Saturday, October 29, 2011


In honor of Halloween, here's one of the GORIEST records ever made (well, considering Alice Cooper, GG Allin, etc., one of the goriest records ever made in 1958, at least....) by the coolest of all the ghouls, John Zacherle.

Don't know this one? Well, there may be a reason for that.....and that reason is Dick Clark.

John Zacherle (born September 26, 1918 in Philadelphia) grew up perfectly normal, the son of a bank clerk. After graduation from high school and Pennsylvania University, and a stint in the Army, Zacherle returned to Philly and began doing local theatre with a repertory company. He soon began getting roles on local TV station WCAU, mainly in westerns. Oddly enough, he usually played the town undertaker.

In 1957, Universal Pictures decided to allow their unparalleled horror movie catalog to be shown on TV. Stations from all over the country bid on the film packages, and in Philly, WCAU-TV was the lucky station allowed to show Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy as well as such "classics" as The Black Cat, The Mad Daughter Of Market Street and Weird Woman. The films were to be run late at night, under the name of "Shock Theatre". But WCAU needed a host for the show, and Zacherle was asked to do it. He grabbed his undertaker's coat that he used in all those westerns, put on a little make-up, and Roland (pronounced Ro-LAND), Zacherle's character for Shock Theatre, was born.

Zacherle (and Roland) were an immediate sensation in Philadelphia. Kids went crazy over Zacherle's wild antics, like carrying around a severed head dripping with blood (actually chocolate syrup), talking to his wife, known as "my dear", who lived in a coffin (and would occasionally receive a wooden stake through the heart, courtesy of Roland), and interacting with his son Gasport (who was a blob in a burlap sack who hung on the wall and moaned occasionally). He even had an assistant, named Igor, who would do Roland's dirty work.

Eventually Zacherle came to the attention of two very powerful men in Philadelphia - American Bandstand's Dick Clark and Bernie Lowe, senior partner of Cameo Records (Kal Mann was the junior partner, and reputedly Dick Clark was a silent partner - as he was with many, many Philly labels. Clark was dirtier than a sewer pipe), who decided that Zacherle should cut a record. Backed up by Cameo's great house band, Dave Appell and The Applejacks, Zacherle cut two songs - "Dinner With Drac" and "Igor", which were basically the same tune with different sets of lyrics. "Igor" was picked to be the A-side, and "Igor" backed with "Dinner With Drac" was released in January, 1958. Bernie Lowe sent a copy to his buddy Dick Clark, who took one listen to "Igor" and refused to play it. Tight-ass that he was, Clark thought the lyrics of "Igor" were too gory for the record-buying public, and made it clear that he wouldn't be playing it on his show. The flip side, "Dinner With Drac", had much milder lyrics and it was the same tune anyway, so Bernie asked Dick to lean on that side of the record. Clark agreed, but was still so upset by "Igor" that he insisted Zacherle go back into the studio and cut yet another version of "Dinner With Drac" with even milder lyrics (in case "Dinner With Drac" set people - meaning Clark's sponsors - off the wrong way) and repress the single as "Dinner With Drac - Part 1" backed with "Dinner With Drac - Part 2". This new coupling was released in February, and the rest is history, with "Igor" becoming a lost track.

Today, the lyrics of "Igor" sound rather tame, but Zacherle (not to mention Appell's nasty-sounding sax) sounds positively evil, especially on this limerick:

A werewolf once tore his own hide
To find out just what was inside
He BIT and he TORE
Till his hands RAN with GORE
But before he found out, he DIED!


NOTE: the record does NOT skip toward the end - it was just a very poor edit (due to Zacherle losing the tempo). 

John Zacherle - Igor (Cameo 130) - 1958

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Nineteen sixty-six was the year of Batman. Adam West. Burt Ward. The best villains this side of Dick Tracy. No wonder it was such a phenomenon. West and Ward even cut records - Ward worked with Frank Zappa on the has-to-be-heard-to-be-believed "Boy Wonder, I Love You" on MGM, and Adam West did "Amanda" for 20th Century-Fox. Not to mention the DOZENS of Batman-inspired records by other artists (there's a list here).

Of course, as with any phenomenon, Batman had its share of detractors, and Charles Fox over at 20th Century-Fox Records probably thought he could grab some of the anti-Batman coin with this waxing.

The record is totally steeped in New Yawk reality - Batman and Robin come to The Big Apple, and while some are impressed, a gravelly-voiced tough guy laughs at The Dynamic Duo, wondering why such a tough guy needs to wear a silly mask and bring a little boy with him to fight crime! Then, with bravado only a tough Brooklynite can muster, the guy says "I CAN BEAT HIM UP!" as the background singers do their best Four Seasons imitation.

The best part comes at the end, when a wimpy, wimpy voice starts saying things like "Holy T-Shirt!" and "Holy Snowball!", only to be answered by the New Yawk tough guy's retort - "BEAT IT, KID!"

The Paniks - I Can Beat Him Up (20th Century-Fox 639) - 1966

Saturday, October 22, 2011


For as much time as I spend railing against doo-wop collectors and their rigid mentality about music, I must say that I think that some of the most beautiful records ever made are old doo-wop 45s. Granted, many of them are formulaic, with hearts skipping crazy beats, or lost loves being asked to start anew, with bass singers sputtering something unintelligible in the background. etc. But there are some examples of this music which are so elegant, so pristine, so soulful, that they make you want to form a group and go hang out on some street corner and sing pretty melodies to the girls passing by. Preferably on a warm summer night, under a street lamp.

But you can't do that today, fellas. You'd probably be arrested or become the victim of a drive-by shooting.

This record has always been one of my favorites ever since I heard it on a cassette tape a friend gave to me back in the '90s (did I really just use the phrase "back in the '90s"? SHEESH!!). I already knew the group from their hit "To Be Loved (Forever)", but wasn't aware of this one. It became one of my many 45 rpm-based obsessions from then on.

The Pentagons were formed in San Bernadino, California in 1958 by brothers Ted and Kenneth Goodloe, along with Joe C. Jones (not the Joe Jones who had the hit with "You Talk Too Much"), Carl McGinnis, Bill James and Otis Munson. They made their first trip to Los Angeles, and cut one single for Specialty Records ("It's Spring Again" b/w "Silly Dilly") which promptly went nowhere. Otis Munson left the group shortly afterward, and was replaced by Odie Jones (Joe C.'s brother - so now the group had 2 sets of brothers).

The group practiced some more, and on their next trip to LA in 1960 they hooked up with producers George Motola and Lee Silver. Doo-wop collectors know Motola's name and revere him as one of the fathers of West Coast doo-wop. Motola wrote songs like "Goodnight My Love" by Jessie Belvin, "Shattered Dreams" by The Youngsters, and produced the Shields' "You Cheated" for his Tender label. He also wrote (with his wife, Rickie Page) Eddie Cochran's "Jeannie Jeannie Jeannie", and also won a settlement against 1980s rockabilly group The Stray Cats for changing his original lyrics for dirtier, filthier ones when they remade the song. Motola and Silver had a label called Fleet International Records, and the Pentagons had a fantastic new song (written by Ken Goodloe) called "To Be Loved". Motola and Silver released it on Fleet Int., and it really started to sell in the LA area.

Enter Bob Keene. Keene had been a fixture on the LA scene for years, first hitting paydirt with his Del-Fi label, which most famously recorded Ritchie Valens. After Valens' death in the plane crash, Keene started another label (named after Valens' biggest hit), Donna Records. Keene was always on the lookout for new talent, and heard the Pentagons' record all over LA radio, so he made a lease deal with Motola and Silver to release the record nationally. It came out on Donna in January, 1961, and by the next month it hit #48 on the pop charts (though, strangely enough, it didn't hit the R&B charts).

Motola and Silver quickly brought the group into the studio for the follow-up, which was this record. This time around, however, a new person joined the Pentagons' management team - Lester Sill. Sill was the ORIGINAL Los Angeles record production maven, giving folks like Phil Spector their start and working with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller early on in their careers. So when he joined the management team, the group was understandably thrilled. The new record was again leased to Donna, but Lester Sill had bigger plans. He had been working with Jamie Records for several years, producing some of Duane Eddy's biggest hits, and wanted the Pentagons for that label. Since the Pentagons were not signed directly to Donna Records, this was no problem, so Sill signed the group to Jamie. When Bob Keene found out about what Lester did, he basically dumped the new single on the market and gave it no promotion whatsoever.

Which was a shame, since this is a gorgeous record. Swathed in echo, the lead singer (I've never been completely sure whether the lead was Joe C. Jones or Kenneth Goodloe) is "walking alone in the dark" wondering whether or not he'll ever find a love of his own. There have been dozens of doo-wop songs with this same theme, but none of them have the air of abject loneliness and longing that this record has.

A couple of side notes here: I have NO idea why my copy of this says "NEW VERSION" on the label - I have never heard (or heard of) any other version. Also, apparently Bob Keene was soooo P. O.'d about losing this group that when he put out a comp CD of doo-wop songs from the Del-Fi/Donna vaults in the late '90s (remember the '90s?), he listed this song as "Walking Alone" and stated that it was previously unreleased!!

The Pentagons went on to have one hit for Jamie ("I Wonder", #84 pop) and several flop follow-ups. Lester Sill soon lost interest in the group (though he did record Joe C. Jones solo as "Joel Scott" for Philles Records, his new label from his short-lived partnership with Phil Spector) and they soon faded away, making one more 45 for the Sutter label and then re-appearing a few years later as The Themes, whose "Bent Out Of Shape" 45 on Minit is a Northern Soul collector's item.

For me, this record encapsulates many of the reasons I love group harmony music. Of course, the hardcore doo-wop freaks have either a) never heard of this record or b) dismiss it in favor of things by groups like Sonny Til and The Orioles (yawn). Which proves that 95% of record collectors have no idea what good music is, but music collectors (no matter what the format) will always know where the good stuff is.

The Pentagons - For A Love That Is Mine (Donna 1344) - 1961

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Whatever happened to good old rock and roll instrumentals? Whatever happened to INSTRUMENTALS, PERIOD????

Time was, a group of high school buddies could get together at someone's house with their instruments (guitar, sax, drums, bass) and come up with some super-stupid, super-great rockin' jam.

Time was, a DJ at a record hop could string together 5 or 6 instrumentals at the beginning of the night to warm the teenagers up (or kill time until they showed up).

Time was, REAL music played by REAL people could make you get out of your seat and MOVE!

Time was....

Anyhoo, this group from Florida had this one record, and it's a killer! Super-fast rockin' sax instro, with crazy, out-of-time chanting of "WE WANT MORE, WE WANT MORE". No clue as to why they called it "Fender Bender" (also no clue as to why they were the "Original" Starfires - was there another group with that name making records at the time??). Originally released on the Pace label, the record was picked up by Apt Records (same label that gave you the #1 hit "Little Star" by The Elegants) and promptly went nowhere.

This 45 has also been featured on "The Devil's Music" blog (that's how I knew the group was from Florida). Dig it here.

The Original Starfires - Fender Bender (Pace 101) - 1959

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I really don't have much to say about this group from Louisville, Kentucky - it's pretty much all been said here. Only thing I CAN say is that this is one awesome 45 - this and the flip, "Love Me When I'm Down", show the two great sides of this group. Track it down wherever (and whenever) you can, either on the original Counterpart label or this national release on Laurie.

