almost became a star? She loved the music industry very much and still does. She says that Little Richard was her brother back then. She married a preacher back in September 10, 1956; that ended all of her musical dreams because he was a man of God and he could not have his wife singing the blues. You can only think of what was expected of a housewife back in the 1950’s. Enotris now lives in Bogalusa, Louisiana. She is now 72 years old. She has one daughter, Wilma Dunn, [who] resides in Asheville, North Carolina, with her husband. Enotris is a warm loving mother and friend and still supports her husband. Every once in a while you can hear her wailing on that piano and singing in the middle of the night. You would just love to sit around her and hear her tell all the stories from back in the day when all of the old singers were at their humble beginnings. Enotris Johnson has lived a full and happy life with her husband and being the idea preacher’s wife. [Edited slightly.]

The information would mean that Enotris Johnson would have been about nineteen years old when “Long Tall Sally” was recorded. And it still doesn’t address the truth about the ill Aunt Mary, but – like so many other rock ’n’ roll stories and fables (see Mr. Jimmy and the Rolling Stones, for example) – it really doesn’t matter. As I’ve said before, legend drives out fact.

And Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” remains one of the most vital songs in rock ’n roll history, and it must be one of the most covered, as well. Among those who covered it when Little Richard’s version was getting airplay were Pat Boone and Elvis Presley. I shared Boone’s limp version here about a year ago, and – oddly enough – I don’t have a copy of Presley’s.

A quick look at All-Music Guide results in a list of more than eight hundred CDs that contain a version of “Long Tall Sally.” The Little Richard, Pat Boone and Elvis Presley versions account for many of those, of course, but some of the other names that show up are Atlanta Rhythm Section, Cactus, Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys, the Chambers Brothers, Eddie Cochrane, Joey Dee & the Starliters, Wanda Jackson, the Isley Brothers, the Kinks, Sleepy LaBeef, Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul McCartney, Molly Hatchet, Don Nix, Carl Perkins, Johnny Rivers, the Rivingtons, Marty Robbins, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, Sha Na Na, the Tornadoes, the Trashmen, Walter Trout, Gene Vincent and Roger Whittaker. (That last one baffles me a little.)

[Note from 2022: The website Second Hand Songs lists a total of 161 separate covers of “Long Tall Sally,” including versions in Danish, Finnish, French, German, Japanese, Spanish and Swedish. Note added May 18, 2022.]

I have, strangely, only three covers of “Long Tall Sally” (on mp3 at any rate; vinyl may be another story): The Pat Boone I mentioned earlier and versions by the Beatles and by King Curtis.

The Beatles’ version was issued in 1964; in Britain, it was one of four songs on an EP (“I Call Your Name,” “Slow Down” and “Matchbox” were the others), and here in the U.S., the song was included on the imaginatively titled The Beatles’ Second Album. (It later showed up on several vinyl and CD anthologies, including Past Masters, Vol. 1.)

King Curtis’ version was recorded in New York City on October 28, 1965, and was evidently released as the flip side of “The Boss” [Atlantic 9469] and was included on a 1986 R&B saxophone anthology, Atlantic Honkers. (The sketchy notes on Atlantic Honkers indicate that “Long Tall Sally” was the title track of a King Curtis album, presumably on the Atco label, but I can’t find any other mention of such an album. Anyone out there know anything?)

“Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard, Specialty 572 [1956]

“Long Tall Sally” by the Beatles from The Beatles’ Second Album [1964]

“Long Tall Sally” by King Curtis, evidently Atlantic 9469 B-Side [1965]

Was It 1964 Or 1965?

May 14, 2022

Originally posted August 14, 2009

Memory is a slippery creature. I read or heard somewhere about recent research into memory, and the theory was – and this is necessarily a paraphrase – that when we remember an event, our brain overlays the original memory with our new memory of that event, so the next time we recall that specific moment, we’re processing a second-generation memory and creating a third-generation memory. (Without any irony, I have to say that I cannot at all remember where I read or heard that bit of information.)

That seems to make some sense, even though it means our memories eventually become thinner and possibly distorted, like a favorite recording that’s seven generations removed from the original tape.

