Posts Tagged ‘New Christy Minstrels’

The Ghosts Of Downtown

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 9, 2009

I misplaced a long-gone store in Saturday’s post. I talked about spending parts of some childhood Friday evening looking through the shelves of books at Fandel’s and said the building was on Fifth Avenue. Not long after, an email from former St. Cloud resident Yah Shure got me thinking. And I realized that Fandel’s was on Sixth Avenue, a block west of where I had placed it.

(If in fact, the bookstore/interior store had been on Fifth Avenue, it likely would have been right in the middle of a bar called the Red Carpet. It would take some years for me to find myself in the middle of the Red Carpet, but I have been there, too.)

When I realized my error, I was struck by the vividness of my memories of Sixth Avenue in St. Cloud in, oh, 1964. And I spent a few minutes thinking about the ghosts of downtown.

On St. Germain – St. Cloud’s main street – there was Dan Marsh Drug. We got our prescriptions there, had our photos developed there, bought greeting cards and giftwrap, discount records, pipe tobacco and pipe cleaners (Dad smoked until he survived a heart attack in 1974) and so much more. There was a restaurant/grill at the back of the store, a place that during the workweek’s daytime hours must have been home to lunch specials for the many folks who worked in what was a pretty bustling downtown.

After school and on Friday evenings, though, the restaurant was a gathering place for kids who gulped down French fries with cherry Cokes, chocolate Cokes, lime phosphates and other seemingly exotic potions. And on Friday evenings, as the clusters of kids came and went from Dan Marsh Drugs, other kids would drive up and down St. Germain, some revving the engines of their cars and others just looking at the other kids looking back at them.

Sometimes a cop directed traffic at the intersection of St. Germain and Sixth; other times, the police just put the four-sided portable sign, the one reading “No Left Turn,” in the middle of the intersection, and let the drivers and pedestrians otherwise fend for themselves. (For a few years in the early 1970s, the city made St. Germain a pedestrian mall for three blocks downtown and did as well some stupid things with traffic flow, and that pretty much killed downtown’s traffic . . . and a lot of businesses.)

North of St. Germain on Sixth was, I think, a funeral home. I recall clearly, however, the book and stationery store, a place of pens and pencils, ledgers and typing paper, erasers and sharpeners, the kind of place that entranced me then and can still do so today.

South on Sixth, Fandel’s and Herberger’s, two department stores, took the corner spots. Fandel’s is long gone, and Herberger’s – in an insane attempt at urban renewal during, I think, the 1980s – was allowed to build a mall across Sixth Avenue, so Sixth is now blocked at St. Germain. Herberger’s continues in business, but the other stores and restaurants in that mall haven’t thrived over the years.

Beyond Herberger’s, on the east side of Sixth, is a blank for me. I cannot recall what stood there. Beyond Fandel’s on the west side of Sixth was the building that held Fandel’s bookstore and interiors, the place where I got my copy of Born Free after seeing the movie, and where I bought Dad a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim for his birthday.

All of those businesses except Herberger’s are gone. Most of the buildings are gone as well. And next to the Fandel’s book and interiors building stood another lost gem, the Eastman Theater, with its blue and white marquee. It was one of three movie houses in St. Cloud at the time. (There are none in the city these days; we now drive west into the adjacent city of Waite Park for a movie, although films are occasionally screened in the refurbished Paramount Theatre). I went to numerous movies at the Eastman, not many of them memorable. What I remember most clearly is waiting for the movie in the theater, with a series of colored lights projected from somewhere, walking their way up and down the theater on the side walls.

I do remember one film I saw at the Eastman, though: The Longest Day, the tale of the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy during World War II, was released in 1962. It came back through town during early June in 1964, and my parents okayed my request to see it. So one day – a Saturday? I’m not sure – I bicycled across the Mississippi and into downtown, to the Eastman. I locked my bike to the rack and then, as I bought my ticket, asked the woman there if the film had come back out because of the twentieth anniversary of D-Day, the Normandy Invasion.

She blinked and looked down at me, a short and bespectacled ten-year-old. “How do you know about that?” she asked me.

I might have shrugged. “I dunno,” I likely told her. “I just do.”

“Okay,” she said as I handed her my quarter and she handed me my ticket. “Enjoy the show.” I did.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 6, 1964)

“Today” by the New Christy Minstrels, Columbia 43000 (No. 18)

“Wish Someone Would Care” by Irma Thomas, Imperial 66013 (No. 32)

“Yesterday’s Gone” by Chad & Jeremy, World Artists 1021 (No. 64)

“The Girl From Ipanema” by Stan Getz/João & Astrid Gilberto, Verve 10323 (No. 87)

“Remember Me” by Rita Pavone, RCA Victor 8635 (No. 94)

“Dang Me” by Roger Miller, Smash 1881 (No. 126)

What? No Beatles? I can hear readers wondering as I write. There’s no doubt that they dominated the charts in 1964, especially during the week of April 4, when they held the top five spots in the Billboard Hot 100. (In order: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me.”) And the Beatles did have a considerable chart presence during the first week in June, with three singles in the Top 40, an EP “bubbling under” at No. 105, and “Sie Lieb Dicht,” a German version of “She Loves You,” also bubbling at No. 108.

But there was so much more going on in 1964, at least in this chart. The British Invasion that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones triggered was underway, with Peter and Gordon, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, the Dave Clark Five and Gerry and the Pacemakers in the Top 30. And there was more. In fact, just look at the Top 20 for June 6, 1964, and you’ll see a snapshot of a time when popular tastes were in flux:

“Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups
“Love Me Do” by the Beatles
“My Guy” by Mary Wells
“Love Me With All Your Heart” by the Ray Charles Singers
“Hello, Dolly” by Louis Armstrong
“A World Without Love” by Peter and Gordon
“Walk On By” by Dionne Warwick
“Little Children” by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas
“(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet” by the Reflections
“P.S. I Love You” by the Beatles
“Do You Love Me” by the Dave Clark Five
“People” by Barbra Streisand
“Every Little Bit Hurts” by Brenda Holloway
“Diane” by the Bachelors
“Cotton Candy” by Al Hirt
“It’s Over” by Roy Orbison
“I Get Around” by the Beach Boys
“Today” by the New Christy Minstrels
“Once Upon A Time” by Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells
“Tell Me Why” by Bobby Vinton

Wow! Girl groups, R&B from Motown and elsewhere, tunes from Broadway, pop instrumentals, British pop-rock, teen idol pop, folk and more – all of it underscored by the “skritch-skritch” of Warwick’s “Walk On By” and capped off by Orbison’s operatic finish as the Beach Boys rev the engine and head to the drive-in.

And in June of 1964, I waited to turn eleven late that summer, knowing – oddly enough – more about World War II than I knew about pop and rock music. Some of the songs in the Top 20 were familiar, certainly: I knew “Hello, Dolly,” “Cotton Candy” (though it’s one of the few Al Hirt tunes I’m not all that not fond of), and “Today.” And I might have known about “Walk On By.” The most fondly remembered is “Today,” with its sweet melody and its lyric predicting nostalgia, presented in a ersatz commercial folk style that owes more to Mitch Miller and the Fifties than to any folk music that ever came from the likes of Pete Seeger. Knowing all that now doesn’t diminish my affection for the recording because when I hear “Today,” I’m not hearing the record. I’m hearing the soundtrack of a time when a ten-year-old kid could bicycle by himself to a movie theater in the downtown of a small city, see a movie and get himself home safely with nothing greater to worry about than a flat tire. We have gained much in the past forty-five years, but we have lost much, too.