Soul Inc. - I Belong To Nobody (Laurie 3430) - 1967

Friday, October 7, 2011


One of the reasons I like country music so much is that it never lost its sense of humor. Rock and pop lost that a loooong time ago. Now what passes for humor in pop music is nothing but insults to one's intelligence. Now, instead of truly funny records like "Ahab The Arab" or "Transfusion" or "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On The Bed Post Over Night", we get records like "Fuck You" by Cee Lo. Wow. "Fuck You". Brilliant. Wonder how long Cee Lo worked on that idea to develop it into such a powerful statement. Ten, maybe twelve seconds? Country, on the other hand, still has some pretty funny tunes, like "Bobby With An 'I'" by Phil Vassar (about a big, bench-pressing dude who just happens to like dressing up as a woman and going to bars), or "Fish" by Craig Campbell (about a girl who likes to drive out to the lake in her boyfriend's truck, gee that girl loves to f-f-f-f-f-fish - rather sophomoric, really, but still a LOT funnier than "Fuck You"). I also like the fact that country music can have really, really warped subject matter - murder (I've often wondered which form of music has more guns and shootings - country or rap), mental illness, in-breeding (see "I'm My Own Grandpaw"), oddball couples ("You're The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly" by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty comes to mind), good times spent in jail, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera....

Today's selection is one of the funniest cheating songs ever waxed. Ferlin Husky had been a country hitmaker for Capitol since the early 1950s, not just under his own name, but also under his humorous alter ego, Simon Crum. On this record, the two facets of this great singer came together. Basically, the guy's wife is cheating on him, and he keeps warning her, "someday you'll push me too far". Well, one day, ol' Ferlin snaps (or maybe it was Simon) . He coaxes his wife to their old make-out spot - at the top of a mountain. You can guess what happens next. If this sounds like a much more ridiculous version of Porter Wagoner's "The Cold Hard Facts Of Life" (released just a couple of months before this record), it should.

The man who wrote this song, Bobby Braddock, became a very in-demand songwriter (though I'd guess not because of this record), writing country classics such as "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" by Tammy Wynette, "Georgia In A Jug" by Johnny Paycheck, and the ultimate country weeper "He Stopped Loving Her Today" by George Jones. Amazingly, he's still writing big country hits, like "I Wanna Talk About Me" by Toby Keith, and "God Is Great, Beer Is Good, People Are Crazy" by Billy Currington.

Ferlin Husky - You Pushed Me Too Far (Capitol 5938) - 1967

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


There are blues records, and then there are Willie Dixon blues records. "Little Red Rooster", "Spoonful", "Evil", "Hoochie Coochie Man", "Wang Dang Doodle", "My Babe", "I Ain't Superstitious", "Back Door Man" - the list of the classic tunes he wrote goes on and on. Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters used to berate Dixon for giving the other guy the best songs. His songs have been recorded by everybody from The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Cream to Megadeth and Styx. Not to mention ripped off big time by Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin.

Yet, like a lot of great songwriters, he couldn't have a hit by singing his own compositions. He did make some records for Checker in the mid-1950s, but for the most part, his career as a recording artist remains obscure. Of course, one reason for that could be the above record (cut for Willie's own Yambo label), which is one of the strangest and most sexually explicit "blues" records ever released. The reason I say "blues" and not blues is because it's not really a blues record - the piano (played by longtime Chess session man Lafayette Leake) is not played in a blues style - it's jazzy and slow, like you'd hear at 2 AM in some back-alley club where hard-boiled gumshoes hang out. That piano is virtually the only musical instrument on the record. The rest of the record is filled with dialogue and a VERY short chorus. 

It starts with two guys, obviously in a hotel room or boardinghouse of some sort, listening to the noises emanating through the paper-thin wall from the room next door. One guy tells the other, "oh, he's pettin' his baby" and sings a short melody that he's heard coming from the room from time to time.

Then the action shifts to the other room, where the guy is telling his baby what he'll give her and how much he loves her. Then a female coo is heard, and at first you think he's actually talking to a baby. But then the female speaks up (the "female" being portrayed by one of the guys in the band - or Willie himself - in a scratchy falsetto), and you realize that even though he's calling her "baby" and she's calling him "daddy", this ain't no father-daughter relationship (though if it is, that makes this record even more disturbing).

Well, the "baby"s and "daddy"s get more and more suggestive, and before you know it this record becomes the aural (no pun intended) equivalent of a porn flick! When listening to this, stick around to the very end for one of the best (and truest) endings to what happens here.

One last note: a friend of mine told me a story that someone (who is a musician) told him about Willie. Sometime in the 1970s the musician was on a blues tour, with Willie as a headliner. In one of the towns the tour stopped in, the promoter put everybody up in a hotel that was literally infested with flies. The musicians went to each others' rooms to socialize, but when they went to Willie's room there wasn't ONE fly in his room that they could see. The musician asked Willie, "how'd you deal with the flies?", and Dixon said, "I bunched 'em". The musician didn't know what Willie meant until Willie pointed to one corner of the room - in which there sat a rather large pile of human excrement, with flies buzzing all around it.

Willie Dixon - Petting The Baby (Yambo 777-14/777-15) - 1973

Saturday, October 1, 2011


This one's fun.

"The Travelers" was a name used by MANY groups in the 1950s and 1960s. There are records on labels like Atlas, ABC-Paramount, Decca, Don-Ray, Gass, Knight, Magic Lamp, MG, Midwest, Princess, Vault, World-Wide and Yellow Sand - ALL by some group or another named The Travelers. Some are folk records, some are surf, others doo-wop - all obscure. It's a definite bad-luck name; not ONE of those Travelers groups ever had a national hit.

However, THIS group of Travelers at least came close - and their provenance is a lot cooler than all those other, anonymous Travelers groups. These Travelers were actually The Pilgrim Travelers, one of the GREAT early- to mid-50s gospel groups that recorded for Art Rupe's Specialty Records. With dual leads Kylo Turner and Keith Barber (and baritone Jess Whitaker), the Pilgrim Travelers were one of the most respected groups on the gospel scene. Their manager was J. W. Alexander, who later took an interest in another of Rupe's groups, The Soul Stirrers, especially their lead singer, Sam Cooke. 

Well, we all know what happened with Sam and J. W., but the Pilgrim Travelers followed in their footsteps, leaving Art Rupe and Specialty Records shortly after Sam's defection in 1957. A&R man Bumps Blackwell, who also left Specialty at the same time, signed The Pilgrim Travelers to the Keen/Andex/Ensign family of labels in 1957, and used the same blueprint with them as he did with Sam - he tried to turn them into a secular group, re-christening them The Travelers. At this time a new tenor joined the group, a young man named Lou Rawls (I always think of him as a deep baritone, but everybody says he sang tenor for the group - and who am I to argue?). This was the first single the group released with Rawls (though, to be honest, I can't hear him anywhere on this 45). Kylo Turner left the group shortly afterwards (though he did make a solo 45 for Andex).

Ironically, it was traveling that destroyed The Travelers. The gospel circuit was rough in those days, and traveling 300 miles between gigs in a car was not uncommon. The group had already had several close calls, but on November 10, 1958, at about 2 AM, after a gig and a party, the group (with Sam Cooke himself in tow) piled into Sam's brand-new yellow 1958 Cadillac El Dorado convertible. With Eddie Cunningham (Sam's driver) at the wheel, Sam riding shotgun, and Lou Rawls and Sam's guitarist Cliff White in the back, they traveled from St. Louis to Greenville, Mississippi, down Highway 61. Eddie fell asleep at the wheel, and slammed into a soybean truck at about 100 miles an hour. White ended up with a broken collarbone, broken ribs, and broken fingers (not good for a guitarist, but White would play behind Sam for a number of years afterward). Lou Rawls hit his head on the steel bar that held up the ragtop, and was in a coma for several days. Eddie Cunningham was nearly cut in half by the edge of the steering wheel; he died in the hospital two hours later. As for Sam, who was also fast asleep, he somehow slid under the dashboard and walked away with a cut on his left arm and some glass slivers in his face. With Lou out for the forseeable future, the group decided to call it a day.

As for this 45, it's so goofy but so cool at the same time. From the opening "vroom vroom!" noises the lead singer (probably Jess Whitaker) makes, to the cries of "Hey man, lend me a quarter" and "Man, I just spent thirty cents!", this record makes being a cash-strapped teenager sound fun.

The Travelers - Teen Age Machine Age (Andex 3-4006) - 1958