I got to thinking about this after Wednesday’s Vinyl Record Day post about the development of my LP database. Art D., a reader in Michigan, emailed me that afternoon and asked if I had the right date for Beatles’ ’65, after I said my sister and I received it for Christmas in 1965. He said the record had been released in December 1964. I nodded to myself, having verified that date at All-Music Guide that morning. I emailed back.

I said, in part, about Beatles ’65, that my sister and I got the record in 1965, about a year after it came out. I added:

“That’s what the red ink on it says, and that inscription dates from the day I began marking my LPs in 1970, and I suppose I could have erred then, and we actually got the album in 1964. At this point, we’ll never know for sure. I think, though, that I would have remembered – given the way I recall odd details – the paradox of getting a record titled Beatles ’65 when it was still 1964.”

And writing those words – “I think, though, that I would have remembered . . . the paradox of getting a record titled Beatles ’65 when it was still 1964” – triggered another memory, a recollection of a very young whiteray looking at the record jacket that December night and wondering about that very paradox. It’s not the kind of memory that jumps up and says, “Here I am and here you were!” It’s more like it’s dancing on the edge of clarity, so I’m not sure about trusting it.

Earlier this week, when recalling the day I began marking my LPs, I wrote “I knew for certain that Beatles ’65 came to my sister and me for Christmas 1965.” Well, we all, at one time or another, know things for certain that just ain’t so. This could be one of mine. I imagine that on that summer day in 1970, I looked at the title of the album and just assumed it came out in 1965 and thus showed up in our house that December. I might have been wrong; the record might have been there a year earlier.

But I’m going to be gentle with the kid I was back then. I examined the record and its jacket this morning, and there’s no copyright date on either, no hint of the year of issue. Beyond that, I would have had no idea in 1970 where to go to find out when Beatles ’65 was released. As I think of it today, I probably could have gone out to Musicland at the mall or to the library at St. Cloud State and learned something in either one of those places. Knowing the correct release date might have changed my mind about when we got the record. But at sixteen, I didn’t think of that. I did the best I could.

There is one thing I do know for certain about that December night when we found Beatles ’65 next to the stereo. I’ve seen the photographic evidence: Somewhere among all the slides in Mom’s storage unit is a slide showing me sitting in Dad’s chair, wearing my Beatle wig, holding Beatles ’65 in my lap and quite possibly putting my fingers in my ears as a jest.

I wrote to Art D. that “we’ll never know for sure.” But we might. If I ever find that one slide among the thousands in the storage unit, and if Dad wrote the date on the cardboard, we’ll know. I do have a hunch that, if I ever find that picture of me and it has a date on it, I’ll be changing the acquisition year in my database to 1964. But that’s just a hunch, so I’ll leave it for now.

Note from 2022: We do know now. The photograph – a print, not a slide – turned up in a package of things I got from my sister a few years ago, and the date on the back of the picture – in my dad’s hand – clearly says “Christmas 1964.” Here it is:

Given my preoccupation for the past few days with Beatles ’65, it was easy to decide what to post today. The album was, of course, one of those created by Capitol Records here in the U.S., in this case by taking portions of two Beatles albums released in the United Kingdom and adding two sides of a UK single not released on an album there. So it’s an aberration, although it was a popular one; it was the No. 1 album for nine weeks in the U.S. during early 1965.

It was also the first Beatles LP I owned, and the sequence of songs on it lingers inside me. When I play Beatles for Sale on the CD player, I start out hearing Beatles ’65 because the first six tracks are the same on both. But I’m always startled after “Mr. Moonlight,” when Side One should be over, because here comes “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” And Side Two of Beatles ’65 – cobbled together as it was with two tracks from Beatles for Sale, the lovely “I’ll Be Back” from A Hard Day’s Night and the single mentioned above – exists in modern form only on a CD that’s included as part of the 2004 box set The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1.

So I decided this morning to drop my mono copy of the LP (stereo cost more in the mid-1960s, and Dad was a thrifty man) on the turntable and offer Beatles ’65 as two mp3s, Side One and Side Two. There are a few pops and snaps, but hey, it’s forty-five-year-old vinyl.

Tracks, Side One
No Reply
I’m a Loser
Baby’s in Black
Rock and Roll Music
I’ll Follow the Sun
Mr. Moonlight

Tracks, Side Two
Honey Don’t
I’ll Be Back
She’s a Woman
I Feel Fine
Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby