Musings About Popular Music
Doc Pomus: Jerome Felder was a white Jewish guy with polio who, in the '40s, changed his name to Doc Pomus and became a renowned blues singer in New York's black club scene. In the 1950-60s he gained more fame as prolific, chart-topping songwriter. How unlikely is that?
But it really happened. Doc wrote or co-wrote: 'Teenager in Love', 'Save The Last Dance For Me', 'Hushabye', 'This Magic Moment', 'Turn Me Loose', 'Sweets For My Sweet', 'Can't Get Used To Losing You', 'Little Sister', 'Suspicion', 'Surrender', 'Viva Las Vegas', 'His Latest Flame (Marie's The Name)' and 'Mess of Blues'. He wrote songs for Elvis, Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Dion and the Belmonts, Bobby Rydell and many, many others. Pomus was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a year after his death in 1991 (at age 65 from lung cancer).
Pomus wrote several songs with Phil Spector ('Young Boy Blues', 'Ecstasy', 'First Taste of Love' and 'What Am I To Do?'), Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller ('Young Blood' and 'She's Not You'), and other Brill Building-era writers. Pomus also wrote 'Lonely Avenue', a 1956 hit for Ray Charles.
Ben E. King sang lead on a succession of hits by the team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, including 'Save the Last Dance for Me' and 'This Magic Moment'. King left the group and went solo in 1960.
Pomus was a talented, multifaceted man who overcame tremendous adversity to achieve musical greatness. He got around using crutches or a wheelchair because of the effects of polio. Doc got his lyrical inspirations from street level conversations, eavesdropping on people in hotel lobbies to capture "the random brilliance of overheard speech." But Pomus was troubled and often suffered melancholy as his life and career went through numerous ups and downs. Doc also had quite a fondness for pretty blond ladies.
His biography, 'Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus' by Alex Halberstadt a good book, although - true to its subject - it is sometimes dark and moody. (posted 9/23/21, permalink)
Death Comes For Us All: Most of the rock pioneers of the 1950s are dead - Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Jackie Wilson, Ricky Nelson, Eddie Cochran, etc. Jerry Lee Lewis is still around but doesn't seem to get out much. He has no tours or concerts scheduled for 2021 or '22.
An article by Damon Linker pointed out that the same is now happening for the second wave of rockers from the 1960s and '70s.
"The classic rock era is nearly dead and buried - and so are its greatest icons," he wrote on the occasion of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts at age 80 in August 2021.
"Bob Dylan is 80. Paul McCartney and Paul Simon are 79. And not far behind them are a host of rock stars well into their 70s: Brian Wilson, Carole King, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Ray Davies, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Debbie Harry, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Bryan Ferry, Elton John, and Don Henley. James Taylor and Jackson Browne just completed a tour together; the former is 73, the latter 72. The baby of the bunch, Bruce Springsteen, currently wrapping up another residency on Broadway, turns 72 next month."
"But if we're honest, we also have to admit that the loss is largely a function of nostalgia, of feelings attached to sounds and sights from long ago. Yes, many of these legends still take to the road to play live. Some produce new music from time to time. But none of these artists - not one - is doing work to rival the quality of what they produced at their peak. And in every case, that high point was decades ago."
Ironically, Pat Boone - who was never much of a rocker; his white bread version of Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti' was mocked by many when it was released in 1957 - is still around at age 87. Pat manages to sell more walk-in bathtubs, nutritional supplments and geezer insurance policies than any other musician. (posted 9/17/21, permalink)
Leiber & Stoller - Not The Name Of A Law Firm: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were a prolific songwriting duo whose music and lyrics defined the music of the mid-1950s to mid-1960s.
The pair created such top hits as 'Hound Dog' and 'Kansas City', 'Young Blood'," 'Searchin'', 'There Goes My Baby', 'Charlie Brown', 'Riot in Cell Block No. 9', 'Ruby Baby', 'Love Potion No. 9' and 'Yakety Yak'. They wrote and produced many hits for Elvis, including 'Love Me', 'Loving You', 'Don't', 'Jailhouse Rock' and 'King Creole'. Mike Stoller gave an on-screen performance as Elvis' piano player in the movie, 'Jailhouse Rock'.
Dozens of have recorded Leiber and Stoller songs, including the Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Drifters, the Coasters, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Dion, Barbra Streisand, Edith Piaf, the Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin. Once upon a time, these kings of rock (and blues) wrote white-bread pop songs for The Cheers. Bert Convy was one of the group's members.
I reviewed their 2009 autobiography, 'Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography', here.
In a 2016 article titled 'Rhythm and Jews', David Samuels interviewed Mike Stoller, the surviving member of the legendary and prolific Leiber and Stoller songwriting team. Jerry Leiber, the lyricist side of the duo, died at age 78 in 2011. "Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber wrote all of this incredible music that became part of America's DNA." That's true for me and anyone who grew up during the 1950s and early '60s.
"The songwriting team of Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber were responsible as much or more than anyone else on the planet for the "crossover" of the rhythm and blues music invented by African-Americans into the mainstream of American popular song. They wrote 'Kansas City', which was a hit for Wilbert Harrison and then again for James Brown; 'Hound Dog' and 'Jailhouse Rock', which helped make Elvis Presley famous; Yakety Yak', 'Charlie Brown', and 'Poison Ivy' for the Coasters; 'Searchin'', which was a hit for the Coasters and then for the Hollies; 'Young Blood', which was a hit for the Coasters and then Bad Company. Leiber and Stoller co-wrote and/or produced great songs by the Drifters like 'There Goes My Baby' and Ben E. King's 'Stand By Me'. They composed 'Ruby Baby', which was recorded by the Drifters, Dion, and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan. They wrote 'Spanish Harlem', which was recorded by Ben E. King and Aretha Franklin. The duo wrote 'I Keep Forgettin'', which was repurposed by Michael McDonald and then became Warren G. and Nate Dogg's 'Regulate'."
'Searchin'' by The Coasters, a 1957 musical ditty, was released as a 45 single by Atco Records in March. I still have the white-and-yellow labeled original 45 around here somewhere. 'Searchin'' rose to #3 on the national pop singles chart. The B side, 'Young Blood' - another Leiber and Stoller creation (with help from Doc Pomus), did well too. It reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100. Another Coasters' tune, 'Charlie Brown', was recorded in 10 minutes.
It should be noted that 'Searchin'' was recorded by the original members of The Coasters - so-named because the were bi-coastal - an LA group recording on a NY label. Over the years, there have been more Coasters than members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Ditto The Dominoes. And The Platters. I recall that there were several groups of The Coasters touring simultaneously during the heydays of the traveling Fifties Oldies Shows in the late 1980s.