Anyway, “Today” marked the last bit of chart success for the New Christy Minstrels, as it happened. The record went as high as No. 17 and was the last of three Top 40 hits for the group. (“Green, Green” and “Saturday Night” were the others.) It’s of interest, too, that among the members of the New Christy Minstrels – organized by Randy Sparks – were Kenny Rogers, Barry McGuire and Kim Carnes.

Irma Thomas is still singing soul and R&B today after almost fifty years in the music industry, starting with her first single, 1960’s “You Can Have My Husband but) Don’t Mess with My Man” on the Ron label, based in her native Louisiana. “Wish Someone Would Care” was her only record to reach the Top 40, peaking at No. 17.

“Yesterday’s Gone” is pleasant folk-pop: light and insubstantial candy for the ear. It also serves as a reminder that not all the performers who followed the Beatles and the Stones across the Atlantic rocked. (The best/worst example of that might be Freddie and the Dreamers.) “Yesterday’s Gone” went only to No. 21, but its follow-up, “A Summer Song,” went to No. 7 in the autumn of 1964. After that, the two singers – who had been credited up to that point as Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde – gave up their last names and became Chad and Jeremy, scoring five more Top 40 hits into August 1966.

The story about “The Girl From Ipanema” says that the charming and somewhat affectless vocal by Astrud Gilberto was one of those happy accidents that sometimes happen in the studio. As I understand it, sax player Stan Getz and singer and guitarist João Gilberto were working on the track for their Getz/Gilberto album (1963) when they decided that “The Girl From Ipanema” needed a vocal. Gilberto’s wife, Astrud, who spoke no English, learned the words phonetically, and an international hit was born. The record went to No. 5 and won the Grammy for 1964’s Record of the Year. (That’s the story as I understand it. Anyone out there have any corrections or clarifications?)

I know next to nothing about Rita Pavone, only that I found one of her albums in a box of LP’s I bought in bulk at a flea market in February of 1989. I listened to it and was not impressed, but I figured it had little resale value, so I stuck it in the stacks. And there it’s stayed for almost exactly twenty years. But when I saw her name at No. 94 on the Hot 100, I went to the stacks and learned that the LP – titled simply Rita Pavone – in fact included her single. It’s a girl group-kind of tune, although Rita seems to often intone the lyrics rather than sing them. But there you are.

“Dang Me” was the first of twelve Top 40 hits for Roger Miller, reaching No. 7 during the summer of 1964. The record – and several of his others – are tagged in the Billboard books as novelties. I’m not sure that’s right. Miller’s style was quirky, but it was refreshing. Those of his hits not tagged as novelty records – “England Swings,” “King of the Road,” “Engine Engine” and more – are not that far removed from what he was doing with “Dang Me,” “Kansas City Star” and more. It doesn’t matter, I guess. Miller is long gone, having died in 1992.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1963

May 22, 2011

Originally posted November 21, 2007

(When I wrote earlier this month about “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and then about the fortunes this season of my favorite football teams, I inadvertently triggered a series of other posts on November in the Northland. Readers got autumnal takes from Jeff at AM, Then FM, from JB the DJ at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and then from Perplexio at Pieces of Perplexio π. And now it’s my turn again to write about this chill month, but this time, I’m writing about a November day that, come tomorrow, will be forty-four years gone.)

Blank stares. That’s the thing I remember most about November 22, 1963, the day President John Kennedy was killed.

I was ten and in fifth grade that November, and for some reason, I’d had lunch at school that Friday. I usually walked the five blocks home for lunch, but Mom must have been away from home that day for some reason, a church women’s event or something like that. So I was in the classroom as lunchtime was ending and Mr. Lydeen came into the room with an odd look on his face.

He told us the news from Dallas, and we stared at him. I think some of the girls cried. And we spent the rest of the day milling around the room, gathering in small groups, the ten or so fifth-graders and ten or so sixth-graders of our combination classroom. We boys talked darkly of what should be done to the culprit, were he found. We were angry. And sad. And confused.

At recess, we bundled up and went out onto the asphalt and concrete playground, but all we did was huddle around Mr. Lydeen, our backs to the northwest wind. I don’t recall what we said, but I think we were all looking for reassurance, for explanation. Mr. Lydeen had neither for us; I remember seeing him stare across the playground and past the railroad tracks, looking at something beyond the reach of his gaze. The blank look on his face made me – and the other kids, too, I think – uneasy.

Mom was listening to the old brown radio on the kitchen counter when I got home from school that day – a rarity, as the radio was generally on only in the morning as we prepared for the day. And it stayed on through dinnertime, bringing us news bulletins from Dallas and Washington and long lists of weekend events cancelled or postponed. Not much was said at the table, as I recall, and I saw that same blank look on my parents’ faces that I had seen on Mr. Lydeen’s face that afternoon.

That evening, I sought solace in my box of comic books and MAD magazines. By chance, the first magazine I pulled out of the box had a parody of a musical film, one of MAD’s specialties. But the parody poked gentle fun at the president and his cabinet, and if it seemed wrong to laugh that evening – as it did – it seemed especially wrong to laugh at that. I threw the magazine back into the box and went in search of my dad, who was doing something at his workbench in the basement.

I watched him for a few minutes as he worked on something he had clamped in the vise, and then I just asked, “Why?”

He turned to me and shook his head and said he didn’t know. And I realized for the first time that the people I looked to for explanations – my parents and my teacher – were unable to understand and explain everything. That was a scary thought, and – being slightly precocious – I pondered its implications for a few days as we watched the unfolding events on television with the rest of the nation.

Sometime in the late 1990s, about five years before Dad died, I was up in St. Cloud for a weekend, and he and I were drinking beers on the back porch. For some reason, I asked him what he remembered of that day. He’d been at work at the college (not yet a university), and he remembered young women crying and young men talking intensely in small groups. And, he said, he remembered not being able to give them any answers at a time when they so needed them.

I nodded and sipped my beer. I thought of the cascade of events that followed John Kennedy’s death, the twelve or so years that we now call the Sixties: The civil rights movement and the concurrent violence, the long anguish in Vietnam, the deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, race riots and police riots, the National Guard and the police opening fire and killing students at Kent State and Jackson State. I thought about draft cards, protest marches and paranoia and about the distrust and anger between black and white, between young and old, between government and governed.

And I looked at my dad and said, “Yeah, John Kennedy’s death is when it all started.”

Dad was a veteran of World War II, part of the generation that came to adulthood during the Great Depression. His generation, after it won its war, came home and lived through a hard-earned era of prosperity that will likely never be matched anywhere in the world ever again, a time of Father Knows Best and the New York Yankees. From that perspective, my father looked back at November of 1963 and then he looked at me.

“No,” he said, “that’s when it all ended.”

A Baker’s Dozen from 1963
“Do Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)” by the Crystals, Philles single 112

“Green, Green” by the New Christy Minstrels, Columbia single 42805

“Avalon Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt from Avalon Blues: The Library of Congress Recordings

“So Glad I’m Living” by Muddy Waters, Chess session, Chicago, June 6

“Corinna, Corrina” by Bob Dylan from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

“When You Walk In The Room” by Jackie DeShannon, Liberty single 55645

“Rocky Road” by Peter, Paul & Mary from In The Wind

“Time Is On My Side” by Kai Winding & the Enchanters, Verve single 10307

“Cry Baby” by Garnet Mimms & The Enchanters, United Artists single 629

“Night Theme” by Al Hirt from Honey In The Horn

“I Woke Up This Mornin’ With My Mind Set On Freedom” by the SNCC Freedom Singers from We Shall Overcome

“Magic Star” by Margie Singleton, Mercury single 72079

“Judy’s Turn To Cry” by Leslie Gore, Mercury single 72143

A few notes on some of the songs:

The Crystals, of course, were one of the girl groups produced by Phil Spector. While “Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)” is not Spector’s masterpiece – I think that title goes to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” – it’s still a propulsive, fun and highly charged piece of music. And, as almost always with a Spector production, that’s Hal Blaine on the drums.

