Posts Tagged ‘Impalas’

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.”