Rob DeWitt, a regular reader of my blog, added this fun Coasters story: "As well as classical music, I spent many years as a guitar player with bluegrass and swing bands, and knew lots of musicians as a result. A guy I worked with told the tale of playing in Reno for awhile, where at one point he opened for (the then-current iteration of) The Coasters.
Naturally, he dashed off-stage and scurried to the wings where he watched their show in awe, and afterwards struggled not to embarrass himself with praise for how much their music had meant to him as a kid. They invited him to come hang in their dressing room. Directly one of them discreetly - with gestures and puffing noises - asked whether he smoked weed.
On receiving the go-ahead, the whole group broke into 'Yakety-Yak', with the lyrics "Break out the papers and the stash ..." in perfect Coasters harmony." (The original lyrics were: "Take out the papers and the trash … or you don't get no spendin' cash.")
While they are best known for some of their work for the Coasters and other Atlantic Records black artists, Leiber & Stoller wrote and studio-produced many of the songs for Elvis' early movies: 'Loving You', 'King Creole' and 'Jailhouse Rock.' In fact, it's the royalties from Elvis' songs ('Hound Dog', 'Don't', 'Santa Claus Is Back In Town', 'Love Me', 'Treat Me Nice', 'Trouble' and many more) that kept them in a posh lifestyle. They steadfastly refused to split royalties with Elvis (a 50% kickback demand made by his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, to all who wrote Elvis' songs). As a result, they basically stopped writing songs for Elvis (post-Army) and his career went downhill in part because the quality of musical material declined.
These guys wrote much of the music of my life. Singer Ben E. King of The Drifters, was the singer and co-composer of 'Stand by Me', a U.S. Top 10 hit in 1961, written with Leiber and Stoller.
Surprisingly (to me), the songwriters' most oft-recorded tune is 'Kansas City' - a big hit for Wilbert Harrison in 1959. In all, Leiber and Stoller wrote or co-wrote over 70 chart hits. The songwriting duo were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985 and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. (posted 8/26/21, permalink)
Joining His Brother: Don Everly, surviving sibling of The Every brothers has died of a heart attack at age 84. The Everly Brothers were an American country-influenced rock and roll duo, known for steel-string acoustic guitar playing and close harmony singing. Don's younger brother, Phil had died in early 2014 from lung disease just before his 74th birthday.
They began writing and recording their own music in 1956, and their first hit song came in 1957, with 'Bye Bye Love', followed by 'Wake Up Little Susie', 'All I Have to Do Is Dream', and 'Problems'. In 1960, they recorded 'Cathy's Clown', written by the brothers themselves, which was their biggest selling single.
The Everlys broke up and regrouped several times during their careers. Don and his younger brother Phil were in the first group to be inaugurated in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Thanks for the harmonies, guys. Rest in peace. (posted 8/24/21, permalink)
Godspeed: The long concert career of singer Tony Bennett has come to an end after 70 years.
Bennett's son, Danny Bennett, his manager for more than 40 years, canceled his remaining tour dates on Thursday. He said on Friday that Bennett's two recent dates with Lady Gaga at New York's Radio City Music Hall would be his last.
Earlier this year, Tony's family revealed that the 19-time Grammy-winner was diagnosed with dementia in 2016.
The younger Bennett cited doctor's orders as the reason, although acknowledging his father was still capable of performing at age 95. The move has been made to avoid any falls or other onstage mishaps, he said. According to other sources, the singer rarely speaks, and "when he does, his words are halting; at times, he seems lost and bewildered." Sad.
As a commercial artist, Tony Bennett had his ups and downs in the music business. But his talent was never in question; he was a singer's singer. Frank Sinatra once said, "For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business. He excites me when I watch him. He moves me."
Tony had some big hits in the early 1950s ('Because Of You', 'Cold, Cold Heart, 'Rags To Riches', 'Stranger In Paradise'). After a dry spell, his career revived in the 1960s ('I Left My Heart In San Francisco', 'I Wanna Be Around', 'The Good Life', 'If I Ruled The World').
During the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Tony's career declined. His arranger/musical director/pianist Ralph Sharon left, his record company pressured him to record "contemporary" rock songs and he struggled with cocaine addiction.
In 1979, Danny took over as manager and pointed Tony in the direction of Great American Songbook tunes as well as his old hits, performing in small theaters and at colleges. Tony was reunited with the Ralph Sharon trio. Danny Bennett also exposed Tony to a younger, hipper audience through appearances on late night television, MTV, 'Muppets Tonight' and 'The Simpsons'. And the rest is history.
In the late 1990s, my wife and I attended a most-enjoyable Tony Bennett concert. At the end, we left by a side door because we thought it would put us closer to where we had parked. As we walked down an unfamiliar alley, we found that it intersected with a blind alley. At the end - 30 feet away - was Tony Bennett, catching some fresh air. Alone - no guards, no entourage. We were speechless; the best we could muster was a little wave. Tony gave us a big friendly smile and waved back. No diva he.
I reviewed his book, 'Life Is A Gift: The Zen of Bennett', here. (posted 8/18/21, permalink)
The Beach Boys: Everyone knows the story of this American band and sometimes tragic, drug-fueled soap opera. The group's original lineup consisted of brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine. And that's the gang that made the best vocal harmonies and created the best hits of the 1960s. They sang about love, growing-up, surfing and hot cars.
The Beach Boys came to my attention when they recorded 'Surfin' Safari' in 1962. I was already in college by then but enjoyed their music, especially the car songs. The B-side of Safari was '409' - a car song about the big-engined Chevy introduced that year. In 1963, they released 'Surfin' USA'. It was kind of a rip-off of Chuck Berry's 'Sweet Little 16' but made for good listening. The B-side was 'Shut Down' - another car song about a drag race between a 413 cubic-inch Dodge and a fuel-injected Corvette Sting Ray. The same year, the group released 'Little Deuce Coupe' - a song about a '32 Ford hot rod.
|This 1932 Ford appeared on the cover of the platinum-certified album 'Little Deuce Coupe'.
I liked the original early to mid-'60s Beach Boys. I think the group's fragmented remnants who performed in later years were pretty awful. Brian Wilson has no voice anymore and wears the innocently bemused look of a drug-addled idiot. Or a serial killer. In 2005, PBS' 'A Capital Fourth' featured The Beach Boys as part of the pre-fireworks show. The more accurate name for the group should be 'The Two Remaining Beach Old Men Who Can't Sing.'
Nevertheless, I do recommend the book 'Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy' by Mike Love. In this New York Times best-selling autobiography, perennial Beach Boy Mike Love relates five-plus decades of his life as one of the founding members of the iconic group - arguably the most popular American musical group in history. Love sings lead on many of the Beach Boys most memorable songs; he wrote or co-wrote many of them.
To many in my age group, the Beach Boys represent an era - those magical few years of the early '60s - when California was viewed, by those who had never seen it, as the next best thing to heaven. This view was personified in the 1973 film, 'American Graffiti' which was set in 1962 California.
In the 1950s and '60s, the Golden State was perceived as America's dream, especially Southern California - a land of warmth and sunshine, blue ocean and beaches not far from the city. Then there were the palm trees, modern freeways, the blue Pacific Ocean, the hot rods, George Barris’ wild custom cars, Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth, interesting and novel (for me) architecture and lithe, tanned people dressed in sharp clothes who drove gleaming, desirable autos. Just watch old '50s television shows set in the Golden State - such as '77 Sunset Strip'. Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb, indeed.
The book is Mike Love's story and he acknowledges … (more >>>)
Entertainer/Entrepreneur: Fifties hitmaker Lloyd Price died in May 2021 at age 88 from complications of diabetes. A self-described 'country boy', Lloyd was born on March 9, 1933, in Kenner, LA - one of 11 children of Beatrice and Louis Price, who owned the Fish 'n' Fry Restaurant.
Price's first successful record was a solid R&B hit - 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy' - in 1952. After a stint in the military, he returned to the music scene, recording 'Stagger Lee' in 1958 as well as 'Personality' and 'I'm Gonna Get Married' in 1959.
Price was also a prolific entrepreneur. In addition to his music production and publication ownership, he ... (more >>>)
Oh, No! Little Richard, the self-proclaimed Architect of Rock 'n' Roll, has died at age 87 of bone cancer. He had been ill with numerous disabilities for some time.
Richard Wayne Penniman's fervent shrieks, flamboyant garb, and joyful, gender-bending persona embodied the spirit and sound of that new art form and he added a unique sound to those early days of rock. With is big pompadour and screams of "Wooooooooo!", he was rock's screeching fireball - the world's wildest, most outrageous and exciting rock 'n' roll performer of all time.
"Starting with “'Tutti Frutti' in 1956, Little Richard cut a series of unstoppable hits - 'Long Tall Sally', 'Ready Teddy' and 'Rip It Up' that same year, 'Lucille' in 1957, and 'Good Golly Miss Molly' in 1958 driven by his simple, pumping piano, gospel-influenced vocal exclamations and sexually charged (often gibberish) lyrics." In 1958, he quit the music biz and enrolled in preacher school at an Alabama Negro college run by Seventh Day Adventists. But he later returned to the rock scene.
In 1986, he was one of the 10 original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as he properly should have been.
Early raucous ... (more >>>)
The Day The Music Died: I still remember the day - I was a sophomore in high school. On February 3, 1959, I heard the news on the morning radio: Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper had perished in a plane crash. They were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, together with pilot Roger Peterson. Soon after takeoff, late at night (about 12:55 am) and in a snowstorm with strong winds, the pilot lost control of the light aircraft, a 1947 single-engined, V-tailed Beechcraft 35 Bonanza. The small plane crashed into a cornfield about six miles from the airfield. Everyone on board was killed.
I remember discussing it briefly with other schoolmates in the locker room between classes. The feeling was: Too bad. These things happen. And they weren't that famous.
Nevertheless, they were quickly declared Rock's First Martyrs.… (more >>>)
The Cost Of Entertainment: The McCallum Theatre of Palm Desert, CA released its events of the 2019-20 season. Here are some observations … (more >>>)
Kate Smith - Eventually, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The Philadelphia Flyers and New York Yankees have decided that long-dead singer Kate Smith is a racist, based on today's woke standards. The Flyers have removed a large statue of Kate outside their arena much to the dismay of many fans and Kate's relatives, although the statue wasn't a very good likeness.
In the 1970s, the Flyers considered Kate and her rendition of 'God Bless America', a good luck charm that helped them win games. Kate personally appeared at several games to perform the iconic song live. Shortly after her death in late 1986, the team erected a statue of Ms. Smith outside their arena at the time, the Spectrum, in her memory.
When she was in her 20s … (more >>>)
Smooth Music, Smooth Everything: Recently, Jack Baruth wrote a sort-of road test for Road & Track, mixing musings about the authenticity of Delta blues music and the civility of the 2018 Chevy Corvette.
"The Corvette, too, has a bit of a conflict between its authentic mission and what the people really want. Track rats, internet tastemakers, and magazine writers praise the Grand Sport, drool over the ZR1, and nod approvingly at Chevrolet's commitment to the manual transmission. Then they buy a used Miata. The real customers, on the other hand, want automatic-transmission convertibles for cruise-ins and stoplight drag racing. The challenge facing GM is to develop a platform that can do both, the same way that modern blues rocker Gary Clark Jr. can cover both Robert Johnson and the Beatles in his shows."
Over the years, the Corvette, just like original blues music, has undergone a smoothing process. The same could be said for rock-and-roll, bluegrass and automatic garage-door openers.
The raw blues sound of yore has been … (more >>>)
Going In Style: In September 2018, Aretha Franklin was laid to rest. She was given a great send-off. She was laid out in a gold casket (actually, a Batesville Promethean hand-polished, mirror-finish bronze casket with 14K gold handles - the very same one used for James Brown and Michael Jackson) and had three wardrobe changes - one for each day of her viewing.
Her funeral was much more dignified than The James Brown Death Extravaganza Tour. Aretha arrived for her viewing in a pristine white 1940 LaSalle hearse with carved wood sides. The same vehicle transported her to the church service and to the cemetery.
The vintage LaSalle is … (more >>>)
Pioneer Of Rock: Antoine 'Fats' Domino, one of rock 'n roll's first stars, died in October 2017 at age 89. The singer-songwriter was known for his infectious grin, his oft-nonchalant vocals and his easygoing manner as he pounded out tunes on a piano.
He sold 65 million singles, with 23 gold records, making him second only to Elvis Presley. Almost every notable performer in rock history has covered a Fats Domino song at one time or other.
While he had a lot of R&B hits in the early 1950s, Fats Domino's breakout rock 'n roll hit was … (more >>>)
Music Of My Life: Recently, I drove my '39 Plymouth coupe to the local library - returning two books and picking up a new one. The temperature was a pleasant 63 degrees under almost cloudless blue Southwest Washington skies. I got a decent view of snow-covered Mt. St. Helens and had a fun drive, playing old rock-n-roll through the speakers and enjoying the scenery.
The music I was playing was 'Crusin' '57' with WIBG's Joe Niagara hosting the Philadelphia show. At one point, he announced with all the hyper-excitement a good DJ can muster, ''Don't you forget it. Saturday night - that's the night - the hippest record hop in WIBG-land. It all happens at the Maternity BVM auditorium - 9320 Bustleton Avenue. I'll be there lookin' for you ... I wanna see your face in the place."
The record hop "with guest stars galore" was held at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish hall. Many Philadelphia area Catholic parishes held weekly dances to raise money. One other such place was Our Lady of Ransom parish on Roosevelt Boulevard. "I'm goin' to Ransom Saturday night," was an oft-heard phrase in late-1950s Northeast Philly.
Recently, I learned ... (more >>>)
Book Review: 'Bobby Rydell: Teen Idol On The Rocks - A Tale Of Second Chances' by Bobby Rydell
While I was reading this autobiography, my wife had several friends over for a gathering. I mentioned the book and the almost universal reaction of these women (ages ranging from 68 to 80) was, "Bobby Who?" I must say that I was shocked.
Singer Bobby Rydell had a succession of top ten records in the early '60s, including 'Wild One' (Billboard #2), 'Volare' (#4) and 'Swingin' School' (#5). His 1963 recording, 'Wildwood Days', has become the anthem of the southern New Jersey shore. In all fairness, none of these ladies grew up on the east coast, so maybe that explains it.
In the 1950s, it was common for regional versions of a song to become hits in various parts of the country. 'Volare' was covered by several artists, including Dean Martin and the McGuire Sisters; people outside Philadelphia may never have been exposed to Rydell's version ... (more >>>)
Farewell To A Rock Pioneer: In March 2017, legendary guitarist, singer, songwriter and one of the pioneers of rock and roll music, Chuck Berry, died at age 90 of a heart attack. Berry's hit 'Johnny B. Goode' is the only rock and roll song included on the Voyager spacecraft's golden record. John Lennon once said, "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'."
Because he was both a Character and a Legend, there are a million Chuck Berry stories. My favorite is from Bruce Springsteen, who was in one of hundreds of obscure local back-up bands used by Berry in the early 1970s.
Springsteen said ... (more >>>)
'Butterfly': Charlie Gracie: Singer Charlie Gracie was present at the unveiling of the Wildwood Music Award Mural in the Summer of 2016. Charlie celebrated his 80th birthday during his visit.
In the 1950s, it was not unusual for regional versions of a song become hits in various parts of the country. 'Butterfly', a 1957 hit for Andy Williams, can't hold a candle to the 1956 Charlie Gracie version released on Philadelphia's Cameo Records label. It was a far bigger hit in the NY-NJ-Philly universe than the lame Williams rendition.
Charlie's version sold over two million records. But when Charlie sued his record label Cameo, which had an "affiliation" with Dick Clark in those payola days, the label got Charlie blacklisted from radio plays and 'American Bandstand'. Nevertheless, Charlie continued to record and perform, focusing on blues and R&B songs and remains a favorite at the Jersey Shore. (permalink)
Sinatra - The Chairman: There are six things that are indisputable about Frank Sinatra.
First, he was a good singer at one time. Everyone has a different timeline: some felt that he lost his voice in the early 1950s and depended on great orchestration after that. James Lileks once wrote, "Half the songs for which he's beloved have more to do with orchestration and the fact that he was singing wistful songs at the uh-oh-my-prostate age."
|Frank Sinatra and 11 year-old son Frankie drive one of the Autopia cars at Disneyland's grand opening - 1955.
Others felt that, in Sinatra's middle-years, his cigarette-and-whiskey roughened vocal cords created a more mature sound. I dunno. I tend to agree with Gregory Sullivan: "Quincy (Jones) warmed up by tinkering with Sinatra, after Sinatra had blown his voice out with poor method and booze and cigarettes and putting his head in ovens over Ava Gardener and couldn't sing much anymore. Sinatra had gotten all the mileage he could from just sort of talking in a singsong way in a low register, with Nelson Riddle riding herd over the half a gross of string players sawing away behind him. Quincy coaxed one last blast of Brooklyn funk from ol' Blue Eyes' leather lungs by putting Count Basie behind him, and perhaps reminding him of what he used to be."
Your opinion may differ. The book, 'Sinatra: The Chairman', devotes much detail to Sinatra's recordings, his recording sessions and the major players involved. It also notes that he smoked two packs of unfiltered Camels per day, as well as a bottle (or more) of Jack Daniels. And that he soothed his throat with a cup of tea with some honey in it. Despite a voice which was clearly failing by the 1980s, Frank continued to do live concerts until he was well into his 70s. His fans still attended, much like Elvis' fans still went to concerts when Elvis Presley was a fat, drugged parody of his former self.
Second, the antics of the Rat Pack, led by Frank, were ... (more >>>)
Cover Bands - Musical Cloning: Over at Sippican Cottage, Gregory Sullivan mused about cover bands. "The Strangers were a pop/rock cover band in Melbourne, Australia in the 60s and 70s." Since they included Beetle songs in their repertoire, Gregory refers to the Australian group as The Upside-Down Beetles.
"They were the house band for a sorta Australian version of Hullabaloo/American Bandstand/Don Kirshner's Rock Concert-kinda thing called The Go!! Show, which shows the early predilection for exclamation mark abuse in the teen set, which would metastasize into full-blown emoticon leprosy when the Intertunnel finally showed up."
He also pointed out that ... (more >>>)
Book Review: 'Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington' by Terry Teachout
Terry Teachout is a well-known and respected music critic and author. His biography of Louis Armstrong was well-written and informative. The author's latest biography is of musical legend Duke Ellington and it, too, is a worthy work.
Ellington was probably the greatest jazz composer of the twentieth century, although he hated to hear his music described as 'jazz'. The Duke was a very talented but enigmatic personality. Teachout wrote that, even to his own band members, Ellington "was a riddle without an answer, an unknowable man who hid behind a high wall of ornate utterances and flowery compliments that grew higher as he grew older."
Pampered by his parents while growing up in Washington, D.C. … (more >>>)
'I'll Be Home For Christmas': First recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby, who scored a top ten hit with it, this Christmas standard has been recorded by over 100 artists.
As I grow older, I find that various objects, images and sounds bring back pleasant Christmas memories. When I look at the various ornaments on our Christmas tree, I realize that each one has a story to tell.
The oldest decoration is an injection molded, ivory-colored, translucent polystyrene cathedral. Mass-produced shortly after World War II, it was probably a dime-store purchase by my mom. The little cathedral has a large rounded slot on the bottom so that it can fit over a tree light and be backlit.
The church itself is a generic design, adapting elements of the great cathedrals of Cologne, Notre Dame, Truro and Washington's National Cathedral. It remains in fine shape - aging gracefully - and has been accorded a place of honor on our tree.
Just looking at the little plastic church evokes pleasant memories of my long-gone childhood. Which brings me to that old song, 'I'll Be Home For Christmas' ... (more >>>)
Misheard Music: Between the awful car audio systems of the '60s-70s (I use the word 'system' as an act of generosity; for many cars, it was an AM receiver and one, cheap, tinny speaker.) and my loss of hearing (resulting from running noisy injection molding machines, saws and routers in those manly, no-earplug, pre-OSHA days), I've probably misunderstood half the songs I've listened to.
Recently, I was losing myself in the sublayers of a Google search, when I came across the lyrics to ... (more >>>)
Silenced Songbird: In September 2013, 67 year-old Linda Ronstadt announced that Parkinson's Disease has left her unable to sing. She stopped performing in 2009 and now uses poles to walk on uneven ground and a wheelchair when traveling,
During her career, Ronstadt has shown great versatility recording folk, rock, pop, opera, bluegrass and standards - something few artists have accomplished.
The prolific singer has lent her voice to over 120 albums. Ronstadt was voted the Top Female Pop Singer of the 1970s. She also appeared on Broadway, starring in the light opera, Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Pirates of Penzance'.
Later, she recorded three albums of standards arranged by Nelson Riddle. Her rendition of 'When You Wish upon a Star' is sublime. The recordings were such a commercial success that ... (more >>>)
America's Oldest Teenager ... Dick Clark, who never looked his age, died at age 82 on April 18, 2012 from a massive heart attack. He suffered a debilitating stroke in 2004.
Clark found fame in 1956 when he took over as host of 'Bandstand', a local dance show in Philadelphia. He took it national in 1957 and renamed it 'American Bandstand'. I've written more about Bandstand here.
Dick also hosted ... (more >>>)
Hot Rod Lincoln - The Car & The Song: The first time I ever heard the song 'Hot Rod Lincoln' was in 1960. On WIBG - Radio 99. The singer was Johnny Bond. His version was the one that caught on in the Philadelphia area. In those days, there were 'regional hits' - that's why many of those reissued compilation albums have songs or artists you don't recognize.
Charlie Ryan recorded 'Hot Rod Lincoln' in 1955; it became a hit for him during the 1957-60 period, depending on what area of the country you lived in. I never heard his version until I bought - you guessed it - a car songs compilation album in the mid-1960s.
Nevertheless, the creator of 'Hot Rod Lincoln' is Charlie Ryan. He fashioned both the car and the song.
Charlie Ryan is a musician, songwriter and a car guy. In the late 1940s, he purchased a used 1941 Lincoln Zephyr four-door sedan. After a couple of years, he decided to make a hot rod out of it. He removed the Zephyr body ... (more >>>)
A Special Mom: Singer Phoebe Snow died in April 2011 at the age of 60 from the effects of a stroke which she suffered in early 2010.
I must admit that I was never a fan. I thought 'Poetry Man' was a stupid song and didn't care for Phoebe's warbling delivery. However, she was a great mother and her kindness should stand as an example to us all.
Not long after 'Poetry Man' reached the Top 5 on the pop singles chart in 1975, her daughter, Valerie Rose, was born with severe brain damage. Snow put her music career on hold for many years to care for her daughter ... (more >>>)
'How High The Moon': Charles G. Hill of Dustbury has posted a PBS video clip of legendary guitarist & hot rod connoisseur Jeff Beck and Dublin rockabilly/blues singer Imelda May performing the classic 1951 gold hit by Les Paul/Mary Ford hit as part of a tribute to Les Paul, who died in 2009.
Beck and May perform an engaging and credible homage while adding some flavor of their own to the almost 60 year-old song.
Les Paul is not well-known by today's public but his musical innovations, like the solid body electric guitar, chording sequences and multitrack-recording techniques, made the sound of rock and roll possible. Paul was mostly a jazz/country guitarist.
1951 was a dead-dull year for music. Top hits included such forgettable ditties as 'Mockin' Bird Hill' by Patti Page, 'The Little White Cloud That Cried' by Johnny Ray, 'On Top Of Old Smoky' (recorded by The Weavers, Gene Autry, Burl Ives, Hank Willimas and others) and 'Come On-A My House' by Rosemary Clooney. I remember hearing Paul/Ford's 'How High The Moon' on the radio as an eight year-old and having a What the Hellizzat moment. The sound was so different and fascinating. And unbland.
Music changed greatly in coming years, helped by ... (more >>>)
At Least He Made Some Lawn Ornament Guy Rich: In September 2010, Philadelphia-born singer Eddie Fisher died at age 82. He was once a big deal in the music biz; Fisher had seventeen songs in the Top 10 on the music charts between 1950 and 1956. Kinda before my time, although I do remember his 15 minute television show, sponsored by Coca Cola. It was called 'Coke Time' ... ironic considering his later taste for blow.
Every time Fisher appeared on someone else's TV show, he inserted a not-so-subtle pitch for Coke in the dialogue. Obnoxiously so, my ten year-old mind registered.
The music biz only has room for a relatively fixed number of stars, so when rock 'n' rollers appeared, the number of crooners diminished and Eddie Fisher's star dimmed. See also Julius LaRosa, Vic Damone, The Four Aces, Jerry Vale, Johnny Ray, Al Martino, et al. Many of these folks made a fairly good living playing clubs and doing concerts years after their careers peaked. Unlike Eddie, who blew all his money on gambling and drugs (amphetamines, cocaine, etc.) and basically died broke.
Fisher didn't help his popularity by divorcing 'America's sweetheart' Debbie Reynolds (scandalous in the 1950s) and running off with town pump Elizabeth Taylor who later publicly dumped Eddie for Richard Burton. Eddie was married a total of five times.
His daughter Carrie was so offended ... (more >>>)
Casket Or Casing? Jimmy Dean, country music legend and sausage king, died in June 2010 at age 81. He is best remembered for his 1961 hit record, 'Big Bad John'.
Dean's second career as a pork sausage magnate accounted for most of his wealth. He came by his knowledge of pork honestly; as a boy, he slaughtered hogs for his mother, who turned them into sausage. He founded the sausage company in 1968 with his brother. The company did well, in part because of Dean's own extemporized, humor-themed commercials. He sold the company to Consolidated Foods in 1984.
In 1971, Dean played a Howard Hughes-inspired, Las Vegas-dwelling billionaire (Willard Whyte) in the James Bond flick, 'Diamonds Are Forever'. In the mid-1970s, Jimmy owned a custom ... (more >>>)
Book Review: 'Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong' by Terry Teachout
The Louis Armstrong I remember was an aging black gentleman who played a pretty good trumpet on the 'Ed Sullivan Show', usually in between Señor Wences and a plate-spinning act. By then Armstrong was well-past his prime and, like many elder performers, relied on playing his old stand-bys rather than keeping up with the times.
I found this biography to be quite an eye-opener; there was more to Satchmo I ever realized. Terry Teachout has penned a very comprehensive ... (more >>>)
King Of Pop: Michael Jackson died in June 2009, after a life of fame, drug-abuse and, finally, an overdose. Lucianne put it all in perspective: "Michael Jackson's celebrity suicide - a bizarre life is covered by a lazy media with endless file footage to fill the vapid hours of blather."
If you turned on your television that day, it was All Michael All The Time. (Except for NBC which continued broadcasting Oprah. Nobody preempts The Oprah.) I accurately forecasted the pre-nightfall appearance of people selling votive candles and T-shirts at the hospital.
When the coverage switched to the Apollo Theater in New York and Al Sharpton's mug appeared before the microphones, my wife and I decided that, since it was trash night, the only fitting thing to do was to abandon the television and take out the trash. And we did. Sharpton apparently wanted to - as usual - talk about himself, remind everyone that he was involved in planning James Brown's funeral (hint, hint) and exaggerate his relationship with Michael Jackson, which seemed to be tenuous at best.
This was the Celebrity Week Of Death (Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and MJ) and I've never seen Larry King so alive. It's given him a reason to exist. Therefore, you might conclude that Jackson's death has helped at least one human being, not counting, of course, the children he can no longer molest. And that brings me to another point. Given the drug abuse stories, hermit lifestyle, excessive spending, the gated mansion and sudden death by heart-stopping polypharmacy, there will be inevitable comparisons with Elvis Presley. It's very important to remember that Elvis never harmed a child. Yes, he shot a couple of televisions and a Pantera that wouldn't start but he respected the rights of fellow humans.
Elvis was declared the King of Rock and Roll by fans. The 'King of Pop' was Jackson's self-proclaimed moniker.
Michael Jackson, as expected, went out style ... specifically, in a top-of-the-line Batesville Promethean hand-polished, mirror-finish bronze casket. It has ... (more >>>)
Sometimes We're All Tomatoes: In 2009, I watched a PBS concert (public television was having one of their 'Begging For Money' marathons) by Pink Martini, an enormously-talented, quirky, Portland-based musical ensemble which blends many genres of music - Latin, lounge, big band, classical and jazz.
I was so impressed that I bought three of their songs on iTunes, including 'Hang On Little Tomato' which features lead singer China Forbes. The song was inspired by an advertisement for Hunt's Ketchup in a 1964 issue of Life magazine.
The music has a 1930s depression-era air about it, beginning with a soulful, 83 second clarinet solo. It is a very clever piece - sung from the tomato's point of view - but never mentions the word "tomato."
Instead, it becomes an ultimately uplifting song about the human condition. (Unless you're a tomato - then it becomes a song about the tomato condition.) I like it. It begins: "The sun has left and forgotten me ... It's dark, I cannot see ..."
Haven't we all had days when the sun has left and forgotten us?
My daughter reminded me that we had seen Pink Martini perform live ... (more >>>)
Enya And My Unnecessary Worries: Before my first visit to Ireland, I had nightmares that everyone would sound just like Enya and I wouldn't be able to understand a word they said. It turned out that I had no problems during any of my trips.
The bizarre echo technique Enya uses is called 'voice layering'. She also sometimes sings in Lothian, a fake language invented for her.
I do find it ironic that Enya won the 2001 'Echo Award' for best selling international single in Germany. (permalink)
Restaurant Review: Buddy Greco's Dinner Club; Cathedral City, CA
The headliner is, of course, "Buddy Greco with guest star Lezlie Anders." Buddy, who I had always remembered as a kind of third-tier Rat Packer, was the featured act. I was pleasantly shocked by his talented performance. This guy is really good and I'm amazed that he wasn't a bigger star in his heyday. Lezlie is his fourth wife; she's from Lake Oswego, Oregon.
Too many of these clubs offer mediocre-at-best food and watery drinks but Greco's served dinners prepared by executive chef Isabella, daughter of the head chef of legendary (but now-defunct) Chasen's. The food was excellent. So was the booze. And it wasn't watered down, either.
Buddy put on an outstanding show and has a surprisingly good voice for an eighty year-old (in 2007). He's an accomplished jazz pianist, too.
Lezlie is very talented as well, sounding kinda like Peggy Lee. At the table next to us were folks from England. Apparently, Buddy Greco has a large following in the British jazz community. We had a very good time and ... (more >>>)
Guitar Man: Legendary singer/guitarist/actor Jerry Reed, of 'Smokey and the Bandit' and other car chase movies, died at age 71 in September 2008.
Reed did the guitar solo on Elvis' version of 'Guitar Man' (Jerry Reed wrote the song) because none of the session players could get it right.
My favorite Jerry Reed recording ... (more >>>)
"Goodnight, Children": Issac Hayes, songwriter and musician whose 'Theme From Shaft' won Academy and Grammy awards, died at age 65 in August 2008.
He was also the voice of Chef, the school cook and all-around ladies' man in 'South Park'. RIP. (permalink)
Farewell ... to talented singer Jo Stafford, who died at age 90 in July 2008.
Once a member of the famous '40s vocal group, The Pied Pipers, she had numerous hits as a solo performer.
I'll always remember hearing her voice on the radio, singing the 1951 hit, Shrimp Boats. "Shrimp boats is a-comin' ... Their sails are in sight ... Shrimp boats is a-comin' ... There's dancin' tonight." Rest In Peace, Jo. (permalink)
"Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley, Have You Heard?" Rock 'n' roll pioneer Bo Diddley died at age 79 in June 2008.
The legendary singer and performer - known for his homemade-looking cigar-box guitar - was an inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, had a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame and received a lifetime achievement award at the 1999 Grammy Awards.
Diddley was also one of the pioneers of the electric guitar, adding reverb and other effects. He rigged some of his guitars himself.
Rock In Peace, Bo. (permalink)
Whatever Happened To ... ? I saw Jerry Lee Lewis in concert on a PBS special In March 2007. He looked like he was 111 years old and can hardly walk. He shuffles like someone in the special care unit of a senior center. But he still sings and plays pretty good. Jerry Lee was born in 1935 - the same year as Elvis.
This is what happens when you fuse three candles together and burn 'em at all six ends. He's had six wives, including his 13 year-old cousin. A couple have died under questionable circumstances. In 1975, he shot his bassist.
|Jerry Lee Lewis and then-wife, 13 year-old Myra Gale Brown, with Jerry's 1957 Harley-Davidson panhead Duo Glide.
He's overdone alcohol and pills (paging Dr. Nichopoulos), fought with the IRS and been detained for trying to break into Graceland.
By the way, the infamous Dr. Nick (of Elvis fame) lost his medical license in 1995 for bad conduct, including writing too many prescriptions for Jerry Lee Lewis. (In his 80s, George Nichopoulos worked as a benefits adviser for FedEx in Memphis. He died in 2016.)
As for Jerry Lee, "He rarely tours, preferring to watch 'Gunsmoke' marathons at his ranch near Memphis that some people call 'Disgraceland.' He hadn't put out an album in 11 years. Of all the legends who came out of Sun Records in the 1950s Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison - no one would have bet the last one standing would be the pill-popping, whiskey-guzzling, gun-waving hellion from Ferriday, LA." (permalink)
Examining The Big Bopper: I remember The Day The Music Died; I was a sophomore in high school. On February 3, 1959, I heard the news on the morning radio: Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper had perished in a plane crash.
Of course, The Music didn't really die. Because The Music consisted of a large galaxy with several pop giants (Elvis, Chuck Berry, Nat King Cole, Sinatra, etc.) and hundreds of very talented but smaller stars (Bobby Darin, Chuck Berry, Connie Francis, Lloyd Price, Frankie Avalon, Sam Cooke, Johnny Mathis, Bobby Rydell, Dion, Jackie Wilson, Brook Benton, Gene Pitney, Fats Domino, Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, Ben E. King, Paul Anka, Gene McDaniels, Del Shannon, Bobby Lewis and many, many more).
Make no mistake about it - the three Fallen Idols were in the smaller star category. Buddy Holly had several hits but his later (Cricket-less) songs were less than stellar saleswise. (He signed on for the grueling and ill-fated winter tour because he needed the money.) Richie Valens produced only a couple of chartmakers. J.P. Richardson (aka - The Big Bopper) was - at the time of his death - a one-hit wonder.
I intend no putdown of these gentlemen; I have several of Buddy Holly's songs in my iTunes library and know all the words to The Bopper's 'Chantilly Lace'. But all are remembered today primarily because they died Famously and Tragically. And therefore, became Larger Than Life. (Hello, Anna Nicole Smith. Or, as The Bopper would have said, "Hello, baby!")
Forest Lawn Cemetery in Beaumont Texas wanted to move The Big Bopper's grave to ... (more >>>)
"I feel good! Owwww!" Former President Gerald Ford and performer James Brown both died in late December 2006. Even though Ford was given the usual pomp-n-circumstance presidential sent-off, his funeral paled in comparison to the spectacular-but-tasteless send-off in Augusta for James Brown.
I loved that vulgar 24-carat, gold-plated casket. And the many tribute musical performances - MC Hammer, Bobby Byrd and others, accompanied by Brown's epaulet-clad band, The Soul Generals, featuring the resounding sound of legendary bassman Bootsie Collins - who sat in. Brown's current wife, Tomi Rae Hynie, also sang. (No disrespect for the deceased intended, but I couldn't help but wonder if James married Tomi for her Hynie?)
Michael Jackson even showed up. The usual suspects - Dick Gregory, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton - were active participants in the shindig as well.
Many of James Brown's hit songs were performed, although it was very bizarre to see performers singing 'Get Up' to a corpse in an open casket. Equally unsettling was watching the president of Paine College - a small (107 graduates in '06) black school - bestow an honorary doctorate on the late Mr. Brown during the memorial service.
Oh yeah, here's something else you didn't see at the Ford funeral: "Fannie Mae Burford, Brown's sister, backed her Chevrolet Silverado up to one of the arena's side entrances. The truck bed was stacked with suitcases of souvenirs (for sale), including headbands, towels and women's underwear."
Man, there really are Two Americas. No wait, there are Eight Americas.
At each of the three viewings, James was dressed in different clothing. Because, someone said, James Brown never felt good about wearing the same costume the following night for his appearances. Owwww! (permalink)
"Grab Your Coat, Don't Forget Your Hat ..." One of my favorite songs is the 1945 recording 'On The Sunny Side Of The Street' by Tommy Dorsey. I used to play a shellac recording of this on an ancient wind-up Victrola while playing along on my uncle's drum set in the 1950s.
Ann Clark Terry sang with her four sisters under the name The Sentimentalists with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and provided the vocals for 'Sunny Side Of The Street'. Hailing from Grand Forks, North Dakota, they were a mere 17 to 23 years of age when they signed with the Tommy Dorsey Band in 1944 to replace the popular Pied Pipers who had quit.
The Sisters' wholesome good looks and extrovert personalities had endeared them to the members of Dorsey's band, who became their friends, and acted protectively towards them." In 1953, the Clark Sisters left Dorsey organization, due to inadequate pay and their desires to quit touring and devote themselves to family and to recording.
The Clark Sisters sang the original soundtrack to Walt Disney's 'Tiki Room' at Disneyland. Peggy Clark Schwartz and Ann Clark Terry sang in the chorus' of many television shows including Judy Garland, Andy Williams, Carol Burnett and Sonny and Cher. (permalink)
Happy Birthday, Elvis! Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Miss. on January 8, 1935. Based on the track he was on at the time of his death in 1977, if Elvis were alive today, he'd probably weigh 860 pounds. Or, as the ever-quotable Yogi Berra might say, "If Elvis were alive today, he'd be dead!"
Elvis didn't invent rock and roll but he spread the message across America. And the world.
Music changed greatly during the postwar era, helped by electronics, the ubiquitous reach of television and the increased monetary 'buying-power' of teenagers. The electric guitar was developed in the late 1940s by Les Paul. He and wife Mary Ford had a moderately successful singing career during the early Fifties. But Les' technology revolutionized music. The electric guitar arguably gave birth to rock and roll. It's hard to say which was the first rock and roll record - some credit Jackie Brentson's 'Rocket 88' from 1951.
It certainly had the correct elements - it was about a car - a 1950 Oldsmobile 88 with a high-compression, overhead-valve Rocket V-8 engine - and featured Ike Turner on keyboards. Others claimed that 'Shake, Rattle and Roll' (a remake of a Thirties R&B song) by Bill Haley and his Comets in 1954 was the first rock and roll song. Little Richard claimed he invented it, screaming, "I am the architect of Rock and Roll!" Still others mention Chuck Berry.
Regardless of who invented it, the credit for the mass-popularization of this new music must be given to Elvis Presley, who flew onto the scene in 1956 with the number-one hit ... (more >>>)
When Rock Was Young: Bill Haley and his Comets rocked the house during a performance at the Sports Arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania on April 20, 1956:
Hershey is located about 100 miles west of Philadelphia and just east of Harrisburg, PA.