The original Christy Minstrels were a blackface group formed by Edwin Pearce Christy in Buffalo, New York, in 1843. The New Christy Minstrels, formed by Randy Sparks in 1961, was made up of generally clean-cut young people singing folk music – and new songs that sounded like folk – in a pleasant, slightly bland manner. They had three Top 40 hits in 1963 and 1964, with “Green, Green” being the most successful, reaching No. 14. Among the members of the group throughout the years have been Kim Carnes, Kenny Rogers and Barry McGuire of “Eve of Destruction” fame. (Wikipedia says the group was active as of March 2007, with Sparks and McGuire among those involved.)

Mississippi John Hurt was an anomaly during the blues revival of the early 1960s, when dozens of rural Southern performers who’d recorded tracks in the 1920s and 1930s were rediscovered and brought into studios and concert halls again. Hurt was not truly a blues artists; there are some elements of blues in his music, but he’d be better described as a folk artist – or songster, as the term was in the 1920s – with his gently syncopated songs drawn mostly from sources other than blues.  Several of the tunes on Avalon Blues were songs that Hurt had recorded during his first recording sessions, for the Okeh label in 1928.

The Searchers had a mild hit with “When You Walk In The Room,” reaching No. 35 in 1964, but the song came from the pen of Jackie DeShannon, a composer and performer who hit the Top 40 herself with “What The World Needs Now Is Love” in 1965 (No. 7) and with “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” in 1969 (No. 4). Her 1968 album Laurel Canyon is a classic of L.A.-based pop rock (with one of its attractions for me being a killer version of “The Weight.”)

This recording of “Time Is On My Side” by Kai Winding, a Danish trombonist and composer, turns out to be the original recording of the song, which was written for Winding by famed song-writer Jerry Ragovoy (writing as Norman Meade). The background vocals are provided by the Enchanters, who only turned out to be Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick. The song was later covered, of course, by numerous artists including New Orleans’ Irma Thomas and the Rolling Stones. “Time Is On My Side” didn’t reach the Top 40, but Winding did have a hit in 1963: His version of “More,” otherwise known as the theme to the film Mondo Cane, reached No. 8 on the charts in the late summer of that year.

“Cry Baby” was another Jerry Ragovoy composition, this one written with Bert Berns. Most likely better known today as the second track on Janis Joplin’s final album, Pearl, the song has been recorded by numerous other artists, including P.J. Proby, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings and Natalie Cole. The version here by Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters (again!) went to No. 4 in the autumn of 1963.

The SNCC Freedom Singers were part of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, one of the prime movers in the civil rights struggle in the American South during the 1960s. The founder of the Freedom Singers was Bernice Johnson, later Bernice Reagon, who went on to form the vocal group Sweet Honey In The Rock in the 1970s.. “I Woke Up This Mornin’ With My Mind Set On Freedom” comes from the group’s only album, released on the Mercury label in 1963.

Until I came across “Magic Star (Tel-Star)” by Margie Singleton in the last year or so, I never knew there were words to “Telstar,” the instrumental by the Tornadoes that went to No. 1 in 1962. Singleton’s record didn’t make the Billboard charts, but she hit the Top 56 at WQAM in Miami during the week of February 2, 1963, as this chart indicates. I’m assuming, without being sure, that this is the same Margie Singleton who recorded four country albums for four different labels, starting in 1965.

As always, bit rates will vary.

Some housekeeping
Those who downloaded Monday’s album know by now that the single version of “Midnight Wind” had several seconds cut off the end. I don’t know if I cut those seconds off myself while tinkering with the mp3 or whether I just didn’t pay enough attention after I found it. Either way, I apologize, and I’ll try to find a good version, although my source for the mp3 seems to have disappeared.

Edited slightly after archival posting.