LaVern Baker also performed to the crowd of 8,000. Other performers included The Platters, Bo Diddley, The Drifters, Clyde McPhatter, Big Joe Turner, Red Prysock, Shirley & Lee, Roy Hamilton, Five Keys, The Turbans and Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. Haley's 'See You Later, Alligator' ranked 32nd on Billboard's Top 100 Songs of 1956. The Platters' 'My Prayer' ranked #4, 'The Great Pretender' was in the 12th spot, '(You've Got The) Magic Touch' ranked 36th and 'You'll Never, Never Know' came in at #79. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers hit, 'Why Do Fools Fall In Love', was ranked at 28th. Three of the top ten '56 songs belonged to Elvis Presley ('Heartbreak Hotel', 'Don't Be Cruel' and 'Hound Dog').
This show, titled 'The Biggest Rock-n-Roll Show of '56', was part of a 47-date tour, ending in early June.
Bill Haley & His Comets were founded in 1952 and continued until Haley's death in 1981. From late 1954 to late 1956, the group placed nine singles in the Top 20, one of those a number one and three more in the Top Ten. The single 'Rock Around the Clock' became the biggest selling rock and roll single in the history of the genre and retained that position for some years. With Haley's spit curl and the band's matching plaid dinner jackets and energetic stage behavior, many fans consider them to be as revolutionary in their time as the Beatles were a decade later.
Haley began his rock and roll career with what is now recognized as a rockabilly style in a cover of 'Rocket 88' recorded for the Philadelphia-based Holiday Records label in 1951. It sold well and was followed in 1952 by a cover of a 1940s rhythm and blues song called 'Rock the Joint'. In 1953, Haley scored his first national success with an original song called 'Crazy Man, Crazy', a phrase Haley said he heard from his teenage audience. It was the first rock n' roll recording to be played on national television in the United States - on an episode of 'Omnibus' in 1953.
In April 1954, the group recorded 'Rock Around the Clock', which would become their biggest hit. 'Shake, Rattle and Roll' followed; the single was one of Decca's best-selling records of 1954. Another hit, 'See Ya Later, Alligator', was released in 1955. The band's popularity in the United States began to wane in 195657 as sexier, wilder acts such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard began to dominate the record charts. Bill Haley & His Comets began touring in England and, later, the Europen continent.
During his musical career, Bill Haley burned through over 100 Comets. The hours were long and tough; after all, they did ... 'Rock Around The Clock'.
An admitted alcoholic, Haley fought a battle with alcohol into the 1970s. Nonetheless, he and his band continued to be a popular touring act, benefiting from a 1950s nostalgia movement that began in the late 1960s. Diagnosed with a brain tumor, he was forced to cancel his planned tour of Germany. Haley died at age 55 in February 1981 at his home in Harlingen, Texas.
I hate it when marketers slap a celebrity's image on stuff that has no relation to the star. In 2004 or so, Oxford Diecast offered a split-screen Volkswagen van with 'Bill Haley and His Comets' imprinted on the sides.
I was sure that Haley, a rock and roll pioneer and a well-paid, style-conscious performer in the mid-1950s, didn't use a lowly, underpowered VW for his cross-country touring.
So I did a little research and found that Haley had a 1950s Ford F-100 panel truck for hauling equipment.
The band usually traveled in nice cars. In 1956, the group bought several Cadillacs. Finally, they bought a bus, although Bill still often preferred to ride in his own pastel pink Cadillac. (permalink)
'Beyond The Sea': This is, apparently, the movie to bash in 2005. Bill McCuddy, the Fox News entertainment guy, pronounced 'Beyond the Sea' "beyond watchable." Others have written that Bobby Darin was an "arrogant egomaniac" undeserving of a biopic.
|This 1960 DiDia 150 was a one-off, Cadillac-powered custom car built for singer Bobby Darin. Darin drove his wife, Sandra Dee, in the befinned, aluminum-bodied car to the 34th Academy Awards in 1961.
I can only say that, on a dark evening in 1969, I saw Bobby Darin at the Latin Casino in New Jersey. His performance was spectacular; one of the best I've ever experienced. (And, in the many years I spent entertaining clients, I've seen a lot of big name stars perform. Many were a major disappointment.)
The first half of Darin's show had the full house-orchestra backing. And, yes, he performed 'Beyond The Sea'. After intermission, he sang sitting on a stool singing with no back-up - the only accompaniment was his acoustic guitar. He was a versatile performer with a great voice. When the show was over, the applause brought down the house.
Perhaps the movie was bad but those who dismiss Bobby Darin's talent are waaaay off base.
Update: In June 2005, we rented 'Beyond The Sea'. My wife and I spent two hours watching it and a half hour discussing the movie's serious flaws. This would have been a good starring role for Kevin Spacey in 1990 but his time has passed. Having a 46 year-old play a man in his early twenties is an atrocious idea. Twelve layers of sheer pantyhose over the camera lens can't soften the lumps, bumps and lines of age enough to suspend disbelief. (You'd think that Hollywood would have learned this after casting 86 year-old Mae West as a love goddess in 'Sextette.') And, if more than $10 was spent on Spacey's various movie toupees, Hollywood's bunko squad should be summoned.
The movie was filled with continuity problems. And the period cars weren't correct. Bobby Darin was diagnosed with rheumatic fever in 1944. But all the vehicles on the street were 1928-31 Model A vintage. Where were the '36 Fords, '41 Chevies and, of course, '39 Plymouths? In 1968, candidate Bobby Kennedy is shown being chauffeured around California in an old '58 Caddy Fleetwood. Never happened.
Darin's mother is laid out in an odd, eastern European-style casket, providing a clue that at least part of the movie was shot Somewhere Beyond The Black Sea. Darin is shown in the dressing room of the Copa wearing an appropriately skinny bow tie for his 1960 tuxedoed stage appearance. In the next scene, he bursts onto the stage wearing a big fat 1971 Engelbert Humperdinck tux tie. My wife noted that Sandra Dee's hairdo was all wrong - all the time.
I was mentally recutting the film as I watched it - a bad sign. (Mack, the Knife.) The storyline was very much distorted - to the point of fantasy/fiction. Too bad, because Bobby Darin was an exceptional talent with an interesting bio and deserved a better movie. (As mentioned previously, I saw him perform at the long-gone Latin Casino in 1969. Here's a car-related factoid - the Latin Casino was demolished in 1980 to make way for Subaru of America's headquarters in Cherry Hill, NJ. More trivia - in 1975, Jackie Wilson suffered his ultimately-fatal heart attack while performing onstage at the Latin. Still more LC bad luck - while performing there in 1962, Brenda Lee dislocated her neck. The last six days of her engagement were canceled and she spent the rest of the week at Cooper Hospital in Camden, NJ.)
Spacey did a surprisingly good job with the vocals and captures much of Darin's signature body language. I just wish this movie had been made 15 years ago - with a better screenwriter and director. (permalink)
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